Wow, T2 actually won! I hate to admit it, but let’s be honest, was anyone really expecting that?
Not only did T2 get their first points of the season, they got their first shutout and dragged themselves off the floor of the USL standings. They did so behind a Bijev PK in the 40th minute and an Arboleda goal in the 68th. T2 got a bit lucky earning the PK with Blake Bodily dribbling away from goal and almost out of the box when he was taken down. But Bijev was able to convert and T2 were able to take the other opportunity they got while holding down the fort enough in their end to get the shutout and take home all 3 points.
How did they do that?
With T2, there wasn’t too much different done in defense to earn the shutout. There were two changes. Wade Hamilton in goal and Zarek Valentin at right back. Neither played like they were off the charts and the only reason T2 got the victory. But both were solid and the defense got the shut out. Hamilton stepped into goal much like McIntosh did last season. The starting T2 keeper got called up to ride pine with the first team due to a goalkeeper injury. So McIntosh stayed in Portland, Hamilton commanded between the sticks in Sacramento.
Hamilton made 4 saves on the evening to earn the shut out. They were good, solid saves. Nothing stood out like he was standing on his head like McIntosh has done so far. And it should be noted McIntosh leads USL in saves just 4 games! He hasn’t even played the most recent two games but still leads USL in saves. And he likely won’t play at home versus San Antonio if Gleeson is still out. But that is okay. Hamilton showed well enough against Sacramento that if you had seen him play for T2 last season you would know he has improved. I still rate McIntosh higher, but I was pleased with what I saw out of Hamilton and feel fine with him in goal against San Antonio.
The only thing I want to mention with Valentin making a surprise appearance in the starting XI is: why? Both of the T2 right backs were in the 18, so it is unlikely anyone was injured. My best guess is Valentin was brought in to provide some veteran presence and stability to the backline, in particular for Clarke. It’s possible the coaching staff are trying to push Clarke and having someone help him a bit on his right side could be what he needs to get his head back in the game and start improving again.
With both Hamilton and Valentin added to the defense to put in solid but not spectacular performances we look to the defense as a whole. Yes, T2 have lost 5 games in a row but none of them were blowouts so the defense isn’t entirely the issue. Losses have only been 1-0 or 2-1 losses until we won 2-0. It certainly helped that Sacramento couldn’t finish to save their life but when you are playing so much of the game in one half of the pitch (hint: it was T2’s half for most of the game) then your defense is strong. Bending but not breaking. Add Sacramento’s finishing issues and things worked out for the visitors.
This was also the first time T2 have scored more than one goal this season. Thankfully Bijev was able to convert his PK this time and Arboleda found his first goal of the season. Are they improving? I’d argue they have been for more than just this game. The T1.5 match had good showings from Bijev and Arboleda but they couldn’t find the net and Whitecaps 2 got a lucky bounce their way. But this match they were able to finish their chances, the few that they got. Because Sacramento held T2 in their own end for long stretches of the match. So it was great to see T2 finish their opportunities while Sacramento couldn’t. But what is going to happen when T2 host 1st place San Antonio this weekend?
So up next is T2 hosting 1st place San Antonio FC this Friday, April 28th, at 7:30pm at Providence Park. San Antonio is very much deserving of their 1st place status. They are a good side who will be playing T2 as their 3rd match in 6 days. The first two? Last Saturday they won against Whitecaps 2 in Vancouver. Tuesday night they dispatched S2 at Starfire. So that’s 6 out of 6 points in the first two games of a full blown Cascadia road swing. A big part of that is Billy Forbes who leads USL with 5 goals (having scored #5 against S2 on Tuesday). He was subbed off at half time against S2 to keep him fresh for T2. And many of the regular starters were rested against S2 so expect San Antonio to come in with a full strength squad. They have done well to rotate and rest players on this grueling road trip so it will be a huge challenge for T2.
Getting the extra rest could help them and being so low in the standings maybe they’ll want to prove something against the top team in the west. It would certainly be nice if T2 can stand as the only team to not give up all 3 points in San Antonio’s road swing. But they are the real deal and have the talent to win the west and possibly USL Cup. It could come down to just a matter of their team being much better than T2. I’d expect a draw but if the USL leading goal scorer gets at least 45 minutes or more to run at T2 from his left wing/left midfield spot it’s going to cause a lot of problems for T2. Forbes has 5 goals and 3 assists already this early in the season and he doesn’t look like he is going to slow down anytime soon.
But San Antonio have their weaknesses too. Their starting goalkeeper returned home with an injury. Matt Cardone leads USL with 3 shutouts. Without him starting S2 were able to put 2 goals past the San Antonio defense (and they really aren’t that good even objectively). So if S2 can score, T2 should be able to as well. But San Antonio are vastly dangerous going forward and I can’t see the T2 defense holding on. Which is why a draw seems fair, a 1-1 or 2-2 draw.
After dispatching, with some ease, Whitecaps 2 and S2, San Antonio wrap up their road trip with T2. Let’s hope a 3rd game in 6 days is just too much for the San Antonio legs, even with their rotations and the T2 boys can get a favorable result!