T2 went to Kansas City for their 2016 season opener and dropped their first result. The away team walked away on the wrong side of a 2-1 scoreline, which could've been far worse for the visitors. All USL matches are streamed, and you can watch any replays you'd like. There isn't much to see but if you missed T2 vs Swope Park you can catch it here.
T2 were able to hold off the Swope Park Rangers attack for the entirety of the first half. Only getting one shot off in the entire half (which was not on goal and came from midfielder Nick Besler), T2 withstood a very strong attack from the home team. Swope Park put up 9 shots, 4 on goal in the first half.
In the 48th minute, Kevin Oliveira converted a PK to get the home side on the board first. Anthony Manning fouled Dane Kelly at the top of the box allowing Swope Park to finally break the deadlock. Still T2 were able to hold off Swope Park. And they woke up after conceding the goal, looking much better from the 50th minute on. It wasn't enough for the win though, because substitute Daniel Sallois scored the game winner in stoppage time giving his side a 2-0 lead. Nick Besler scored T2's first goal of 2016 following that to bring it back to a one goal game, but T2 could not find the equalizer in what was left of stoppage time.
What Happened to that Attacking Depth?
This is probably a question people are asking after watching T2's first match. A lot of what we have said this preseason is different variations of "Wow, look at all that attacking talent, this will be an exciting season for T2!" But this match was pretty much the opposite. The caveats are: it was the first game of the season, T2 only took 16 of 18 players to the game, a number of additions to the team came recently and players still need a lot of time to adjust and gel with the gameplan.
But even if T2 are waiting for Victor Arboleda to join the team players that we have been very high on, like Alexis Meva were no where to be seen. Alexis Meva trained with T2 earlier in the week and there didn't seem to be any reason why he could not travel. So I couldn't even guess as to why Meva wasn't included in at least the 18. Michael Seaton wouldn't have been with the team since he was called up to Jamaica for International Duty.
Still, with Brett, Polk, Bijev, and Belmar there should be enough talent there to score goals but on that night there wasn't. Only real excuse is, it's early in the season and our shooters need to adjust and calibrate their shooting boots. Because when your team only takes 5 shots and 2 come from your right back Taylor Peay and 2 from a defensive midfielder Nick Besler, one game or not, you've got work to do.
The entire team itself needs to work on passing and touches. For most of the match the passing was atrocious and the first touch for many players were just as bad. Swope Park continued to pounce time and time again on multiple turnovers gifted to them by just plain bad T2 passing.
The presumptive starter in goal for T2. Hamilton was signed by the first team to be the #3 keeper. And that means starting for T2 and developing with the USL side. Just like Jake Gleeson in 2014 with Sacramento Republic and T2 in 2015 (until he earned the #2 spot relegating Andrew Weber to T2 duty). Hamilton impressed in my first viewing. There is still a lot to watch with the young keeper. I want to see how he communicates and organizes the defense in front of him. There could be work to do there. But with a sample size of only 1 match, he was able to save 6 of the 8 shots on goal that came at him. Swope Park took 15 shots in the match.
We have to talk about Nick Besler. I had mentioned during a podcast with the Portland Timbros the first week of March that this season was make or break for Nick Besler. Likely a second chance gifted to him with the departure of George Fochive, Besler absolutely had to improve this season if he wanted to stay in the first team picture. And again, we are only dealing with a sample size of 1 game here, but it definitely seemed like Nick Besler is aware of the situation he is in and is taking it to heart.
Tying Taylor Peay for the team high (2 shots taken), Nick was the only player who got any shot off at all in the first half, going wide on his shot. But he did make his second shot count to give T2 their first goal of 2016. The cross came in from Kharlton Belmar and Besler slotted it home with composure past Jon Kempin late in stoppage time for the consolation goal.
And outside of the goal, I was impressed more with how I didn't notice him. For most of the match this team was as disconnected as you can find. So Nick Besler was quietly competent in the midfield. And given how he was last season, that stands as an improvement. One game in, Nick Besler will be a player to keep an eye on, because he seems to be heading in the right direction. And it is good to see the 2015 1st round draft pick look like he is beginning to put things together. I would love to see him develop this season much like Fochive did last season. Whether he realizes its do or die or he is competing with players like Akinjide Idowu or a little of both, it was great (and admittedly a little surprising) to see Nick Besler as one of the better players for T2 in their first match.
Idowu, Damraoui, and Meva, to me, will be the original trio of exciting international prospects brought in. And only one of those three saw minutes in T2's first game. Damraoui led the team in fouls committed with 4 of 13 total. Easily spotted on the field due to his hair, he looked a bit out of place in the first match where I was able to see him work.
Perhaps it's due to the travel, or more needing to gel with the team (he wasn't the only player who had a bad game, because I cannot understate the low quality of passing this team had in that match), Damraoui was aggressive but sloppy in his tackles. One of his last fouls in the second half probably should've been a yellow card and he was definitely lucky to not get a card in the match.
Hopefully this is just part of an adjustment period that most all internationals require when they play in the states. But Damraoui underwhelmed in his debut. As the season goes on we will definitely want to keep an eye on how his play develops with the rest of the team.
One concerning item with T2 gaining a lot of young international prospects with lots of potential is whether or not they can adjust to playing in the states. They will travel for one match farther than most of their own countries. And just like in MLS, T2 will have to play at altitude, in the summer heat, on bad turf, and any number of nuances to the American game. The bright side to all of this though, this is T2, and if the front office is hoping for any of these players to pan out for the first team, learning the challenges of the game within the states is another aspect for them to develop with their 3rd division side.
After the season opener against Swope Park Rangers, T2 get to return home for a nice 3 game home stand in the month of April. And first up will be hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps 2 in the home opener for T2 at Merlo Field this Saturday, April 2nd with a 7:00pm kickoff.
Following the home opener, T2 will then host another brand new USL team: Rio Grande Valley FC Toros on Friday, April 8th (7:00pm kickoff), before finishing it up on Sunday, April 17th (2:00pm kickoff) against Sacramento Republic FC
So we will get 3 great chances to see this team and the players improve upon what was a very dismal showing to start 2016. And do not let the first match get you down on this season. The entire team is very young and there is so much potential in it. We didn't get to see any flashes of that potential in the first match, but it was only one game. Hopefully in the next three we will get to see the flashes of potential that we know exist as T2 gets to play on the immaculate pitch of Merlo Field. And I strongly recommend coming out to a T2 game if you haven't been, because the small, intimate environment is lots of fun.
And don't forget there is a new podcast out there called Play The Kids that I co-host and talk a lot about T2 stuff.