There was obvious frustration in York United’s camp following a 4-1 loss to Pacific FC on Vancouver Island. With the temperatures soaring over 20 degrees celcius at the stadium and a listless performance on the pitch, the boys in blue and green have nowhere to regroup and seemingly no direction in sight. Were there positives for the Nine Stripes? Maybe a couple, but they were obviously overshadowed by the result.
Unlike the midweek’s Cup tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps, there was nothing about the scoreline that flatters York’s opposition. The Tridents, a perennial top-or-near-the-top-of-the-table side, showed off depth, relentlessness, and their free-scoring mentality. Emotions, conditioning, and circumstances certainly favoured them, but Pacific was simply outstanding on the day. Aside from a few giveaways (which, to be fair, were quickly recovered from) and some chances not taken, the home side was flawless. Pacific have found themselves at an interesting point in 2023: despite some significant roster carryovers, plenty of new faces have been instituted. Under the guiding hand of James Merriman, they are continuing a trend of scoring a lot and kick-starting the season very well.
“I give a lot of credit to the players,” said Merriman. “I’m enjoying working with them, I think the players are enjoying each other in training, you can see a good spirit in our locker room. We have a really good team chemistry, and players are quickly learning to understand each other through the ball, which is beautiful.”
Amongst the players who showed up and showed out for Pacific was Kekuta Manneh, a much-hyped addition to the Canadian Premier League given his history in Major League Soccer. The Gambian hasn’t really had a fair crack at the league yet, and that gets attributed to the talent of Ayman Sellouf, who wasn’t in the squad for Pacific. Manneh was very much a problem for Paris Gee down the left flank, receiving a couple of long balls and having space and creative freedom. Manneh was also key for Pacific getting balls into the box, picking out Sean Young and Adonijah Reid, though somehow not earning an assist due to poor finishing. But Manneh is very quick making moves, and it did take a couple defenders to slow him down.
Manneh, along with Reid, have fit right into the system. With them is 19-year-old goalkeeper Emil Gazdov. Though he was on the squad list in 2022, he was firmly a backup for Callum Irving. His settling into a challenging role has really aided Pacific. Gazdov made a save in the first half on Brian Wright where he had to quickly change the direction of his body to smack the ball away with his hand. A couple of diving saves would ensue during the time opening the second half that York appeared to be on the front foot, or at least they had that on the gas. He has come through keeping York at bay and recorded three saves in the area, according to SofaScore.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
“You see these relationships start to form,” added Merriman on his side’s instant gelling, “and you see these relationships come from their [the players’] quality. I think there’s so much more for the group to come in front of us, but it allows us to be very versatile, and they’re growing in confidence every match. It’s very exciting and there’s a long way to go, and that’s how the group feels as well, we’re just getting started.”
While the sunny, clear skies translated into good vibes for Pacific, the opposite can be said for York. The often level-headed Martin Nash revealed that he did yell in the halftime team talk, and he did call out players for their costly mistakes. Unfortunately, there’s not much more he can do. The team is not at its peak due to the newest round of injuries that includes star man Mo Babouli and many defensive pieces and presences. Thus, York had to field an unorthodox 4-4-2 to start the match, which became unideal very quickly. York’s players are not accustomed to this at all. It was a case of knowing your role and positioning. Kevin Dos Santos quickly became the game-breaker for the Nine Stripes, becoming the spark of many attacking chances. Instead of dragging the ball with him like he did in midweek, he was able to dribble more progressively and find fellow attackers in the middle unlike the last time out. Sure, not being hounded by defenders helped, but Dos Santos can be the lifeblood of this attack when he’s fully healthy. Not to mention that he scored an Olimpico to cut the deficit in half. The other winger-midfielder, Clément Bayiha, seemed caught between tracking back and moving up into his true position. More often than not, he’d try to get a cross in, but there was a little less dynamism in York on the day. That is also due to fullbacks Gee and Lassana Faye, typically bursting down the pitch, not having the same type of chances since Dos Santos and Bayiha were located further back.
The pair up top were Austin Ricci and Brian Wright, which made for an interesting situation. Both were going for shots, Wright mostly in the air while Ricci would supply shots by cutting into the area and winning balls. There wasn’t really any passing between the two like what you’d think would happen in this situation. Instead, plenty of chances had Wright and Ricci touching the ball but neither came up with the clinical moment.
Late-match tactical juggling didn’t help. With Oussama Alou, Markiyan Voytsekhovskyy, and Osaze De Rosario coming on there was a fresh attacking corps, but they were left chasing the game as an unorganised defence fell on its face again and again. Goalkeeper Niko Giantsopolous was, once again, the pick of the litter in York’s defensive third. Elijah Adekugbe and Matthew Baldisimo would watch on as Kunle Dada-Luke and others would coast through and face the backline. Even there it was lacklustre. Pacific’s third strike, coming courtesy of David Brazão just two minutes after he entered was defined by getting around the centre-backs with ease. Easton Ongaro found the netting for the fourth and got himself into dangerous situations by outmuscling either Tass Mourdoukoutas or Brem Soumaoro. Granted, he is six-foot-six and powerful, but you can’t let that happen repeatedly. Left stranded on the Island, the centre-backs fell under pressure.
“When we’re pushing forward, we’re going with reckless abandon instead of making sure we’re doing the same things when we do go forward and making sure that we have numbers behind the ball so we don’t get caught out,” said Nash. “It’s something we’ll have to reiterate, we did well for, most of the game, but we didn’t challenge against the counter late in the game and guys were out of position, there’s a few things.”
On the long flight back to Toronto and the subsequent journey to Halifax, it’s the little things that will keep the players up. Finishing, passing, defensive work, creating a solid wall at the back, everything will be broken down and discussed in the coming days. “I’d like to see the goals back,” Nash expressed. Getting back on the right track can be done in Halifax, the last time York was there they blew off steam of a tough stretch by exploding for four goals. It can be done again, because when you’re at rock bottom, the only way to go is up.
Top photo by Sheldon Mack
Subscribe to 13th Man Sports to get email notifications when we post!