Moments of magic should always come at times that deserve it. Occasions when there is truly something at stake, something that ignites an emotional drive to get it.
We should’ve known something along these lines would happen: this rivalry has only once ended in a stalemate, which was the Canadian Premier League’s premiere. For whatever reason, when these teams play, anything can happen, even in the dying seconds.
Brem Soumaoro’s wondergoal on Wednesday night, with 93 minutes having gone by, sinking Forge FC in the second 905 Derby of the season, is exactly that. The Liberian international plucked the ball out of the midfield and evaded a defender before unleashing a thunderbolt not unlike Zeus. Finally firmly slotted into his natural defensive midfield position, Soumaoro has been performing quite well in the past few weeks. He was often preventing Forge players from breaking the line at the top of the box, forcing the Hammers to resort to wing play.
That, of course, wasn’t too much of a problem for them. David Choiniere, another player who recently scored a last-gasp winner, was dashing into the area at will. Between Lassana Faye’s offensive approach and Roger Thompson returning from injury, maybe it wasn’t the most difficult egg to crack for Choiniere, but he was exceptional regardless. He kept making wise split-second decisions too, picking out Kyle Bekker for big-time chances. The quality of this club is immense, and although that is obvious it must be reinstated. They were valiant in defeat, and if it weren’t for unfortunate Alessandro Hojabrpour’s own goal that stunned them for a few minutes, the scoreline could be very different. It does turn out that Triston Henry can be broken, it just really won’t come easy.
York was forced into coping with waves of attack. The game of “whatever you can do, I can do better” was never going to work, because lazy turnovers and York’s attempts at staying downfield for a sustained amount of time were the catalyst to Forge’s ball dominance. With 56% possession (though it felt like more, especially in dangerous areas), 17 shots (11 inside the box), 11 corners, and 5 big chances (4 missed, according to SofaScore), the champions put together a great performance but just couldn’t bring it all together. Even though they are drained, both emotionally and physically, from being on a spell of playing a match every 3.2 days, Bobby Smyrniotis will certainly call people out, because, in the culture they have in Hamilton, this is unacceptable.
A case of starting the right people could be their issue. Although Forge is lucky to have depth, it can be a problem. Woobens Pacius likely could have turned in some shots that Jordan Hamilton missed, likewise for Terran Campbell, who was the one to ripple the net chords, at the back post and receiving a perfect Bekker cross.
Niko Giantsopoulos was tested again, aided by blocks like Jonathan Grant’s sliding denial of his previous skipper, Bekker, and consistent challenges to Forge. Grant took a much less offensive approach than usual, Lassana Faye was very inclined to go on runs throughout but Grant sat back very often.
Based on the last couple of matches, the lineup from Martin Nash was pretty unorthodox. Oussama Alou was forced to play as a holding midfielder as Mo Babouli returned to the lineup for good. Alou being restrained is never good: he is by no means the best defender and is always begging to be unleashed. He was hesitating in some moments to join the attacking corps. Babouli was a very welcome addition though, and more than made up for Alou’s absence. He recorded a team-high three successful dribbles, but fleeting moments were maybe too big, and his impact didn’t feel like much of a revolution like it typically does.
That, in large part, owes to being denied from the penalty spot after Forge were wrongly convicted of a handball. Babouli was also absent from the few players going right down the middle, lingering at the top of the box with bits of wing play. Brian Wright was not clinical again, inches away from a brace. He might be forced to work on his speed, as even if he made contact the bottom of his boot wouldn’t have the accuracy to earn a goal. Staying in those areas and not forcing to make long runs on the counter-attack would benefit him.
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York managed 44% possession although it felt like less. Nash has spoken recently about controlling the game off the ball, and they did manage that, although there is a fine line between looking calm and feeling frantic when you’re on the pitch. “I thought we did well defensively,” said Nash, “we tired at the end but the effort the guys made was tremendous, after we gave away the equalizer we were coming back at them. We showed heart to get back in the game.”
That work rate was rewarded by Soumaoro’s audacious hit. “As soon as he hit it I knew it was going in,” added Nash. “It’s one of those strikes, pure and clean, it’s the one I’ve been showing him in training the last couple of weeks, he was able to mimic some of my shooting.” Nash and Soumaoro, at the same desk for the press conference, shared a laugh and in that instant you could tell the bond between this group is strong.
“I did what I had to do, before we went out the coach told me what to do,” said Soumaoro. “After this goal I think he’s proud of me [Nash responds with a “yeah, very”], we’ll go again the next game.”
It is safe to say now, that after a club-record three wins on the bounce, the 2023 York United is reaching its potential. ‘Nashball,’ as it is called by supporters, is winning, and the hard-nosed defensive approach and ferocity to win the ball is stunning opposition sides. The next job at hand is in Winnipeg, a tough turnaround time at a tough stadium, facing an injury-riddled but persistent squad that beat York in the first match of the season.
Victory, like it did on the previous Sunday, went to the hardest workers. It always should swing that way.
Top photo by David Chant
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