Redeeming yourself from a crucial mistake in sports can be difficult. Especially in the context of the early part of York United’s season. After three matches in just six days to a full week’s break, there was no way to instantly turn the chapter. So Molham Babouli, whose lapse in concentration sent York to their back foot and eventually lose to Vancouver FC, waited for his occasion. When it came, on a grey evening in Ottawa, he did not come close to missing the mark. Babouli stood up to a free-kick and curled it into the top near corner, easily beating Nate Ingham with a form that can’t just be taught. Babouli, undoubtedly, has a natural talent that terrorizes Canadian Premier League defenders and goalkeepers. But his skill isn’t the only thing that benefits the Nine Stripes, Babouli brings a sense of confidence, a calmness and keeps the side in an unbreakable composure.
The numbers just don’t lie: Babouli’s seven goals with York have all come on days when they win. Seven goals, I should add, in a mere sample size of 12 games. If he manages to find the net, his performance as a star lends an incredible boost to York. “You always know guys are going to make mistakes, and I was one of those guys who made a big one last week,” said Babouli following the win in Ottawa, “I knew I had to come back and fight even harder this week to make up for it.”
Babouli, who can be quiet on occasion but has a sense of swagger about him. Maybe it is that hard-to-get-to attitude; following York’s final home match of 2022 where Babouli was the main event he requested just three questions from reporters. He doesn’t appear all that often in the questionnaires for the players pre-training on York’s socials and certainly did not showcase his go-to dance move, but if elusiveness in life translates into being elusive with the opposition, Martin Nash will certainly take it – and it’s working.
His two strikes this year haven’t been in open play, and given his skillset you would expect one soon, but he does make a difference. Ideally, Babouli works as the central attacking midfielder, often joined by his new partner-in-crime Oussama Alou and the wingers. With one winger in particular, Clément Bayiha, dictating much of the crosses and Alou fighting in the box, Babouli’s role as the designated driver might not be consuming as much of his time. Babouli has been able to try and go on runs from further down the pitch this season and distribute rather than get the ball high up the field. According to SofaScore (where all the data in this article will come from), Babouli has recorded 1.3 successful dribbles per game and manages 2.3 key passes per match. It is worth mentioning that as Osaze De Rosario looks to find his form, Brian Wright is the starter and chemistry is still in the process of brewing. There have been misreads and miscalculations, Babouli is somewhat prone to hitting the ball just too far and it rolls out of play. (76% pass accuracy in three CPL matches this year compared to 81% in his eight matches with York in 2022.)
You can tell that having plenty of other attackers playing well in their positions is reducing Babouli’s movement because of his heatmap. In 2022, the area between the edge of the box and the halfway line is one giant red clump, whereas so far he’s mostly on the left, with his time spent as a holding midfielder in the second match against Vancouver locking in that position too. I’d venture to say him spending more time not in the middle is because of fullbacks Max Ferrari and Paris Gee coming into the fold and both being great on the right side, or it might be him looking for a cross to Wright’s better foot. The great thing about this is that York is solidifying itself as a great 23-man-roster, contrary to what felt at times last season like a great nine-man-roster
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Well-experienced in the CPL, Babouli was one of Forge’s most reliable players (predictably, since he was once with Sigma FC) in 2020 and 2021, in the former season assisting them to the championship in the bubble at Prince Edward Island. He thrived even more the next year, pairing well with Tristan Borges as Forge dominated the regular season, finishing up just short of capturing the North Star Shield at home. Babouli left the CPL, aiming for success abroad in Qatar. He was playing for Muaither SC, but it ultimately wasn’t to be. Crossing the rivalry and donning blue and green, no love was lost for his first CPL club, a muted celebration after scoring in Hamilton during York’s 3-1 win over Forge showed he does carry that respect. It’s not like Nine Stripes supporters feel animosity either: Babouli’s deal runs through 2024, which runs parallel with York’s nearest championship window.
And that, of course, bars a move. The week coming up could be a huge factor of whether the 30-year-old can reach a new level. He seems happy where he is, but tough tests with big results could mean a MLS team buying into the hype that fans of the club feel. On Friday, York takes on Forge in the derby, and on Wednesday, a rematch, this time at York Lions Stadium, with Vancouver Whitecaps in the Canadian Championship quarterfinal will take place.
We know what magic Mo can do has the chance to make-or-break hopes. As he approaches the beautiful period of performance called midseason form, and after inspiring York to its first league win, positive vibes are on their side. It’s a damn good thing Babouli is too.
Top photo by David Chant
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