York’s Electrifying Start Isn’t Enough in the Match of the Season

York’s Electrifying Start Isn’t Enough in the Match of the Season

York United was right there. The match was for the taking. Although their undefeated record at TD Place continues after a 3-3 draw with Atlético Ottawa, they’ll leave with a bittersweet feeling. It was yet another night of finding out who goes where, and what works best, but with nine matches left and Ottawa being, as far as we know, the team to beat for York to qualify for the playoffs, you can’t look at the result with rose-tinted glasses.

After all, York led the match 2-0 and 3-2 at points and should’ve put it away. Brian Wright was finally unlocked, scoring his first goal of the season and getting excellent service – but could’ve had a hat trick. Kévin Dos Santos smashed home his third of the season but couldn’t score at a tight angle. It could’ve been done and dusted in the first half, and that’s because of one thing: York finally timed their runs perfectly.


It was more of a case of exploiting space, but regardless York (and especially Wright) haven’t been on their A-game getting on the end of long balls and crosses. In this match, it was clear who was supposed to be getting into those dangerous areas, there wasn’t a cluster, and there certainly wasn’t just a single runner in the box. Not only that, but York may have also found a better way just to get into the box. They avoided the aerial long ball to Wright, and the only switch-balls were from Brem Soumaoro to Dos Santos. That let his elusive dribbling do the rest and get into the area. His battle with Karl Ouimette was quite something. It was back and forth, but in the second half, Ottawa closed the gaps that York scored on. Ouimette shutting down Dos Santos was key to those efforts, and he rarely put a wrong foot. Dos Santos also attracted a crowd there, as sometimes Alberto Zapater would move over to help Ouimette.

What York did that was so crucial though, was a move that made Mo Babouli look a lot more free and like the player he is, was advancing the defensive midfielders. Babouli often found himself having a partner further up the pitch to play alongside in Soumaoro. He wasn’t ever caught for this, his double-pivot capabilities were on full show, and it was indeed something that Martin Nash had added to training.

“That was something we were looking at this week, getting one of our deeper midfielders to join the attack,” Nash said, “and one to sit, just put more numbers forward. I think it worked in some ways but I thought we lost a bit of our defensive stability, so it’s something we’ll have to look at. We had to change some things to do it for this week and might change it again for next week, but, yeah, it was by design. We got some solid attacking stuff, but working it in a week some of the timing is off and some spaces were left.”

Losing Soumaoro at the back at points was certainly costly, as his calming presence was out of the picture some defenders looked a bit stranded, none more than Elijah Adekugbe. He could also be the player who converts into attack but stayed in central defence. Ottawa targeted his side of the field when Soumaoro got back, and his error provided a path for Carl Haworth to score an incredible solo goal that brought Ottleti right back into the match. Adekugbe wasn’t bad by any means, but was dribbled past and Ottawa going through the middle often made him the player responsible if they got a shot. When Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé came on, it was a vote of confidence for the attackers, because Gagnon-Laparé is comfortable going forward and making plays, so there were two more players getting in on goal.

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York didn’t lose their shape on defence, they just maybe were a bit frantic in trying to win the ball and conceded free kicks and corners that only boosted Ottawa. They had long spells of possession where York couldn’t win the ball and Ottawa just kept regrouping from the halfway line. In a way, that could’ve been better for York, as Ottawa had many numbers pegged back, in a way maintaining a counter-attacking shape that is so valuable to them. York at least was able to have this type of time on the ball of their own. Paris Gee really settled into a deeper position but couldn’t get crosses in. It was good to see him use his offensive traits, even if it meant Max Ferrari became part of a back three. They kept the pendulum swinging, and that was what made this the match of the season. Both sides were in it until the very end. In reality, someone should’ve won the match, but in a fixture with ten draws all-time, it was always going to be like this.

“I think [the madness of the match] showed with the one goal for us, one goal for them, goal for them, goal for us, and it kind of showed the game just kept taking turns,” Tass Mourdoukoutas remarked. “No one really had full control, like you said a bit of a pendulum swinging one way or the other, using momentum to grab a goal, look, a lot of the goals were really preventable, I think a few mistakes we kind of pushed ourselves into their press and made mistakes that way when we were up a goal or two. Things we can work on are like what I said earlier, consistency, understanding habits and not playing game-by-game and not having an idea of the structure we needed to set for ourselves. We need to keep everyone on board and maintain more stability through the 90 minutes because we can’t play football like that where we score one, concede one, it’s too much, we want that consistency.”

Carlos Gonzalez really put his foot on the gas when to open the second half he brought in both Ruben Del Campo and Ilias Iliadis to add some spark going forward. York had prevented Sam Salter from getting anything. Zach Verhoven was a nightmare for Gee and Noah Abatneh, cutting in, but his crosses always came just short. On the other end, Ollie Bassett was virtually taken out of the match side for a brilliant flick that was huge to Ottawa’s third goal. Despite that, York’s defence really held back some of Ottleti’s big stars.

To find that consistency, York won’t have it easy, with both Forge and Cavalry on the docket. Even though they are both road games, York is better away from home. It’s more crucial than ever to hold strong. And if they can score on the tight angles and finish off promising plays, it might get them into the playoffs… a race that is also the smallest of margins.

Top photo by Matt Zambonin

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