So right off the bat, the roughest point to cover. T2 is without any points 5 games into their season. Which puts the young squad in the unenviable position of holding up the rest of the USL Western conference. You can see the western conference standings here in our ‘View From The Spar’.
It isn’t going to get any easier for T2 with their next two opponents being Sacramento Republic and San Antonio FC. But what happened in the most recent game? Let’s take a look.
This was a T1.5 match. This is the term I use when a large contingent of first team players get loaned down to T2 for no particular reason. It happens about once a season and so far T1.5, across all seasons, is just like T2 this season: no wins or draws; all losses. There was a difference in this match though, one that gave hope this would turn out differently.
First off, the large contingent of first team players that get loaned down can happen for any reason or no reason at all. Usually always when T2 has a home match the day after a Timbers home game. And it also usually happens right before the US Open Cup as a way for Porter to give bench & reserve players vital minutes in a USL game (that doesn’t matter to Porter or those first team players) ahead of the US Open Cup match that does matter. Why this has happened much earlier than usual only means one thing for certain: I’d expect to see another T1.5 match if the stars (i.e. home match schedules) align again. Anything else is speculation. But it is not done because of any injuries within T2. This time it was likely done because the schedules aligned and with increased competition in training for places in the XI and 18, players that have worked hard had an opportunity to show Porter whether or not they deserve to get rotated into the first team lineup (as subs or just getting/staying on the bench).
It was this competition that Porter says he has as the most likely reason why T1.5 performed so much better than in previous iterations. Or at least a significant part of it. T1.5 absolutely dominated Whitecaps 2 (who had little to no first team loans as far as I know) through the first 45 minutes. But T1.5 lacked quality and some luck in finishing their chances so Whitecaps 2 were able to reach the break 0-0. During halftime Whitecaps 2 changed up their strategy and that helped them not get so dominated in the second half. But T1.5 still controlled the match and were the most comfortable team for another 15-20 minutes. Between the 65th and 70th minute I saw the team start to wane in their energy level. Nothing a sub or two couldn’t fix though. Get some fresh legs out there, new blood, needed energy, and then go back to controlling the match. Unfortunately, it was very much like the New England home game. You could see the team needed a spark, but were not getting anything. No subs were made. And from around the 70th minute forward, Whitecaps 2 got back into the game. Whitecaps 2 got their goal in the 84th minute when Thomas Sanner tapped in a spilled ball from Jeff Attinella. Once the visitors scored, Gregor pulled a centerback and put Williams on but it was far too late at that point.
In previous T1.5 matches, the squad has looked disinterested at best, and a complete lack of caring at worst. So it was quite pleasant to see the first team players, in particular Vytas, Barmby, and Attinella playing out there with something to prove (to Porter, still didn’t have any real investment in the end result of the match I don’t think). And it helped that T2 players like Lewis and Bijev stepped up and showed much better than they have in the previous four matches. Those 5 players stood out to me in this game, in particular while T1.5 dominated and were in control. But once the energy level dropped and momentum swung into the visitor’s favor that was the end of that.
I’ve tried to think long and hard why Gregor didn’t make any substitutions. And the one sub he did make might provide an answer. In a match where Porter gave Gregor 6 first team players (8 if you want to count regular loanees to T2: Ebobisse & Arboleda) I suspect Gregor might not have been allowed to sub any of them off. The substitute he did make was in the 84th minute immediately following concession: Lamar Batista came off and Augustine Williams was put on. That’s a T2 player for a T2 player. And if you are down a goal, you need to put an attacker on. And if Gregor can’t sub any first team players off (reminder: this is speculation), and this includes Ebobisse & Arboleda, then you are left with Batista, Bijev, or Lewis. Now, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t have tried to get one of his midfield subs on for either Bijev or Lewis to try to get more energy out there. But this shows it’s not arrogance like it was in the New England game, or even ineptitude as Josh & I discussed last night while recording Play The Kids. It is Gregor’s hands being tied on what he can do with T2 or T1.5. Which is a topic that we go into more depth on in this Friday’s PTK episode.
Now with T2 sitting at the bottom of the West (& the entire USL league as a whole since they are the only team without any points East or West) it doesn’t get any easier for T2 moving forward. This Saturday they have to travel to Sacramento Republic and face a very good Republic team at home. Sacramento is out to win every game and fight for trophies in USL while T2 is here to try to develop individual talent for the future of the first team. Not hard to see how this match might work out.
Check out our preview graphic to see what T2 can expect when they visit Sacramento. And following the trip to Sacramento, T2 return home to host the current West leaders San Antonio FC (another independent team out to do nothing but win, win, win). Then T2 travel back to Starfire to face S2 for the second time this season. T2 have never taken a point out of Starfire.
So T2 have begun 2017 in futility and it is not getting any easier for them going forward. Results can be had if the individual talent within T2 plays like a team and the few players left over from 2016 step up and get the rest of the team playing like they ended last season.