YORK LIONS STADIUM, TORONTO – With the world weighing on his shoulders, Osaze De Rosario put a dry spell onto the rear-view mirror. Elated, he and his teammates rushed to the bench to celebrate what ended up as the winning goal for York United in a 2-1 victory over Atletico Ottawa.
De Rosario finally looks to be himself again. For most of this match, he was moving forward with the wingers instead of trying to get a ball to them from the middle. He is by far better in that number nine position, and not trying to pull the strings as a CAM (though he kind of forced himself into it) is benefiting everyone. Yes, the goal came on a set piece, not in transition, but at last, De Rosario is right where he should be. There might have been a couple of plays where he was going for the assist but he wasn’t doing that as much as in recent contests. It was Clément Bayiha trying to tee up De Rosario again, and aside from a bad netfront touch ten minutes into the second frame, Osaze was a positive presence in dangerous spaces.
“Like I’ve said, he’s been getting in good areas, just not putting balls away,” said coach Martin Nash of the striker. “It was a great ball in by Jérémy [Gagnon-Laparé], he timed his run in great, and it was a very difficult header, and he did really well with it. So hopefully that’ll give him the confidence he needs to go on a bit of a run here.”
The entire look of the squad changed in the second half, and leading up to that goal there was one huge factor on the field: Michael Petrasso. He was able to get out to the wings and produce tons of chances, all while York, in the 30 minutes Petrasso was on, looked as though they had much more life than Ottawa. Petrasso on the flanks (but going to them from a number ten position) came to him a lot more naturally than what Austin Ricci was doing earlier in the match. Petrasso, as Nash said in the press conference, isn’t yet fit enough to start and he did miss the entire preseason, but his coming back into the fold gives Nash an ace up his sleeve.
Another player that did very well on the wing was Kévin Dos Santos. The Portuguese managed three successful dribbles on three attempts, according to SofaScore, and had some great field vision. Dos Santos wasn’t able to accurately play people through every time he got the chance but he had the right idea and movements to succeed once more work is put into long balls. He had good positioning and is phenomenal at dribbling into a crowded space.
Ottawa going flat for spells of the match was common. However, it can be hard to tell as it is a very Ottawa style of play to park the bus and then at a moment’s notice put their foot on the gas. The bus going forward was driven by a shape resembling a diamond with Malcolm Shaw at the top, Ollie Bassett the furthest back, and Jean-Aniel Assi and Zach Verhoven on the wings. The latter scored a nearly identical goal to Matteo De Brienne’s last week to beat Niko Giantsopoulos.
York, although they definitely knew it was coming, wasn’t entirely ready for Ottawa’s counter-attacks. They gradually stopped playing a high line after Verhoven’s goal, a direct result of unorganized defence after Ottawa’s speedy diamond surged forward. It wasn’t just getting caught off guard though, as Assi on the right was able to get in behind Max Ferrari on multiple occasions, sending crosses in the box. He recorded three successful dribbles on four attempts and three key passes. However, no one was there in the middle. Whether it was because of Assi’s speed or his teammates thought he’d go for a goal, the visitors put themselves in positions where they couldn’t be clinical. Ottleti also had three volleys from the top of the box that soared over the net, wasting opportunities. It just wasn’t their day, as three shots rang off the post too.
“I think that the gameplan worked,” said Ottawa coach Carlos Gonzalez, “we went into areas that we wanted and we created. Verhoven did great there, he is a player that is versatile and he can run into space… I think that the situations worked today, but what didn’t work was the last pass, which I felt that we created to win the game, but we didn’t win the game.”
What Ottawa did give York United was time on the ball. With 59% possession and 170 more passes than the capital club, York managed to play a different style than the last few weeks, one of build-up and staying in an offensive state of mind. A defensive midfield duo of Gagnon-Laparé and Paris Gee had plenty of chances going through them. The pair showed a lot of range passing just about everywhere and moving up the field to do so. “It was a little different, sliding into midfield and obviously being on defence with Jérémy,” Gee said of his newfound position, “I just gotta sit in the role and do the right things, play simple. It felt comfortable for me, I’ve played there before, obviously not getting up the flanks like I usually do as an outside-back, but you’ve gotta put trust in the guys to get up the field and whip balls in. Johnny [Grant] whipped some great balls in, he got a deflection on one and it went in the net. It was good, it felt good.”
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Gee went down late in the match, sadly ending his remarkable streak of playing every minute this season for York, but cleared up any questions about if it was serious. “Just minor, I felt a little cramp in my groin the first time, I thought I could get up and keep going. Obviously, I want to play every single minute this season and grind it out, but the second time cramps came in, and, yeah it was rough.”
At the end of the night, York sent two vital messages: a) they are a force to be reckoned with, and more importantly b) no matter what the scoreline was or what the outside influences would put on the match, Friday, June 9th, at York Lions Stadium wasn’t solely about football. As York United celebrated its groundbreaking Pride kit and Pride night, nothing could sway the positive spirit of solidarity, unity, and that football is truly for everyone.
York, albeit for a few hours, flies into pole position. This team, shorthanded and not favoured on Friday, gave everyone something to cheer for on and off the pitch. Going into Vancouver Island, the Nine Stripes are quite obviously one of the league’s best. A five-match unbeaten run is unprecedented for this club.
No one would want to have it any other way.
Top photo by David Chant
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