Riddled with Controversy, York’s Season Hits a Major Speed Bump

Riddled with Controversy, York’s Season Hits a Major Speed Bump

YORK LIONS STADIUM, TORONTO – As boos rang around York Lions Stadium and through the night, none of it was for York United. Every decibel, the count rising instantly after the final whistle, was directed at referee Mathieu Souaré, who consistently made appalling decisions throughout the contest. It tested York’s patience, a trait that ultimately snapped at the end. They had had enough. Mo Babouli drew a red card for dissent, nearly booting the ball into the skies, just to follow through with throwing the captain’s armband down the tunnel. Austin Ricci was walking back toward the locker rooms beside Souaré, clapping his hands sarcastically with a fake smile. These reactions are not expected of professionals, and yet in the moment, they feel appropriate. In a match defined by calls unworthy of cards and fouls, for a single few seconds, you see how competitive these players are, and how much this intense playoff race means to every single one of them.

With a 3-1 loss to Valour FC, York’s good form and good vibe have gone away, and their postseason dreams become less fathomable.

York head coach Martin Nash took a long pause before delivering an answer about whether he felt cheated in the match. However, when he spoke, it was resounding. “Yeah, I think so, personally. But, you know, we, for a team who plays at home, rarely get calls here. You know, you go other places and teams get calls at their place, but here it always never seems to be in our favour or rarely does so. It’s like this is an away game for us when we play here.”


The most controversial call in question, a red card on Noah Abatneh, was far from deserved. Taking over 40 seconds to lift the card into the air, Souaré’s treatment of the situation was far from the standards you’d expect in professional sport. The only time when a red card should take that long to be drawn is if VAR comes into play, which, because that has not yet been implemented into the Canadian Premier League, is not an excuse.

Abatneh goes in for the challenge and cleanly clears the ball before Matteo De Brienne gets remotely near him. All the contact was because De Brienne went straight into the collision. He seemed eager for it. As a split-second reaction, he could have jumped over Abatneh, but instead, instigated the contact. His right foot is coming down as Abatneh’s left leg is coming back up after hitting the turf. The hit was natural, carried by momentum, without any harm intended. Even still, Souaré changed the game.

Max Ferrari, playing on the back line, was affected by this a lot. As a player with tendencies to find deeper pockets of space, having Abatneh centrally helps him out so he isn’t always left in the dust when a runner comes down the right flank. Naturally, a loss like that forces Nash to juggle the lineup, and in this case, Ferrari had to adopt the role of a centre-back for large portions of the game. The red did more than trigger a reaction and lose York a critical three points, but you can draw it all back to not having Abatneh on the pitch, and players having to fill unnatural positions.

“He’s a good kid, Noah’s a good kid,” Ferrari said. “He’s done really well coming in and the minutes you’ve got depending where he played, whether it’s centre-back or fullback he’s done a job and for me [the red card] is just harsh obviously. It sucks for him… and to lose him it was reshuffling in the game, whether it’s we put Clem [Bayiha] at right back, and then we went into more of a three. It’s one of those things that you can’t really dwell on at the moment you just have to bounce back.”

And more telling than anything else was Abatneh leaving the pitch, walking right through Valour’s bench area. They were rivals on the night, but Valour’s coaching staff patted him on the back, sincere if anything, knowing that he didn’t deserve that fate.

On Valour’s second goal, Bayiha went down right in front of Souaré. Twice in the build-up to Diego Gutierrez slotting the ball home was there an appeal from York to stop the play. Somehow, Valour was permitted to keep moving. At this point, they could toy with York’s defence. It was one of the first times this season that Valour was truly able to have a stronghold on the rhythm of a fixture, moving the ball around with ease and sucking the life out of York.

Valour’s confidence was filled to the brim, and however York tried by spraying long switch-balls to the wingers, they lost an extra boost, playing with nerves and desperation to not give up the ball.

Kévin Dos Santos did find a breakthrough by smashing the ball – out of frustration – into the top corner past Rayane Yesli, a bright spot for the team and for Dos Santos, another golazo that makes his name more prominent as the weeks fly by. His fifth goal of the season was another dose of something special. York needed that little injection of a good feeling, Nash more than anyone, so he can try to replicate that play in training and have a positive moment to build on.

“We had 11 guys plus all the subs who came in and stepped up,” Valour fullback and goal-scorer Dante Campbell said. “As I’ve said before, we’ve had a lot of good performances that just haven’t come together, we couldn’t find the back of the net. And you know, it’s a good feeling when we put in the hard work, we put in the shift. And when we find the back of the net, it’s a great feeling to get what we deserve.”

Valour celebrates their first goal by Dante Campbell [photo by David Chant]

The Winnipeggers ended on the front foot, turning in a complete performance. They were the first squad playing keep-away on the day; in the opening minutes trying to find a gap in York’s defensive midfield. For the most part, they couldn’t, and keeping the ball on the wings was a wise move, as every time they attempted a pass into the mixer Babouli or Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé would pounce, closing the gaps with the person on the ball in an instant. They choked the ball out of Valour’s feet a few times but just didn’t have the numbers forward to start a threatening counter-attack.

“It’s about seeing where the space is,” Valour coach Phil Dos Santos said of the decisions to play mostly on the flanks, “you’re gonna exploit the wing because the space is there and then when you’re switching the point of attack it opens up centrally and you need to have the ability and the capacity to recognize that space and get players moving into those spaces. I think this team has quality players out wide and when we get the ball in those positions we always try at the first glimpse or look to unbalance the opposition there… When things open up, you need to make the right decision, no matter where it was on the field, and I feel that today we, even in moments where we could’ve been better by staying on the ball, staying more patient, but also exploiting spaces that were given to us. Especially once we found ourselves a man up.”

There wasn’t much space for York, either. Ricci, who had two goals in two games leading up to Friday night, was in the number nine role. Valour’s centre-backs, especially Guillaume Pianelli, all but shut down the talisman. Ricci wasn’t necessarily helping himself: he started runs expecting through balls that were still a pass away from happening, forcing the hand of Babouli or Bayiha to deliver ones that weren’t stellar. After getting the ball to him easily just four days prior, it was strange to see Ricci manage only a few touches in dangerous areas and have a single successful dribble.

“I think we were looking too short,” said Nash on the failure to get balls to Ricci, “I think we had to open up the game a little bit, they had a high line and we weren’t finding that space like we should’ve. And it was on, we just didn’t play it. So we tried to play everything to feet, which was causing our problems a lot, a lot of the time so we lost our width and we playing to feet, which is where we were struggling in the first half.”

These are things York can manage, they can refine passing into the box or nailing through-balls in training. What can’t be refined or changed for the next game, a Sunday afternoon battle with Pacific, is the standard of refereeing. Poor game-changing calls happen from coast to coast… but a full 90-minute horror show like that is rare by the standards of this league, especially given the vast majority – no, all the calls – went Valour’s way.

With three more crucial home matches in the next three weeks, Ferrari still feels they can find some form. “We all want to show that we can play here as well, not just on the road and getting the results we want to play at home and in front of our fans and do well, and for us, I think the extra couple of days of rest in between games will be good. We’ll stay at home and look forward to Pacific.”

Four cup finals left.

Top photo by David Chant

2 thoughts on “Riddled with Controversy, York’s Season Hits a Major Speed Bump

  1. Wow! is this a York based-supporters article. BC I saw the same match, I’m from London ON, a Forge Season Seat Holder who has more York United jerseys than Forge, and I saw the Abatneh tackle and instantly thought red. I commend the referee for taking time to think about it, because same ref has been criticized for being too quick and not chatting with his ref mates. This time he does and you further criticize this smart approach. Abatneh, yes, clearly one the ball, but left his studs up and raised them into DeBrienne, who was clearly showing marks on his leg. I stopped reading your article at this point, as I felt it would continue to banter about how York was hard done by. Babouli’s reaction and actions require CPL board review and rest of season ssuspension in my opinion. In fact, I’d be happy to see Babouli banished from CPL, seems a bit of a cancer for his antics, behaviour, lack of support for club and league initiatives. Let’s do away with that sort of crap, or shape up and shut up Babouli. IMHO… Now, maybe I’ll go back and read the rest of this article to see some balance to the rest of it… fingerscrossed.

    1. I certainly don’t support Babouli’s actions, I think he snapped. And sorry, I just don’t see how it’s a red. I know some angles are more telling than others but De Brienne could’ve pulled out. Abatneh’s studs go because he wants to go back up and his leg bounces off the turf. Just my opinion, I get that others have their own though.

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