T2 got their first win streak in team history. And two of those victories were on the road. So with three wins in a row, do T2 have what it takes to keep that rolling with two games left this season? T2 were stricken with an undesirable ability to concede goals in the first and final 15 minutes of their games (one of the worst teams in the league on goals conceded in the final 15 mins up before these 3 games). So what happened when they stopped doing that? Three wins in a row apparently, two on the road and two shutouts to boot.
OKC Energy FC: 4-0 WIN
A result that I didn't see coming. T2 stormed to victory in the second half and held on for only their 4th shutout of the season. Things started off with a T2 penalty awarded in the 35th minute. Villyan Bijev put away his 4th goal of the season when he converted and the home side went up 1-0. The penalty was earned after Augustine Williams was fouled from behind as he went to bring down a Brent Richards cross. And T2 would see that score hold going into the break.
Nearly right off the 2nd half kick, T2 doubled their lead in the 46th minute. It was Bijev again, getting the brace (his second of the season) and his 5th goal after Andre Lewis slipped him in behind the defense. And Blake Bodily scored again when he made it a 3-0 game in the 70th minute. Lewis again assisted as he got the ball out to the left from deep in midfield. Bodily ran nearly half the field at and through the OKC defense to put a driven shot past the keeper. Before this moment Blake had made runs similar to this but would hesitate and try to hold up the ball once he approached or penetrated the OKC box. It wouldn't work out, but he learned and on this occasion kept the ball, kept driving, and was rewarded with another goal.
And only 3 minutes later he tried to do it again. In the 73rd minute he broke into the box but instead of getting a goal he was fouled and earned T2 their 2nd penalty kick of the night. Surprisingly, Bijev did not take the PK in an attempt to earn the first ever T2 hat trick. It was Augustine Williams who stepped up to put away the kick. Williams' first attempt was saved but the keeper coughed up the rebound and Williams followed his shot and was in prime position to head the ball over the keeper and into the empty net to ensure he got his first tally of the season for T2.
After the penalty, T2 were able to ride out the final 15 minutes of pressure from OKC Energy and secure the shutout. It was only the team's 4th shutout of the season, a 3rd for Kendall McIntosh.
Rio Grande Valley FC Toros: 1-0 WIN
This was a game where T2 had to travel to the southern tip of Texas and go away to one of the hottest teams in the conference. I don't really know if anyone expected T2 to win. I certainly didn't. A draw of any sort would've been a huge result. But T2 got the win in the most impressive result of the entire season.
Rio Grande Valley went into this match on 10 game unbeaten run. They were on a 5 game win streak having outscored their opponents 17 to 1 in those 5 games. Yes, 17 goals scored in only 5 games with only 1 conceded across that entire span (which started off with a 6-0 win over S2). This team was on fire.
T2 withstood a lot of Toros pressure in the first half. And through no small part of a solid defense of which Brent Richards at right back shined, T2 were able to make it to the break scoreless. And again, a 0-0 draw or even a 1-1 draw would've been impressive given the opponent. But T2 weren't going to have any of that. Certainly not Brent Richards. In the 61st minute, Richards (who was defending and pushing up like crazy all game) put away his first goal of the season to put T2 up 1-0. He took his first shot that got blocked by the Toros defense. However he followed his own play and was able to get onto the rebound. His second shot got past the keeper and into the lower left corner of the net.
And not only did Richards score but he also had a key part in keeping the shutout as one of the best opportunities for Rio Grande Valley to equalize was stopped by Richards in the 71st minute as he blocked a shot from their lead scorer Memo Rodriguez from inside the box. Wade Hamilton made two key saves in the 89th and 90th minutes to earn his 2nd shutout of the season and the 5th for the team (2nd one in a row) and T2 left with all 3 points.
Arizona United SC: 2-1 WIN
Of the three road games for T2, this was one I expected them to win if they were going to get road points. In the first half, I questioned that. Since they got all 3 pts versus Rio Grande Valley, which was very unexpected, they were already exceeding expectations for the road trip. But in the second half, they got another win, securing the first win streak in team history and blowing all the expectations out of the water.
T2 started off the first half on the front foot. Applying a lot of pressure and trying to generate quality in their chances early on. A lot of chances were taken (21 shots total) but as far as quality, 9 made it on frame. Still impressive to out shoot the home side 21-14 overall. But after the first 10 mins the remainder of the first half was all Arizona United. They got their goal in the 23rd minute through a long range strike from Tony Cascio (his 1st goal for Arizona). And at different times Arizona were choking T2 and pinning them in their own box. But T2 held on to reach the half only down 1-0.
In the second half, T2 started it off strong again, and for another 10 min period they were dominate. Arizona began to see more of the ball after the 55th minute, but unlike the 1st half, T2 would not succumb to Arizona's pressure. And Arizona's pressure was more random/haphazard like than anything truly organized. Just throwing feet, bodies, whatever they could in front of T2 passes and clearances. It was particularly concerning for the home side because they kept throwing lots of numbers forward leaving only 2 or 3 players behind the ball despite being up 1-0. So they really left themselves open to the counter. Which can be T2's bread and butter when they click. And in the second half T2 sharpened up their passing, clicked, and the haphazard pressure from Arizona had far less effect.
In the 59th minute, T2 equalized through Augustine Williams. Neco Brett dribbled past his defender on the right edge of the box and sent in a cross that Williams connected with. It was the 2nd goal of the season for Willams and his 2nd in 3 games. T2 and Arizona continued to battle for the remainder of the second half. And it appeared it would end in a perfectly reasonable 1-1 draw. But in second half stoppage time (just seconds after regulation time ended) Neco Brett added to his assist with the game winning goal. It was off a counter attacking sequence that saw Bijev slip Brett in behind the Arizona defense and Brett slotted his shot from about 17 yards out past the keeper to get T2's third win in a row.
This was actually the second time this season that Neco Brett has scored a game winning goal in second half stoppage time. The first coming in T2's 4-3 comeback win over LA II earlier in the season. Bijev also got his 8th assist on the season putting him in 2nd place in all of USL on number of assists. Just one behind Sacramento Republic's Danny Barrera. The 9 points secured also vaults T2 off the near bottom of the table to within 3 points of 8th (final playoff spot) place with 2 games remaining.
There was a brief two week period earlier in the season when T2 strung together two wins and jumped up as high as 5th place where the playoffs might be possible. But before and after that, reality was king where it was unlikely this team could make the playoffs. Mainly due to inconsistency in their play of which the primary factor is youth and inexperience.
But it appears that they might be putting all the pieces together and have rattled off 3 straight wins. It is certainly possible that they could get 2 more and end the season on 5 straight. With the way they are playing I wouldn't bet against them. But even if they did that, it would still likely be a bit of a stretch to reach that final playoff spot. Let's take a look and see what we going on though.
OC Blues sit in 8th place with 37 points. After them we have Monarchs SLC (36), San Antonio (35), and Sounders 2 (35) before we reach T2 with 34 points. All of the teams have played 28 games and have two more remaining. And on last week's Play The Kids episode, Josh had brought up that he would like to see T2 finish above S2. Since chances are the first team can finish above the Sounders, and the Thorns have secured a position above the Reign, it leaves only T2 to find a table spot ahead of S2 to finish the trifecta.
That desire is the most attainable. S2 are one point ahead of T2, both with two games remaining. But as far as playoff chances go, most of the teams ahead of T2 will need to drop points while T2 will most likely need to win out, but require at least 4 points in the next two.
OC Blues have two home games left. Both against high table opponents (Rio Grande Valley and Colorado Springs) but within the comforts of home, they might be able to find some points in there.
Real Monarchs SLC have two away games left. First they travel to Arizona United, then over to the LA Galaxy II. I would predict the best they could hope for is some result in Arizona, likely a draw. So this is a team T2 are currently with momentum to overtake.
San Antonio FC have Tulsa Roughnecks at home, followed up by a trip to Rio Grande Valley. It would be a shocker if they didn't get all 3 points at home. But that road game will be a challenge. San Antonio will likely finish with a win and loss to end on 38 points. With this being the prediction I feel strongest about, it shows that T2 would most likely need to win out the season and get to 40 points to have any chance at the playoffs.
Finally, Sounders 2. They have away games for their final two games. Their previous two results have also been away but they got results. They haven't lost since August 20th (the game before the final match between T2 and S2). Since that Aug 20th loss they are W, W, D, D. They got two points in their two road games so far, both 2-2 results, first against Whitecaps 2, following that up against OKC Energy. Up next, S2 have to travel to Colorado Springs while finishing the season at Swope Park Rangers. I wouldn't bet against S2 getting a result, most likely a draw, at Swope Park. I can't see them getting anything out of their visit to Colorado Springs though. So if S2 likely only get 1 point out of their last two games, it will only take a result of any kind out of T2's last two matches to finish above them. So while T2's playoff hopes are pretty slim and likely require winning out with other results going their way, they are within a comfortable reach to finish above S2 as it stands now, headed into the final two matches.
One last road game and one last home game are left for T2 this season. On Sunday the 18th T2 will travel up to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps 2 at Thunderbird Stadium. Kickoff is set for 2:00 pm pacific. After that, T2 will finish the regular season at home, Merlo Field, taking on Arizona United again. That kickoff is scheduled for Saturday the 24th, 7:00 pm pacific.