The last time York United travelled to Winnipeg, the conditions were more than unideal with outright brutal heat and humidity. This time around, even without suppressing conditions, it was as if something was chaining York down, even though they won 2-1 over Valour FC. There were, to put it briefly, a few miscommunications and lapses in concentration. For a match which started with incredible amounts of excitement, all three goals were scored in the opening ten minutes, there wasn’t too much electricity as the night wore on.
Valour, who scored the final goal of that opening stretch, was firmly let back into the game, the primary source being York’s misadventures in the defensive midfield. Niko Giantsopoulos was seriously challenged far too many times. He had to be aggressive, he had to be a serious presence in the air. It’s another occasion where York requires Giantsopoulos to bail everybody out.
“Yeah, it was a weird one, I feel like that’s been a little bit of an issue of ours this season,” Austin Ricci, who bagged a goal and an assist, said, “we were on the front foot and we start games well and we do well toward the middle of the match, and then when we get leads we somehow tend to let off the gas a little bit. You’ve seen that throughout the year, we’ve conceded a few late goals that have changed teams, and it’s three-point swings that do a lot of damage in a table. Luckily, we were able to pull this one out, and Niko made some great saves and kept us in it, and it worked out in the end. It definitely wasn’t in the game plan to do that.”
With that said, it could’ve gone a whole lot worse for the Nine Stripes. Valour has persistent issues in front of the goal, sometimes mere inches away from the goal line. Kian Williams did score, but although he outmuscles and eludes York’s defence constantly, his finishing was not there at all. He had three shots off target, only one of which SofaScore deemed to be a ‘big chance,’ but with his talismanic abilities, they all should be. And it’s more frustrating than ever for head coach Phil Dos Santos. His team is doing everything right, and even some luck is going their way, but the clinical ability is just not coming. Their build-up has always been great, playing out from the back is one of their strengths, and the midfield even without captain Diego Gutierrez progressed well up the pitch. Valour has a lot of speed, especially in the final third with Pacifique Niyongabire showcasing exceptional skill again, and Jared Ulloa on the opposite wing. The final balls look great from the central channel, but Ulloa’s crosses on the right weren’t as good, and Anthony Novak wasn’t making himself heard in the number nine spot, so it makes sense as to why they were taken off.
The issues persisted. New acquisition Ahinga Selemani missed a glorious chance of his own. Anybody could tell Dos Santos was not happy in the press conference.
“I think Diego is a good player for us, he’s an important player, but the guys that step in have to do the job,” Dos Santos said. “That’s called being a team.
“And yeah, you do enough to get out of this game, even get out with maximum points. [There were] too many clear chances in the second half that could count. I could count Jaime [Siaj], I count Pacifique now at the end, I count two headers with Kian, I count even Sele, was in his first game with the club, was a clear one. Those are clear chances in the pro game, and if you need more than those five to win a match then you’re always going to be in trouble. They are too clear for us to be talking about individuals and who’s missing and who’s not missing.”
S. 2 Ep. 21: Canada Doing What Canada Does – FC13 Podcast
The tone from Williams was also one of deflation and maybe even defeat. Valour hasn’t had good form in recent weeks, and a home loss, which is somewhat rare, could hammer another nail in the coffin for them. They sit five points off a playoff position in seventh.
As York catapults up to fourth, they do so having played some risky football. It’s rare that Brem Soumaoro or Matthew Baldisimo have the off games as they did. The former wasn’t doing all the right things and wasn’t calm as he usually is. For a side having not played for nine days, they looked out of energy in those positions and were a bit desperate. Soumaoro fouled people four times, often not needing to, and on one quick turnaround in midfield where York found themselves on the ball in a good position, he was offside, so much that he seemingly didn’t realize until the flag went up. For better or for worse, Soumaoro plays tough football, and no opponent has it easy against him, but in this match, he lost some of the calculation going into his tackles.
“It was a bit odd, in the first half we were doing things we weren’t doing and we don’t train on,” Martin Nash stated, “we were getting dragged out to places that we shouldn’t, and I thought we corrected in the second half and were much more solid, you know, Baldi came off injured, nothing bad, didn’t want to risk him, but Jérémy [Gagnon-Laparé] did really well, and we know Elijah [Adekugbe] is a quality player coming in and seeing out the game. I think all-in-all the midfield did well, but tactically they had a blip for I’d say 20 minutes, we corrected with the bench but sometimes it’s hard with the run of play.”
Gagnon-Laparé and Adekugbe formed, for a good 15 minutes, the best partnership of the match in the double-pivot. York, as mentioned, did get many offensive looks late in the match but given Gagnon-Laparé’s habits of going up the pitch, and Adekugbe being effective there a lot for Cavalry in recent seasons, it really does work. The relatively significant blemish would be a yellow card issued to Gagnon-Laparé, who outright tackled an attacker. That was his fourth of the season, so he will be suspended for the next match. Affairs settled down between him and Valour players after that, though at that moment he just wasn’t thinking right.
To pick out players that did bring energy and were relatively spotless, pointing to Ricci is easy, but also an unexpected name: Trivine Esprit, making his first CPL start. Mo Babouli is out on a red card suspension, but picking Esprit over Oussama Alou was certainly an interesting call. It quickly appeared to be the right one. Going forward, he played four long balls, all just out of reach for the runners. There were also a few crosses, and on the same wing as Jonathan Grant, they became a serious threat. It was smart from Nash, who, knowing Valour would be without star fullback Matteo De Brienne, exploited his absence. Eksander Mzoughi couldn’t keep up, and York was getting into very dangerous areas much easier compared to the last match. There weren’t as many long balls there, mostly just advancing near the touchline. Esprit also, crucially, will collect 90 U-21 minutes for York.
It is clear though that he is on the field for more of that. In the draw with Pacific the previous week, he came on for a few minutes and earned Max Ferrari’s praise. This time around, it was from Nash.
“Yeah, I thought he was brilliant. He rarely put a foot wrong, I thought he was good in possession, he worked extremely hard, he closed people down, yeah I thought it was a great performance; he’s been working with us all year, and he’s proven to be a player that can play in this league. He came in as a central player and I think right away we saw for us his attributes and at this level he needs to start out wide. He’s come and trained hard every day all season, he’s got his chance and he’s taken it, I think he’s done really well.”
Esprit might have emerged as something like a box-to-box midfielder, also managing two interceptions, one clearance, and switched up with others at the back. On one long ball played to Baldisimo, he was shoring up that holding midfield position just in case. And he’s earned the trust, and the right to do so. A promising one to watch going forward.
This win was crucial, but the next is even more. A home match against Halifax. The winner will be firmly in the playoffs, in a position to host a home game too, and the loser will be relegated to scrap to just get in. Esprit and the rest will be eager to get back started, having felt some winning ways again. They’ll need to clean up some things and tap into themselves again. Regrouping before a clash with the Wanderers hasn’t been an issue this season.
Top photo by Valour FC
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