York Earns Quarterfinal Berth in a Gritty Canadian Championship Match

York Earns Quarterfinal Berth in a Gritty Canadian Championship Match

In the first-ever meeting between York United and Vancouver FC, the stakes could not be higher. The opportunity to host giants Vancouver Whitecaps was on the line in what would be a massive moment for both clubs. Once the dust settled, it was York who came out of it victorious – but only just. They managed to hold an early 1-0 lead well enough for the match to finish that way, but the scoreline could have been leaning well toward York, and at the same time there were moments where Vancouver came very close.

The pair that fuelled York’s late-game revival at the end of their opening match, Osaze De Rosario and Clément Bayiha, were starters and the offence really did flow better with that duo in. Along with Molham Babouli and Oussama Alou, who continue to build great chemistry, the attack was enough to keep Vancouver goalkeeper Callum Irving on his toes. “Mo’s got a lot of quality, and Osaze is always in the box and wants to score,” said Irving. “We’ll have to be wary of them again on Saturday.”


Maybe, though, York couldn’t send Irving off his toes enough. Despite many promising runs down the wing from the likes of Bayiha and Austin Ricci, who replaced the Quebecer late into the match, York goes another game without scoring a true team goal. To say it should’ve come in the second half of this match is an understatement, had the fixture been while players were in mid-season form there’s a good chance York’s lead would be padded in a convincing way. Irving thought the defence in front of him was solid.

York United players celebrate opening the scoring against Vancouver FC in the Canadian Championship (David Chant)

Instead, the breakthrough came within five minutes, as Ibrahim Bakaré, who was quite a positive presence for Vancouver down the stretch of the match, clipped Alou as he was receiving a good through ball from Babouli. His protest for a call was, frankly, halfhearted, but York got the call. Babouli froze Irving and tucked the ball away for the squad’s first goal of 2023. “I thought the penalty decision affected the group psychologically, and it took us a while to overcome it,” Vancouver coach Afshin Ghotbi explained.

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That isn’t a promising sign, but Vancouver do have many new pros in the lineup that are still learning their way around the league. Even star Gael Sandoval, who made some phenomenal runs and is half of a great winger combination with Ameer Kinani, struggled at times to adjust to the cold and artificial turf. Ghotbi will be looking to Sandoval down the stretch to help provide sparks for the side a lot more. His reputation in the Canadian Premier League is that of a star and potential game-breaker. “I didn’t have to do much shot-stopping, so I think defensively we limited their chances, but obviously it wasn’t enough.”Sandoval is a very skillful player and very intelligent. He had some great moments on the ball and put some players into a great chance of scoring. Once he’s a bit more physically fit and has adjusted to the Canadian game, he’ll grow into the league and influence more matches in the future.”

Sandoval’s efforts were a key part of Vancouver breaking the psychological barrier in the final frame, but just as much of it must be owed to Gaby Bitar. A thunderous shot from afar had captain Niko Giantsopolous beat but rang off the crossbar in the 50th minute, and Bitar, having been a halftime substitution for Shaan Hundal, and joined the attack instantly. Bitar was a shining light in FC Edmonton’s darkness and eventual demise last year, and he will also be someone who becomes critical to the Eagles if they do reach unexpected heights.

“I think the changes we made affected the team positively,” added Ghotbi. “We played a very good second half, and I think we created enough chances to score half a dozen goals.”

Giantsopolous, the captain once again, came in clutch, just as he did in York’s 2022 Canadian Championship.In the 42nd minute, the ‘keeper tracked back to the far post and lept to deflect a drop shot from levelling the score. In the 65th minute, he just barely got his fingertips on a shot from Emmanuel Robe, another crucial save. Giantsopolous’ lanky six-foot-one frame has continued to be the bearer of bad news for footballers that want a goal. He stopped one more to hang onto the clean sheet. There was a small scare of injury after he stayed down for a couple seconds too long but it got cleared up. Many York players nearly came to that conclusion. Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé was subbed off about a minute following a blow that had him on the ground for a while, but that sounded like more of a caution to ensure he is fit for Saturday’s rematch.

Man of the Match Mo Babouli prepares to whip in a ball from the corner spot [photo by David Chant]

The defensive line was quite solid, and it also did Martin Nash a favour as the only third of the group that didn’t need to be shuffled. Brem Soumaoro and Jonathan Grant have really settled in. Grant in particular has shown some real promise at centre-back. He has the ability to poke the ball out from right under the opposition’s nose. “We just grow with confidence with each other the more we play,” said the versatile fullback Paris Gee, who had another fantastic showing. “After the first game there were some things we needed to fix, definitely the communication within the backline and I think we made a big step in that today.”

What Nash did have to juggle with the most was in midfield. What started as a 4-2-3-1 finished as a 4-4-2 effectively, with both Wright and De Rosario up top. That did create a bit of a striker controversy, since Wright was deployed to make way for De Rosario and move wide. Was it ideal no? Sloppy? A little bit. But, in the end, did York close the match with building blocks? Absolutely.


At the end of the day, the bench showed up and came within inches of maybe grabbing a multi-goal lead. That is now another baseline, whether the depth can perform or not. In the offseason, many were acquired to prevent the squad from running dry on talent if just a couple guys went down. Nash spoke to that post-match. “I think depth is important, especially in this league. It’s a grind, there’s a lot of travel, with the long offseason you’re always going to have two or three guys out it seems. When you have a few guys injured and only 18 or 19 people in the squad it’s important to have players that can be in multiple roles.”

Now, they prepare for more battles in the league but that huge event awaits with the Whitecaps. This tournament is quickly becoming a playground for York’s top stars, and they will further believe that anything is truly possible in this tournament, a lesson taught by League1 BC outfit TSS Rovers in the nightcap Wednesday match. It will be the fourth time Nash has coached against the Whitecaps, a club he shares a deep connection with.

There’s still plenty of time to wait for that, though. Part two of this York and Vancouver series comes in quick fashion as the sun reaches its highest point on Saturday.

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