TORONTO — Hugo Mbongue's sixth-minute goal helped Toronto FC II to a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union II on Saturday, moving the TFC reserve side into the Eastern Conference final of the MLS Next Pro league.
Mbongue, the younger brother of former Toronto FC midfielder Ralph Priso, deflected in a low Jordan Perruzza cross that a Philadelphia defender shied away from for fear of knocking the ball into his own goal at BMO Field. He left it and Mbongue did just that.
"We knew that against Philly especially that the backline is exposed a lot with balls in wide areas," Mbongue said. "So I just knew that if I make a run in behind their backline, I know that Jordan will find me and I think I took the goal pretty well."
TFC II will play at league-leading Columbus Crew II on Oct. 2 to determine who advances to the championship game. Columbus (16-3-5 during the regular season) downed Rochester New York FC 4-1 on Saturday with Canadian Jacen Russell-Rowe, a former member of the Toronto academy, scoring a hat trick.
It's the inaugural season of MLS Next Pro, which features 21 teams — 20 MLS reserve sides and the independent Rochester-based RNY FC.
Seven more MLS clubs plan to field teams in MLS Next Pro next year.
Whitecaps FC 2 (7-9-8) finished out of the playoffs, in seventh spot in the Western Conference. Montreal does not have an entry in the league.
In Western Conference semifinal play Sunday, St. Louis City 2 hosts North Texas SC and the Tacoma Defiance entertain the Houston Dynamo II.
TFC II outshot Philadelphia 12-11 (7-3 in shots on target).
TFC II (12-9-3) finished atop the Northeast Division and in second place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Philadelphia (11-9-4). Toronto was 14 points behind Columbus, which finished first in both the league and Central Division.
Since its formation in 2015, playing in the USL and USL League One, the TFC second team had never reached the post-season before this season.
It came down to the wire with Toronto securing its place in playoffs with a 2-1 victory at Orlando City B on the final day of the regular season Sept. 18. Toronto had lost 4-3 to Inter Miami II and 1-0 to RNY FC before that.
Toronto would have advanced to the playoffs with a tie in Orlando. The late winner assured them of a home playoff date.
Mbongue, 18, signed a homegrown contract with the Toronto first team earlier this month.
Of the 20 players who dressed for TFC II in the regular-season finale in Orlando, six players made appearances for the first team this season — Kobe Franklin, Steffen Yeates, Themi Antonoglou, Paul Rothrock, Kadin Chung and Perruzza.
Adam Pearlman was signed to short-term deals with the first team but remained on the bench for TFC matches against the Philadelphia Union (April 16) and Orlando City (May 14).
Under TFC II coach Gianni Cimini, the 2022 reserve team set records for wins (12), points (41 points), goals (44), goal differential (plus-6) and away wins (six). Its 10-match unbeaten run (7-0-3) between June 2 and Aug. 21 is the longest in club history.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.
The Canadian Press