It was always going to be a tough week for York United, but as the days wore on, it seemed as though the difficulty only increased. Plagued by injuries once again as the third match in six days approached, the reality was the Nine Stripes would be heavily handicapped.
Fashioning a backline with two out-of-position centre-backs, Jonathan Grant and Brem Soumaoro (which, to be fair to them, grew a lot in just a week and form a decent duo) was unideal enough. But coupled with the midweek loss of Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé and Elijah Adekugbe taking smaller steps to recovery, the holding midfielder depth was also scarce. In the end, it forced Mo Babouli much further back than his usual position to pair with Matthew Baldisimo. The latter appeared to flourish, while the former found his role a bit too much. It was this chain reaction that ended up boosting Vancouver FC and aiding them the most to a 2-1 victory, the first in their club’s history.
Pressure from a bolting Shaan Hundal had Babouli quickly scanning near him to see if anyone was available to target. Multiple were, but the typically impeccable Babouli’s pass was slow and far too late. Hundal, a Toronto native with an army of friends and family watching on, slotted home the ball with ease. His history ended in rejoicing amongst his teammates that have worked so hard for this moment, coming together in a short turnaround time. A collective exhale followed as play restarted. It didn’t take much longer for a second to come, as Gaby Bitar made a fantastic run before Niko Giantsopolous obviously tripped him up. Star signing Gael Sandoval stutter-stepped his way to tuck away a penalty and York for ultimately the rest of the match. “I just take the ball and they know,” said Sandoval, “the young guys know.”
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
The 27-year-old Mexican international has taken a chance with Vancouver. He knows that as a standout, newer professionals will look to him, and there will be moments where he has to put the squad on his back. “I’ve thought about it [a leadership role], because I have a lot of experience but I’m still young. Sometimes I need to believe in the young guys, because it’s the first experience for the young guys. So I’ll try to work on myself and my work, and if I can help the young guys, then I’ll do it.” Sandoval definitely speaks as though he is a big believer in the project Afshin Ghotbi is building. He is not just a brick or tile in this house, rather the mortar that keeps it all together and strong.
Giantsopolous, who by now is certainly the captain until Roger Thompson returns, was once again a general. He vocally advocates for every player that is accused of wrongdoing, and getting in Bitar’s way was his only mistake of the season. That said, it was just a lapse in concentration, albeit a costly one. “We shot ourselves in the foot,” exclaimed Martin Nash, lacking any real enthusiasm. “We gifted them two goals, two absolute gifts from our mistakes. We knew they weren’t going to create much, if anything, unless we gave them it. To be fair, we fought back, but you can never gift two goals.”
The fight came courtesy of highly-touted midfielder Marki Voytsekhovskyy, who scored his first big-league goal in the 35th minute with phenomenal control from a cross before smashing it home. From a decently far range and a cluster of defenders, it was a great strike to bring York back into the play. The Ukrainian is expected to be the catalyst of U21 minutes for York, and given that they would like to be safely within those 2000 minutes, wonderful goals like those further instill confidence in listing Voytsekhovskyy as a starter.
Kick-starting the rest of the eleven, Voytsekhovskyy and co. managed to create many chances, even without the services of speedy winger Clément Bayiha, who was forecully subbed out a mere 27 minutes in. Going down on his own, always a worrying sight, there was no return date specified for Bayiha but as a caution the hope is low for a return coming against Ottawa at the weekend.
The typical offensively-inclined athletes did get many looks, but wing-backs Paris Gee and Max Ferrari excelled again in storming up the pitch and creating issues for defenders. “I’ve played the position before briefly, but I’m really liking learning it,” said Ferrari. “But at the end of the day I just want to win games, so whether I’m playing right-back or right-wing, I’ll play where Nashy wants me.”
Shooting up the pitch is never a problem. However, shooting at the net, especially with accuracy, is coming to light as a real weakness. Osaze De Rosario is coming all the way down to Earth after an incredible debut campaign in 2022, squandering two big chances, according to SofaScore. The dynamic between him and Brian Wright has been a mentality of ‘this town ain’t big enough for the two of us.’ De Rosario hasn’t been true to the roles of his position, which as of right now is backing up Wright, but he often pushes forward and sends Wright to the wing. It goes without saying that chemistry doesn’t come immediately, but those thoughts about whether they should start together or not linger. It only seems to be limiting the clinical ability of this group.
Goals are littered between the two, but there are moments when it feels like the offence is too overloaded. “I think we have to take it as a team,” added Ferrari. “We know we have some really talented strikers, and the goals will come. I think we’ve been unlucky, but when you have guys like Osaze, Mo, and Brian, we as wing-backs and wingers know we just need to feed them and the goals will come.”
Does Saturday’s occasion, along with previous blunders in the week, merit a back to basics approach in training? “Other than the two gifts I thought we did a lot of good, created a lot of chances, caused them a lot of problems, we were really dangerous in transition but we gave the ball away. There’s not much more we can do,” exclaimed the gaffer. “We missed two glorious chances, so it wasn’t a good first 15-20 minutes but there’s a lot of good to take away. There’s just sour feelings at the moment.”
York’s break is tough, though well-deserved. A short squad managing to get through a whirlwind start like that was quite a good takeaway, and without any midweek fixtures all the focus can be on rest, recovery, and fine-tuning the little details which have, so far, lost matches for the blue and green.
Little details and fine margins were the driving force of the Nine Stripes not winning their final match of 2022, in Ottawa, as a spirited comeback fell just short. They will hope to finish the job this coming Saturday for their first road trip of the season. A flamboyant and outgoing return to playing would show a lot of character and ability to bounce back after the most painful of losses.
Top photo by David Chant
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