YORK LIONS STADIUM, TORONTO – York United overcame depletion, being down and drained, as well as a thin roster to dig deep and earn a 2-2 draw with the Halifax Wanderers on Wednesday evening.
Well, maybe they didn’t even have to demand plenty from themselves to get the result they did. This York team does have a privilege not seen last year: the ability to rotate with confidence. The side as a whole has bounced back from the start of the year to be very well-conditioned and consistently good, no matter the circumstances. For the creator of a magical goal, and someone who always looks full of energy, Kevin Dos Santos, even he is struggling a bit with this condensed schedule.
“Obviously there were some tired legs, travelling from Pacific to here, you’re gonna have some guys with tired legs, like me, for example,” Dos Santos said. “But we definitely think we have that energy, it’s just about sticking together. For sure, the next game we’re going to go all-out and do what we always do.”
York looked for stretches like they had a lot in the tank, particularly after their goals, but as soon as the final stretch of the match came around, they petered out for the most part. That is the root of Aidan Daniels’ equalizer in the 85th minute for Halifax, he had the freedom to dribble around players who just weren’t going the ball anymore. Since the first half, York’s defence had slowly become less frenetic. It was all about swarming the ball then (albeit leaving the dangerous Daniels wide open sometimes), and packing the backline so Halifax needed a lot to break it down. Once they were through, though, they were in prime scoring territory. If they had a man out wide, they could play him and get a cross in. That’s what happened when Daniels whipped a beautiful ball in to Tíago Coimbra who finished emphatically.
When they adjusted to a longer line to try and stop wing play, it was just easier to slip through and get a shot on backup goalkeeper Eleias Himaras. He was between the sticks to gain some U-21 minutes for York, a requirement which is necessary but not keeping Martin Nash up at night. “We’ll see [about the minutes], Eleias is a good ‘keeper, I thought he did well today, I don’t think you fault him on either goal; he made some good saves, did what he had to do, did his job, he’ll get some more games this year. He always was going to, it’s just that he missed pretty much all of preseason and has had a couple other injury stints. Once you give him a chance, this week was perfect, you’ll see with three games this week. We’ll manage [getting U-21 minutes], we’ll find different ways, because we have to, right? We’ll find ways and we’ll deal with it and go from there.” The full plan for Wednesday was to get around 150, with Marki Voytseokhovskyy earning a start. However, he went down within ten minutes and the reliable Michael Petrasso entered the match. It was a good sign seeing Petrasso on the pitch for 80 minutes instead of 30, and he sustained some great wing play.
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
Petrasso, time and time again, flies way under the radar. Whether it’s a perfect touch or a very well-picked pass, 21 really can do something for you. He was three-for-five on successful dribbles and recorded one key pass, according to SofaScore. The way York plays with the ball mostly on the left wing with Austin Ricci and with the fullbacks alternating spots, Halifax a few times were pulled out one way, only for Paris Gee or Tass Mourdoukoutas to play a switch-ball and find Petrasso with space. He was also rested on Sunday for the most part, so it really isn’t surprising that he was able to tire out the Wanderers’ defence a bit.
And that is exactly the same strategy Halifax coach Patrice Gheisar instilled in his team late in the match. Theo Collomb and Callum Watson, who have both made a habit of getting in scoring plays recently, came on late in the match. York’s defence was super makeshift at this point, with Mourdoukoutas being subbed off, Brem Soumaoro dropping back and then going down with an injury, which forced Gee and Lassana Faye to play centre-back while Max Ferrari was out wide with Clément Bayiha. So naturally, Gheisar pounced to bring on some players who will get you into dangerous areas. “When Tass left that half, we felt like it’s a sign of them starting to wear out, now we need to go for it, right? I still feel like in the 85th when we tied we wanted to win, I’ve lost track of how many ties we have, but it’s a lot of ties, so we were really going for it and then we wanted to get Wesley [Timoteo] and Fumpa [Mwandwe] in, to even add more of an attack, so you could tell that they have injuries and they were fatigued so we were going for it, and I think you could feel that they were suffocating, they were just kicking the ball away, so that was definitely part of the plan too. Play, and let the game open up, and put in some energy players.”
York was barely able to hold on late, but they held back some of the Wanderers’ players and let the ball roll to Himaras, who managed a couple of clutch saves in the second half and also leaped to get two high claims and pluck the ball out of the air.
These slow resets, even when tied, helped York much more because the bridge between the defence and the offence wasn’t too strong. There were a lot of balls played over the top and not much of building up in a linear way through the middle of the park. Oussama Alou, typically a spark for some great runs into traffic, wasn’t used for those duties. Granted, he took the field as a holding midfielder again, but still zero dribble attempts is rare for him. The backline, to conserve energy, had to hold on for a bit to eat up the clock, and then send a big through-ball forward.
“We wanted to keep more possession, especially around the back,” Nash explained, “and we did that for large stints of the game. They’re a good possession team, we were able to out-possess them tonight which was something we wanted to do because we wanted to rest them all. They [Halifax] only had one more day of rest than us, but shorter travel and everything else. They’re a quality team nonetheless, so we knew we would have to have energy in the right moments, we had to possess the ball at times and rest with the ball, it’s a lot easier to rest with the ball than without it, that was part of our plan. We didn’t do it quite so well because we built out with six players on defence and then left four up front on their own, it wasn’t quite the plan so we evolved it from the back to the front and it ended up being a long ball situation which we didn’t really want although they were giving space in behind.”
Of course, the worldie that Dos Santos scored was contrary to the tactics Nash employed for the match. Played to him from midfield, he fought hard for a ball against Mo Omar, used his space, cut a little more outside, and curled a shot to the near post and away from Yann Fillion. Running to the substitutes who were keeping warm, the Bissau-Guinean pulled off his shirt to create another amazing scene surrounding a golazo for York United.
As a winger, Dos Santos from that position might try to find someone more centrally or generate runners into the box by moving toward the corner flag. However, he knew the assignment. “Actually, when I received the ball, I just thought, ‘woah.’ I saw the ‘keeper was a bit outside, so I just thought, ‘let me take it,’ because I know I’ve got a good shot. So, that’s why I should probably do it more, get more goals in.”
This unwavering confidence and audicious attitude will be needed come Saturday. Because once again, a short rest period followed by a flight out to Calgary leaves no time to train. Cavalry didn’t even have a match in midweek, giving them a massive advantage. This team has overcome a lot, but making an impression in Spruce Meadows after such a brutal week would be outstanding. Luckily York can rotate again, and hopefully switch up the result too to get back to winning ways.
Top photo by David Chant
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