Toronto FC II head coach Jason Bent was fairly honest in his reflections of the team’s inaugural campaign. “Everything was quite new for us in terms of the level, the standards, the opposition, how our players would fit into that.”
Bent conceded that the final scores in 2015 didn’t often favor TFC II but that the season held other positives for the club. “To be honest, we felt that outside of maybe three or four games we were competitive. We were in games and then small little details and lapses of concentration cost us getting the results that we wanted. On the other side of things, we felt a lot of players pushed through and got valuable minutes and professional experience. On that side of things it was very successful.”
To Bent’s point, TFC II only lost four games by more than a two-goal margin while introducing as many as 18 academy players to the USL level.
With regard to the decisions on which players either get pulled up from the academy or need minutes from the MLS side, Bent replied that those talks “don’t necessarily need to be scheduled meetings.” He continued, “Sometimes it’s just a conversation that picks up at the football club on a daily basis.”
“My assistant last year was Stuart Neely, we were in constant discussions with regards to which players were doing well, how we integrate those players into training first and foremost, and then gradually building up minutes to get them experience.” Bent noted that these talks happen more often as the development of a young player’s confidence can be just as important as his skills. “The worst thing you want to do is put somebody into a situation where they’re playing 90 minutes and it’s a rude awakening and that can kind of set them back.”
“The discussions between Greg Vanney and myself are often quite frequent with regards to first team players who need more minutes, first team players coming back from injury and can only play 30 minutes in this particular game just to give them a taste of it, those conversations are happening regularly and I expect that to continue going forward into this season.”
In the aftermath of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Toronto FC made a bold impression on the MLS/USL dynamic by signing high draft picks directly to its USL team, as opposed to signing players to MLS and loaning them down for the season. While this wasn’t necessarily the established plan on all levels of the club heading into the draft, Toronto (along with the Portland Timbers) made a splash and effectively changed the nature of the draft system in MLS. As was mentioned in Episode 2 of The USL Show, fans jokingly refer to the later rounds of the draft as the “USL Draft” but Toronto signed Skylar Thomas (11th overall), Wesley Charpie (29th overall) and Edwin Rivas (37th overall) to USL contracts.
Coach Bent acknowledged the relative novelty of the signings but admitted that the decisions were made “more or less during preseason” rather than ahead of the draft. “It was a matter of looking at certain players and saying, ‘Well, we have quite a bit of depth in these areas but we think the player has something special.’ Ultimately young players need minutes on the pitch; that’s the only way to improve.”
Bent pointed to centerback Skylar Thomas as the clearest beneficiary of this process. Thomas was a standout player during his four years at Syracuse University and trained a few times with Canadian youth national teams. After his strong play in USL, however, the Scarborough native started every game for Canada in the Olympic qualifying tournament in 2015. “I think Skylar is a player who benefited tremendously from being with the USL team and all the minutes that he got. The leadership qualities tended to come out more in the USL team and he was one of our most consistent players. Those minutes were fantastic for him.”
Whether preparing academy players for professional soccer or helping young players develop after college, Toronto FC II has met the call. TFC II announced on Wednesday that academy player Martin Davis, who appeared in two league matches last year while also playing for the developmental squads in the PDL and the local semi-pro League1 Ontario, had signed a USL contract with the team. Head coach Jason Bent will look to carry on this track record of player promotion while also angling for an improvement over the team’s 6-17-5 record from the 2015 season.