The second team looked better overall on Saturday night in front of a home crowd. Not that it would take much to perform better than the season opener. But the all of the kids looked appreciably improved one week removed from their first match of 2016. Some more than others, but it was a good step in the right direction.
T2's Starting XI: Hamilton; Klute (c), Gallagher, Manning, Farfan; Besler, Lewis, Damraoui; Brett, Bijev, Polk
T2 didn't look out of place in a scoreless first half. Nor were they exactly played off the field by a speedy Whitecaps 2. In their first match against Swope Park it was all the home team. But in the first half against Whitecaps 2, the visitors did have the edge in shots taken (7-to-5) and shots on goal (4-to-1), at least T2 looked more like a coherent professional team. There is still a lot to work on. And we need to remember that most of these players are kids, not even 20 years old yet.
In the second half, the Whitecaps 2 built a 3-0 lead behind a PK (2nd PK given up by T2 in two matches) in the 60th minute. Academy player Marco Farfan, who has started at left back in their first two matches, made a sloppy attempt at a tackle. Whitecaps 2 captain Kyle Greig converted the kick with Hamilton guessing the wrong way. 3 minutes before this, new exciting prospect Victor Arboleda made his debut coming on for Ben Polk and playing on the right wing. His addition, plus giving up the first goal, put some kick into the team. Similar to waking up after giving up the first goal against Swope Park, T2 found new vigor when they were forced to press for an equalizer.
Unfortunately, like against Swope Park, none came. Whitecaps 2 midfielder Daniel Haber got a brace with goals in the 67th and 76th minutes to give the visitors a comfortable 3-0 lead with less than 15 minutes to play. But T2 were not kept out of the net. Victor Arboleda impressed on his debut with speed the likes I've never seen. Whitecaps 2 appear to be a team built to counter with speed to burn, including 15-year old Alphonso Davies. But Arboleda's speed made them all look like they were standing still. In the 70th minute Belmar and Arboleda combined for a golden opportunity with Arboleda 1v1 on Spencer Richey but the Whitecaps 2 keeper was up to task. And the best chance for T2 came in the 74th minute with a free kick taken by Nico Brett was hit with significant power and came off the underside of the crossbar. But unfortunately it bounced out instead of in.
Shortly after the Whitecaps 2 got their 3rd goal, it was Dylan Damraoui who opened his T2 account with a slick shot from a very tight angle on the left side of the box to bring the deficit down. Unfortunately, 5 minutes later in the 84th minute, Damraoui was sent off with a straight red card for a challenge on a Whitecaps 2 player at midfield. Down to 10 men, T2 were unable to find anymore goals and sustained the 3-1 scoreline to the final whistle.
This team is young. And with youth comes both inexperience and exuberance. Something we must remember this season as we temper our expectations for T2 performances within the view of league play and results. Bottom line with T2 is that the priority is developing the youth they have and preparing them to be assets for the first team, results are and will continue to be secondary to that objective. And based on only two games, the kids are improving.
The average age of the T2 players is 21.78 years old. Add in the usual first team loans and it's still only 21.92 years old. The oldest player is Irving Garcia at only 28 years. Damraoui could've had a better first match, and he certainly had a great game on Saturday. But still got a red card in the 84th minute. Such is the patience we must have with the young kids, especially the internationals. There will be flashes of the potential they have, but they will make mistakes as kids are wont to do. Andrew Gregor was adamant about the youth of the team and how we must be patient while these kids gain experience and adjust to the style and game; in particular the internationals who also must adjust to a different culture and country.
"I’ve been saying it from the very beginning, it’s patience with this group. We have to get better. There’s little areas, moments in the game, that have to get better. We have some young, inexperienced players and we’re going to continue to work with them. We do a lot of work during the week. It’s great moments for us to come out in games, even when the results aren’t exactly what we want. [They are] huge teaching moments for us. For me, the progression we see in players, and certain individual players, is positive even though the result wasn’t necessarily there. As we continue to move forward, we hope we continue to get better and better each week and then the results will start to come. That’s the attack right now we’re looking at and we’ll continue to look that way."
While patience is needed and we need to remember the kids are young, at the same time there is so much potential here that it is difficult to not get excited at what we could see from them; both now in the second team and potentially in the future with the first team. Especially with the pre-red card performance of Damraoui and the 33 mins of Arboleda in this match.
I wasn't impressed with Dylan's first match. But my Play The Kids co-host Josh Duder convinced me that he wasn't as unimpressive as I originally thought. Regardless of how either of us felt about Damraoui's performance in the first game, he blew that out of the water in this second match.
Dylan Damraoui was one of the best overall players on the pitch Saturday night, despite getting a red card in the 84th minute. Sharing advanced midfield duties with Andre Lewis while Nick Besler sat back and defended the backline, Damraoui was one of the first kids to flash their potential on the field. Damraoui's passing and his touches were heads and shoulders improved from game one. Multiple times I took notice of a great pass, tackle, or interception from the 18 year old Belgian. And he had a couple of great shots throughout the match with his last one being the lone goal his team scored in the 79th minute. He was rarely putting a foot wrong until his ejection when the ref judged his challenge to be red card worthy. As such we won't get to see him on Friday vs Rio Grande Valley.
Someone I really hope we get to see, for a lot more than 33 minutes, is 19 year old Colombian winger Victor Arboleda. He made his debut in the 57th minute and he is another young international that has a lot of people excited about the potential. The addition of Arboleda, as well as Belmar a few minutes later, provided a much needed spark in the otherwise stagnant T2 attack up to that point. And he impressed. I kept getting drawn to his unnatural speed and was left wanting more. Just more minutes to watch him play.
And this kid has some wheels on him. The first time I saw him sprint past the Whitecaps 2 defense my jaw literally, actually, dropped. If you missed the match, but have seen how fast Belmar can be, think of Belmar, but faster. And his speed helped T2 get behind the Whitecaps 2 defense on more than one occasion in the second half. Arboleda himself used his speed to absolutely torch the defenders and get 1v1 with their keeper. But unfortunately, he couldn't win that battle. If those 33 minutes were any indication though; he will get a lot more situations like that to practice winning those opportunities and getting goals.
While the midfield, and the team overall, was much improved, some improved more than others. Lewis played as the other midfielder adjacent to Damraoui in the 3 man midfield. But he did not impress like Damraoui or Besler did. I think his passing and performance improved from the first game but he still had an errant pass or touch directly result in a turnover to the Whitecaps 2 on a fairly regular basis. It was more pronounced in the 1st half and first part of the 2nd and not nearly as bad as the game against Swope Park. But Lewis still has improvement to do in that area. Hopefully with another week of training he will continue to make progress and make the midfield better. Friday could be key with Damraoui out depending on who Gregor places in the lineup in place of Dylan.
Bijev has gotten the start at center forward in both games. And he has also been subbed off in both games in favor of Kharlton Belmar. Bijev has likely gotten the starts over Belmar as they focus on getting the new players minutes and build chemistry. Belmar is a known quantity, Bijev not so much.
But there is a problem with Bijev that was apparent in both matches. He plays deep. Perhaps too deep to be the central striker in the 4-3-3 formation. Numerous times he drops deep to try to get the ball or make something happen. And we are talking so deep that he is below the center circle nearly in the defensive third. But the wingers Polk and Brett are not cutting inside when this happens. So when Bijev tries to play the ball forward he plays to a giant hole where a forward (i.e. himself) should be. Because when the wingers don't cut into the center Bijev also doesn't bother to send the ball out wide to a winger. It's right up the middle. And in both matches, when Bijev was subbed off and Belmar came on, the attack became visibly more cohesive. So Bijev needs to improve at the position they are playing him as. Because Belmar so far makes the wingers more effective than Bijev. But we shall see as the season progresses how Bijev improves in this regard.
Game two in the run of 3 at Merlo Field is up next. This Friday, April 8th, with a 7:00pm kickoff, T2 will host new USL expansion side, Rio Grande Valley Toros FC. The RGV Toros are a brand new USL side just like the Swope Park Rangers. Operated by the Houston Dynamo, they are the Orange team's USL second team. After the Toros, T2 will finish up the home stand against the Sacramento Republic on Sunday, April 17th at 2:00pm.
We can expect Damraoui to stay in the locker room with his suspension due to a red card. So the main question will be, who gets his minutes? And will T2 continue to make progress as a team? Could Arboleda get the start over Polk or Brett? (based on Saturday night, I absolutely want to see Arboleda in the game over Polk). These questions and more will be discussed in Episode 3 of Play The Kids and answered when T2 kicks off on Friday night.