A muggy, hot day in Winnipeg with the potential of thunderstorms coming certainly made the circumstances strange in York’s third match in the past week.
The humidity and temperature had shortened some players’ fuses and energy levels as the match came to its conclusion as a 1-1, well-fought draw. The ambition from both sides wasn’t there as it may have been earlier on in the day, especially for Valour FC, who held onto the ball for long spells while York sat back as they typically have in recent contests. “Especially with the weather that came in, and how hot it was during the day when that rain comes down the humidity on the field, it gets a lot on you,” said York defender Paris Gee, who once again went the full 90 minutes. “You’re sweating a lot, your jerseys and shorts are heavy, I definitely think that took a toll on some of our attacking players, but we’ve got to battle through it.”
Despite a shortened halftime break, as a caution due to the thunder and lightning warning, there were spells where particularly York United looked like they had a lot of energy. Counter-attacking has been their go-to strategy, but this week was different: fullbacks Jonathan Grant, Lassana Faye, and Gee (who operated there for part of the match after Grant left with a nasty shiner) lingered back and tried playing long balls in behind the defence to Clément Bayiha so he could turn on the jets. That did work sometimes (notably on York’s goal), but Bayiha was held back and guarded well by Matteo De Brienne and he couldn’t get good crosses into the box. Now, Valour goalkeeper Rayane Yesli shuts down everything on the ground by hitting the floor on low crosses, but Osaze De Rosario got no chances netfront.
Once again, for De Rosario and the man who came on for him, Brian Wright, chances were flowing but neither number nine could ripple the net cords. It has been a trend this year: both are removing themselves from positions down the middle and moving further out wide or in a CAM’s position. Chance creation is something you can tell Wright likes to do, as Mo Babouli, York’s scorer, played him through from midfield only for Babouli to be the one to streak into the area along with another midfielder, Marki Voytsekhovskyy. If Wright can’t get a final good touch, then he should try to get the final pass, but it does seem unnatural. “Obviously I’d love for them to being scoring goals,” coach Martin Nash said of the two strikers’ dry spells to open 2023, “I think when you’re not in form and you’re not scoring soemtimes you overthink things and I think they’re a bit slow and a bit hesitant to go for goal right now, and it’s something we do have to correct. It’s one of those times where you just want one to go in for one of them, for them to go on a roll. I’m sure they’re more frustrated than anyone, but as a team we’re grinding out results right now which is fantastic.”
Ultimately, collecting points consistently is far better than a golden boot winner. It does seem that the players are better with De Rosario on the pitch. He provides a reliable target to get the ball to, and dishes it out wide more often than not. He had one attempt early in the second half where he decided not to play the ball out wide, and move up toward the edge of the area to take a shot himself. It was right at Yesli. But with De Rosario operating as someone pulling the strings in attack that means no one is up top down the middle. What’s the point of him passing to wingers if they have no one to cross to in the box? York were 0-for-10 on crosses, according to SofaScore.
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Either way, goals are at least coming to help York move up the table. Babouli’s strike came when Bayiha was left unguarded and with space. As Valour defenders were scrambling to get back into their regular positions, Babouli took a heavy but wise touch to move into an open area and blast it home. Babouli, unlike Wednesday’s fixture, did stay or at least go into more central areas.
Speaking of Wednesday’s derby match, there was another comparison you could make regarding the opposition: they started with their foot to the gas. What endangered York more though was Forge’s constant movement forward and toward goal. Valour was not like that. They were busy setting up, moving around, hunting the best chance instead of taking what they had. It was this that changed as York went up 1-0. De Brienne’s goal was from afar, and although Valour forced Tass Mourdoukoutas and Paris Gee to make excellent defensive plays netfront, it was up to De Brienne to simply say ‘enough is enough’ and send a curling effort just past Niko Giantsopoulos’ fingertips. He’d already made a great stop, but only just, with his fingers. (That is becoming a trend for Niko in Winnipeg.)
Valour pulled off 511 passes with 86% accuracy, and from everywhere on the pitch. The Kian Williams (somehow wearing longsleeves in the heat) and Pacifique Niyongabire combination worked wonders, pulling defenders out of position and leaving others in the dust. The latter’s spin while maintaining control moving forward is a signature move that the Canadian Premier League is lucky to have for highlights, but it’s not lucky if you’re marking him. If Jaime Siaj can start turning balls home, that attacking trio is even more deadly.
“At the end of the day it’s the final [pass] that is most important,” said the Winnipegers’ coach Phil Dos Santos, “I have to rewatch the game and see how effective we were, I think we progressed up the field fast, which is our objective. A lot of those passes need to be in the opposition’s half and there needs to be effective passes.”
Two of Valour’s most important players in fullbacks De Brienne and Andy Baquero did their job passing-wise, putting up accuracies of 87% and 80% respectively while also recording two key passes and at least three long balls. Baquero immediately wanted a goal after De Brienne managed one, going for it from quite a distance on volleys on multiple occasions. Both would have to hustle back and play big roles in stopping Bayiha and former Valour star Austin Ricci too. Dos Santos is truly blessed with box-to-box fullbacks. A week ago in York’s defeat of Cavalry, Nash talked about exploiting the Cavs’ offensively-minded fullbacks. The Nine Stripes couldn’t do that on this occasion because both are so good at the back. The pair combined for five interceptions, three tackles, and four clearances. “Andy’s always up for the task, no matter who he’s against, he’s been incredible all season,” De Brienne said of their efforts in stopping York down the flanks. “For me, I just felt that the last time we played York it just wasn’t my game, I didn’t feel like I defended well enough against Bayiha and I just wanted to make sure that this game here was better. I set myself a boundary of ‘I’m not gonna let him get by,’ and I think today was one of those days where I was consistent and honest with myself so I’m very happy with the way I proceded in the game.”
York were, once again, given a challenge but for the first time this week they didn’t come away with a win. Would it have been nice to get four in a row? Yes, but on an unforgiving surface on a tough day to play they’ll be happy with the result, putting more distance between them and Cavalry. Atletico Ottawa is waiting in the wings for a Friday night Ontario Derby showdown at York Lions Stadium, another big chance for the players to prove themselves.
Top photo by Valour FC/Cameron Bartlett
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