YORK LIONS STADIUM, TORONTO – It wasn’t a pretty win for York United in any sense of the word.
However, when push comes to shove, and it certainly did on Sunday evening’s gritty 1-0 win for the Nine Stripes, they must take these wins. A slow start to the season plagued by injuries is quickly vanquishing, albeit just partly, before our eyes. All of Mo Babouli, Jeremy Gagnon-Laparé, and Jonathan Grant returned to action following lower-body injuries that potentially cost the club some points.
While that trifecta making progress is better, and it will eventually lead to a starting XI of immense quality, the lineup hasn’t changed for two matches now, and it shows. An obvious system and shape have been implemented by Martin Nash. And what it is, mirroring the Dutch contingent that has signed with the club in the offseason, is a not-completely-total-but-still-relatively-total football brand. Fullbacks Max Ferrari and Lassana Faye are not shy to bolt up the touchline (on the day, it was Faye carrying the load for that) or send it to the defensive midfield, who are making strides forward both as a group and into the attack. Wingers Austin Ricci and Clément Bayiha are pulling off switches from side to side, which was very much part of the gameplan. “Those [the wings] are areas we knew we could exploit,” said Martin Nash, in good spirits once more, “especially down their left, because they have two really good but attack-minded fullbacks, so we were looking at if we can exploit the space behind.”
Bayiha, the goalscorer, evading Marco Carducci and earning an open net, went five-for-seven for successful dribbles according to SofaScore, another remarkable number by a York winger, and claimed man of the match honours.
Undeniably, the way the ball travels in York’s setup is quite linear. Once the build-up gets to Oussama Alou, something promising is on the cards. He can dish it to those flank-dwellers or even over the top to Osaze De Rosario.
As Nash went on to say, that wasn’t the case as Cavalry were on their A-game, but then again York couldn’t find a great chance to get behind the fullbacks. The Calgarians controlled possession and were like sharks sniffing out blood in their pursuit of the ball. But their man constantly in the middle, talisman Myer Bevan, who has struck the netting thrice this year, went cold. Wingers Mikaël Cantave and Ali Musse were able to move more central themselves, but Bevan was only played through a couple times for shots instead of how he usually scores, which is on crosses into the area. York’s central defenders stuffed that middle area, and forced the front three to the top of the box, too far away for any of them to muster up a real good shot. “I think York defended very well, I mean they sat very low, they were in numbers, they had double-teams in every place,” observed Cavalry boss and Nash’s mentor in coaching Tommy Wheeldon Jr. “We’ve got to get service to him [Myer Bevan] but every time we tried to get into the box we were shut down.”
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Leading the efforts were Tass Mourdoukoutas, who has clicked right back into the squad following an early knock. Partnered with the out-of-position (though that is never evident) Paris Gee, the two combined for 13 clearances. Gee also made one tackle and one interception, more typical of his usual role. They kept red shirts at bay for a truly impressive amount of time. “There’s a lot of talented players in our side, with I think more defensive accumen and talent when we stick together, so I think we minimized a lot of their threats,” Mourdoukoutas stated. “I think Myer had two shots in the game, Ali had a couple of long shots, so for me we made them quite ineffective, but yeah, they’re solid players in this league for sure so like I said before, really proud of everyone for knowing and understanding their roles and sticking to them.”
If anyone else could be the captain, Mourdoukoutas has a great case.
For now, that honour is firmly goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos’. Coming out of the Halifax match, he had a clean sheet but he was never truly challenged as the Wanderers didn’t have many massive moments. The script has flipped in a sense, with plenty of punches and two saves rounding out an evening he should be proud of. Cavalry didn’t have as good chances presented to them like last week, where they scored twice off good free-kick positions, but that doesn’t take away from a stellar performance between the sticks. Giantsopoulos kept York in the match once more.
The shape at the back remains fixed, but as you move up the pitch you will see a formation that matches the qualities of liquid: it can fill any shape of a container. Sometimes there would be one defensive midfielder while the other (typically Soumaoro) would venture forward with Alou. When Gagnon-Laparé was subbed on for Ricci, you immediately knew York was preparing to bunker down and just have all hands on deck to wait out the minutes.
Cavalry, understandably as the intense heat skyrocketed, had a short fuse by the time the added frame arrived. They were drawing late yellows and fouls until the climax of it all, a scuffle coming after freshly-subbed on Babouli was taken down on a rough challenge. It was incredibly dangerous given the Syrian international was just coming back from injury, and the place where it happened – right in front of York’s bench – only added fuel to the fire. The challenge came after the linesman had put his flag up for offside, so Cavalry ended up with the free kick, but without a doubt everyone involved was incensed once the dust settled.
What Babouli was doing at that moment became familiar for York late in the game. They were forced to hog the ball on the counter and just kick it off defenders for throw-ins and corners due to going down a man. Matthew Baldisimo went in for a tough challenge, sending the ball out of bounds but injuring himself in the process. “Football throws a lot of funny things your way in 90 minutes, you know for a lot of us we’ve played games before where we’ve gone down to ten men, due to injuries like today or red cards,” Mourdoukoutas said of the feeling on the pitch after Baldisimo went down. “You know the last time we played Cavalry, it was in Calgary, Jordan Wilson got sent off 50-odd minutes in, we had to play with ten men for a long stretch. We know we can do it, we know we can sustain a long stretch as well, and you know when the final board went up and they put up eight minutes or something, whatever it was, ten minutes or something like that, we’re all like ‘okay then.’ But we knew we could do it because we’ve held them out for 90, so there’s no reason why we couldn’t stay low and have everyone do their jobs. It was a great professional performance from everyone, I was really impressed.”
Nash stated that Baldisimo would be out for ten days, which is two matches in this case. It is tough, but a much easier pill to swallow as depth is returning through injuries fading away.
York United have won two in a row, in the process ending two unbeaten seasons. Thanks to the blue and green, only 905 rivals Forge haven’t conceded a game in 2023.
I’ll let you have a guess as to who they play on Wednesday night…
Top photo by David Chant
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