So before my work break, T2 had just come off their first win of the season. Getting a 1-0 result at home against Sacramento Republic. Then they had to follow that up with a 3 game road trip. But they brought back a respectable 4 points out of 9 from that. And followed it up with a second consecutive home win in a thrilling 3-1 victory over Real Monarchs SLC.
They were 0-3-0 to start the season and then got their first points ever moving to 1-3-0. Since then they have improved to a 3-4-1 record, 10 pts in 8 games played, and are comfortably mid-table in the USL Western Conference. All in all, not that bad. Only 1 loss in their last 5 matches played is impressive: W L W D W.
So let's get into all the previous results we have missed so far.
Road Game #1: OC Blues
While it was only a 1-0 loss T2 did themselves no favors with only taking 2 total shots all game. Neither of which were on target. So they did not, at any point, test the OC Blues keeper. Forward Trevin Caesar scored the lone goal of the match in the 39th minute.
OC Blues were the better team on the night, getting 8 shots off with 5 on target. So while Wade Hamilton made 4 saves and the defense might be commended a bit for only allowing one goal, the midfield and attack did nothing at all to try to get anything out of this match. The theme being "Two Steps Forward, One Step Back". After their first win of the season, T2 came out flat and took another loss.
Road Game #2: Tulsa Roughnecks
However, right after that loss, T2 came out and grabbed their first road win of the season. And this was an identical result to their 2-0 victory in Tulsa last season. In the 22nd minute, fan favorite Kharlton Belmar opened the scoring. Outside the top of the 18, Damraoui was dispossessed and the ball trickled out towards Belmar who ran onto the loose ball and hit it first time low and hard into the right corner.
And then 4 minutes later Andre Lewis got his first T2 goal with a left footed rocket into the top right corner. And after that T2 continued to press but it would stay a 2-0 game. Just 3 days following a team performance that took only 2 shots all game and none of which were on target, this time they took 12 shots and a season high 6 on frame.
Not only that but this was the first match where Wade Hamilton had to go to the first team for bench duty due to the injury of Kwarasey that bumped all the goalkeepers between the two teams up one spot. Gleeson starts, Hamilton bench, and Kendall McIntosh (having been Hamilton's backup) now gets the T2 starts. And what any keeper wants to see, McIntosh got the shutout on his first game between the sticks. Tulsa had 11 shots taken but only 2 of those were on frame.
Road Game #3: Arizona United
The see-saw continues. After a good performance, comes one that lets you down a bit. Not that a road draw is ever a truly bad result. But when you take the lead and cough it up to lose points its disheartening. Victor Arboleda opened his account with the fastest goal in T2 history, giving the away team a 1-0 lead in the first minute.
It was a really, really nice goal. Dylan Damraoui sent in a well taken ball over the defense, perfectly placed for Arboleda to use his speed, burn two Arizona defenders, and get right onto it where he was able to rush forward and calmly slot his shot past the near post.
Unfortunately, T2 allowed victory and the full 3 points to slip from their grasp as Arizona United was able level in the 80th minute through Sam Garza. Very similar to T2's goal in the 1st minute. Midfielder Miguel Timm lofted a ball to a streaking forward who was able to run behind the defense and slot their shot into the net.
McIntosh was called to action a few times more in this match as Arizona spent a lot of time and energy fighting not just for the equalizer but also pressing for the winner. T2 were low on the shots on goal count again: 9 total, only 2 on frame. Arizona's pressure can be seen in their 16 total shots taken with 4 on frame.
Providence Park: Real Monarchs
I mentioned on the last Play The Kids episode that returning home with 3 points or better would be mission accomplished. And with a haul of 4 out of 9 points and returning home to back up the road trip with a strong home performance and 3 more points, I'd say that is definitely mission accomplished. T2 exceeded expectations on the road.
Now, after disappointingly giving up a late equalizer and losing 2 points in their last road match, they got to play their first regular season game at Providence Park. And they had another identical result to a 2015 game. In their first ever official match, T2 beat the Monarchs 3-1 at Merlo Field in 2015. Facing them at home again, the venue changed but the result did not. Another 3-1 victory for the good guys.
Continuing from Arboleda's goal against AZ United, the wingers continued to produce for T2. This time Ben Polk and Neco Brett got in on the action, adding two more players who were able to open their scoring accounts. But all three goals were helped by the strikers Belmar and Bijev. It was a very good game for the entire attacking unit and something good to see. But is it something that can continue or was it just a flash of the potential that is there as the team continues to move two steps forward and one step back on their march of progress.
Ben Polk opened the scoring in the 18th minute to give the home side a 1-0 lead. The goal was all about Belmar making a concerted effort to get to a ball only Belmar could get to. He then burned two defenders and sent the ball laterally to Polk who reacted quickly and slotted first time into the back of the net.
The top came off as the final 10 minutes plus stoppage saw 3 more goals happen. Neco Brett got a brace as he scored the game winner and a late insurance goal to secure the 3-1 victory. In the 81st minute, Villyan Bijev released Brett who charged past a defender and calmly placed his shot into the net. Brett followed that up with a stoppage time goal after Belmar made some fantastic midfield pressure to gain possession and start the counter. Belmar laid off a great pass right onto a rushing Bijev who laid the ball off to Brett who was able to put the ball into the far side netting and cap off an amazing counter attack with the team's 3rd and final goal of the night.
Between Brett's brace, the Monarchs did make it a one goal game by getting their consolation prize in the 86th minute through forward Brody, giving the team some hope as they tried to press for an equalizer but eventually left themselves open for a beautiful counter attack sequence.
But in this game McIntosh was well up to task and proved that he is another good prospect getting 6 saves on the Monarchs 7 shots on goal. Neco Brett was the star for the home team though. Getting the team high in shots taken (3 of the team's 7 total) and team high in shots on goal (2 of the team's 5 total). And of course Brett converted both of his shots on frame into goals for the home side. Neither side wasted too many chances as both were able to get a really good portion of their total shots on frame. The visitors had 7 of 10 total shots on goal and T2 had 5 of 7 total shots on goal.
Getting only 3 points from the first 4 games, T2 has roared back getting 7 in the next four.
With Wade Hamilton moved up to bench duty for the first team, his backup Kendall McIntosh stepped in and got a clean sheet and all 3 points with his first game for T2 in their 2-0 road victory vs Tulsa. And in his three games he has only given up 2 goals. Zero losses, One shutout, Two victories, Three games played with 7 points obtained. McIntosh is so far proving to be a very capable keeper at the USL level. I've been impressed with Hamilton so far early in the season even though he only has one shutout and one victory to his name across 5 games. But McIntosh is proving to be equally capable (maybe even better?) and perhaps the future of the organizations goalkeepers is looking pretty good.
Thing is, even if McIntosh ends up being better than Hamilton I wager Hamilton will always get the start over McIntosh since he is signed with the 1st team as the 3rd string keeper. And they will want to make sure their 3rd string keeper gets all the minutes he possibly can in case he needs to be called upon by the first team.
After kicking off the season benched behind Bijev, it seems that everyone got what they wanted. Belmar starting consistently. And with Belmar starting, the team has been able to produce favorable results. Coincidence? I leave that up to you to decide. But outside of a dismal showing in Irvine, California, Belmar has been showing that there has been no real drop in performance from the 2015 USL Rookie of the Year and 2015 T2 lead scorer.
He got an assist on the first goal T2 scored this season but once he was finally able to start, he scored. His first goal coming against Sacramento Republic in the team's first win of the season. And the OC Blues match excluded, followed that up with a goal against Tulsa, and some amazing work to help create 3 goals against Real Monarchs.
When Belmar is able to get involved, it seems that this team is able to put the ball in the back of the net and find itself with all three points. But there are times when he either is not involved or can't find ways to get involved (see: Blues, Orange County) and that can be frustrating for a striker such as himself. But if Belmar continues to develop and find ways to stay involved and build on his ability to pressure the opposition high, he should find the rest of the attack joining in and T2 will work it's way to more victories.
Up next is going to be a really difficult challenge for T2. They travel to Colorado Springs, Colorado and up to over 6,000 feet in elevation. This Friday, May 13th, they will kickoff at 6:00pm pacific at Switchbacks Stadium which itself is at nearly 6,500 feet. Not only will the altitude be a challenge unto itself, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks are a very strong team. They rarely lose at home, in part due to the elevation, but also due to the fact they have a very strong defense. Only giving up 5 goals across 6 games (3 of which came against LA Galaxy II in a road loss) they are very stingy and very difficult to score against.
In the most recent episode of Play The Kids we discuss how the best chance for T2 to get anything out of this match is striking at their only weak point, right back. Overloading the left flank and keeping up high pressure as much as possible to try to get an early goal and hope they can hold out. With the altitude it should be key for Gregor to use all 5 substitutes and keep his team as fresh as possible throughout the second half.
I don't have confidence T2 are going to get a favorable result. The signs just don't point to the fact that they can. Altitude + super stingy defense + "one step backward" time = a likely away loss for T2. I certainly hope I am wrong but being realistic the expectation won't be to get a victory. Nonetheless we cheer our boys no matter the odds.
And in next week's Roots Report, I really hope I'll be wrong!