There was never going to be an easy part of the latest run of matches for York United. Especially on Saturday afternoon, a 2-1 loss to Cavalry FC. Visiting the Calgarians for the first time this season, York worked hard and often looked like the better side, but couldn’t finish off the match.
Once a team has contested their third game in six days, nobody would expect a rampant win, especially over a club with the quality of Cavalry; but somehow it feels even more like a loss that stings compared to the other matches in the prior days. It was because York managed to control the tempo of the game, and with the ball, something they couldn’t do in their previous clash with the Cavs (they still hung on for a win then, though). Late goals coming from the opposition have become frequent recently, strikes that steal points from the clutches of York. This time, it was overall sloppiness that was the catalyst for Ali Musse’s incredible free-kick goal at the edge of the box. After Roger Thompson stuck a leg into his run that completely missed the ball, it was destiny for Musse to come up with that magic.
“It’s big, it’s big for confidence, I feel like I’ve been close,” Musse said of the goal, “I kept on getting closer and closer, and it’s nice to actually score. I thought overall it was a good team performance though, I don’t want to take anything away from that.”
Musse, Myer Bevan, and Goteh Ntignee became quite the thorn in the side for the Nine Stripes’ defence. Playing endless through balls to each other in dangerous areas forced centre-backs Paris Gee and Noah Abatneh, making his professional debut, to work very hard. Abatneh, garnering some U-21 minutes for York, played a strong match. He was always able to drop back into his position after carrying the ball up a little bit and distributing, acting as somewhat of a central fullback. Stopping some of those passes was key too, as he and Gee were often pressured by Bevan and Musse especially. Aside from the latter’s breakneck pace breaking the line once, Abatneh held strong to aid the defence. Martin Nash stated that he had a little injury and couldn’t play. If it wasn’t for that, maybe the free kick never happened, as Thompson was subbed on for him. Overall, it was a pretty successful first start for Abatneh, who, as U-21 minutes become more crucial, will play a bigger role. It’ll give Nash a lot more peace of mind knowing that he can do well against a side like Cavalry.
Johnny Grant, returning from a heartbreaking international break where he and Guyana barely missed out on Gold Cup qualification, played with fire. He was aggressive going for the ball and going forward. The difference between him and the other fullback, Lassana Faye, is that Grant did more on both ends. Faye, akin to Max Ferrari’s style, will ditch defence in order to barrel up the pitch, although to be fair Ferrari tracks back a lot more. Grant is also fortunate to be on the side of the pitch that Mo Babouli gravitates the most to when he flees from the central areas. Looking to exploit someone that might not be typically in the Cavalry starting XI, Bradley Kamdem, Babouli, Grant, and Clément Bayiha formed a tiki-taka triangle. Pretty much, at times in the match, that trio would congregate and drag one of Cavalry’s defenders out wide, typically Kamdem, and then efficiently get the ball forward for the electric Bayiha to pursue. This could turn into a Babouli-Bayiha duo too. Most attacking play went down the right wing for York, but attacking did open up a bit more on the opposite side of the field when Roberto Alarcón went down after Austin Ricci kept charging forward even after the whistle was blown for offside. However, Cavalry’s defence managed Babouli alternating lanes and speed going down both.
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“When Roberto Alarcón goes down in the first 10-15 minutes that’s not ideal, because he’s been playing really, really well,” Cavs coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said, “but in Fraser Aird, we have a guy who’s played for Canada and Rangers and has got good history, he came into the game like he’d started the game, and that’s what you want: you want to start with that depth. And I think that’s what you’ve seen today, you know, Sergio Camargo’s out of the lineup, but we have Joe Mason coming back in, Shamit Shome’s around the corner, and Callum Montgomery’s not far behind. They’re going to feel like new signings, and I think it’s time to put our own run together.”
It is certainly worth noting that both of Cavalry’s starting fullbacks were different than the ones used for the previous game against York where Nash took advantage of the offensively-minded fullbacks to dominate wing play.
The missing piece, once again, was up top. Brian Wright had countless perfect chances, and he really could be leading the golden boot standings right now if he just could get on the end of crosses or convert good shots. York’s offensive play started quickly and kept pace, which was very surprising for a squad that has had no real rest or training sessions for a while.
Something has gone horribly wrong for Wright, and it’s hard to pinpoint what. He has a great aerial presence, is always being fed balls, and scored his fair share of goals last year with Ottawa. My bet is that a different way in which he gets the ball might be the reason. In Ottawa, so much of their play was central and in the midfield. Quick turnarounds and counter-attacks were a frequent sight. Now that York is starting to play more possession-based (53% on Saturday, according to SofaScore) and through wing play Wright just hasn’t adjusted to getting the ball in the way he is.
Whether or not that is the answer, his struggles in Calgary may have sealed his fate for this season. It is inexcusable that York has not found a consistent number nine in 2023, no matter how many goals they get. If it’s going to be anyone’s position, then Osaze De Rosario has the nod, somehow an unused sub even as York was chasing a goal.
York’s crumbles of late are directly owed to this packed schedule that they must endure. However, there could be more to it than just fatigue. On all the late goals scored by York’s opponents in the past week, you can find an unorganized defensive structure. It is tough knowing that York held together for so long on those occasions too. They’ve just not been able to put it all together for 90 minutes.
“It’s true, we’re all aware that we’ve conceded some late goals in the last three games,” Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé stated, “but, you know, we’ve had a bit of luck going our way leading up to those three games, and now, you know, teams scoring big goals at the end of games, what can you say it was a very nice free kick, last game was a deflected shot, it happens, but we’ve got to make sure we can look back on what we can do better and make sure we can finish a game a bit stronger.”
At the very least, the team can catch a well-earned break. With a long trip to Vancouver FC in the coming days, York can focus on sustaining hard running and defence for a full 90. There is arguably no better team to bounce back against than Vancouver, who won their first-ever match as a club in Toronto, and there is no secret that they aren’t a powerhouse every week.
Without Mo Babouli (suspended on yellow card accumulation), they won’t have someone who can score from anywhere and hold onto the ball, but the last time he was out, it did go well for the boys in blue and green.
Steps don’t satisfy, but learnings in the past week will certainly lessen losses.
Top photo by CFC Media/Tony Lewis
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