2022 CanPL Preview: York United

A variety of Jim Brennans.
Honestly, a lot of this preview is about Jim Brennan. No disrespect to Martin Nash, who's a lot like Jim Brennan in several important ways -- he's ambitious, no-nonsense, and has great hair -- but Jim Brennan's the only coach York have known. It won't be the same.

 

Last year, almost everyone picked York to finish last, and instead the squeaked into the playoffs on the last day of the season.

This resulted in one of the single dumbest social media posts in CanPL history, made singularly Torontonian by ripping off something New York did better. I wasn’t able to do my year-end rewards last year, but fear not: the Yorky Award for Worst Social Media Post of the Year will forever immortalize the moment.

I actually don’t begrudge the club gloating a little bit after making the playoffs–just making the playoffs, mind, only to go out in the first round. I mostly wish they’d focused said gloating on the players who got them there, rather than social media beefs, because York’s players were a lot of fun last year.

The reason I picked them last was because I just couldn’t see a way to take what was an extremely young, very untested roster and get anywhere in a pandemic-altered season full of challenges. I was wrong. So were a lot of people.

That Jimmy Brennan pulled it off is a miracle. It should have cemented him in the top tier of CanPL coaches, a Canadian coaching prospect fresh off his UEFA Pro course on the up-and-up.

Instead, York fired him.

It’s a very York move. And we’ll get to Martin Nash in a minute, who is by no means a bad coaching prospect himself. Brennan will land on his feet somewhere, anyway.

But what if…

Introducing the iYork, innovation x soccer, this year at E3.

…getting fans back in the stands was the key to club culture?

What if… what the club really needs comes more from building clear on-field continuity and results, rather than headlines?

It’s still on-track. York have a product that should be marketable. This summer is going to be all about selling young Canadian up-and-comers to soccer curious casual fans. Only York could screw this up.

To my eye, Brennan had consistently overachieved given the patchwork rosters he’s had through three years. Had he had been responsible for building the bulk of those rosters, I could see moving on, but  Brennan hasn’t been made international roster moves since 2019. This is now Angus McNab’s team.

Can he stick with it? He’s mostly kept Brennan’s team intact, minus Brennan, with its nice mix of raw prospectage, cast-offs-turned-good, and maybe slightly overpaid veterans that actually gave Forge a very creditable hour in the semi-finals.

He’s also chucked a few of the previously-much-heralded international signings, namely Julian Ulbricht and Alvaro Rivero, though Ulbricht was part of a very complex German swapperoo with Edmonton in which York rescued Tomas Warschewski then sent him right back to Clarke on loan. Rivero could be a frustrating player — often better laterally than he was vertically — but he was also the team’s joint top scorer, and I’m not sure they’ve replaced him.

Lowell Wright, who tied Rivero with six goals, is probably the answer to that question. He’s got all the tools to be an absolutely dominant striker, but he’s still very raw. You could see Brennan coaching him up. Nobody is going to be surprised by him this year, though.

(Added Apr. 6, 2022: They have just signed De Ro’s kid, Osaze De Rosario. It’s less of a gimmick than it seems — he’s scored some pre-season goals with MLS teams and played briefly in Ukraine last year.)

Brennan’s teams have been consistently good in midfield, too, even while they struggled with defensive mistakes and finishing, things no coach can control. Cédric Toussaint was one of the revelations of the year in 2021, bossing the midfield as a 19-year-old, and York locked him up through 2024. I’ve been raving about Isaiah Johnston since he came to Cape Breton, and both he and Max Ferrari are back long-term, too. Brennan turned Noah Verhoeven, who could barely get a minute in Victoria, into a 2,000-minute iron man.

There are some smart moves here, sensible moves, real moves–the kind that don’t always work out and which don’t get headlines, but which can build success.

Add to these veteran Canadians like Dom Zator, Roger Thompson, Diya Abzi, and Michael Petrasso and you get a team that no one is going to pick to finish last this year, not even me. There are some questions in goal now Nate Ingham is gone, but for what it’s worth, I rate Niko Giantsopoulos, as both pod-cast co-host and goalkeeper.

Development is rarely linear, though. This is where Martin Nash comes in.

Nash is about as sure a thing as you can get for a coach who doesn’t actually have any head coaching experience. I feel, though, like he’s been a head coach ever since his days with Whitecaps in USL. Even with Cavalry, as Tommy Wheeldon’s right-hand man, he was always the steady, calm voice, very instructive on the sideline, keeping the young players focused. He’s a lot like Brennan in that, in fact.

It’s a culture change, though. Every manager is a little bit different, and there is a gap between being The Guy and having been The Other Guy, who players can talk to a bit more freely. York’s previous assistant coaches, Carmine Isacco and Paul Stalteri — both vastly experienced in their own rights — have likewise moved on.

McNab has been suggesting he wants the club to qualify for CONCACAF, something which is actually all but impossible for a CanPL team in 2022 because of the continental reformatting1There’s no CONCACAF League any more, basically. There’ll be an expanded CONCACAF Champions League, but that doesn’t kick in until 2024, and due to the way the regional calendar works, Canada misses out on the League berth this year. To qualify for continental play, York would have to win the Voyageur’s Cup. It would be crazy fun if they could do that by beating Toronto FC and its newest Italian superstar, but that’s not the way to bet.. GMs have been known to set unrealistic expectations, but I’d suggest McNab’s seat might be hotter than Nash’s, so we’ll see how much of his expectation is smoke and how much is fire.

Either way, Nash has a job ahead of him.

Draft Grade: B

York did alright this year, and Martin Nash set down a no-nonsense approach with his picks, taking the USPORTs rookie of the year in Christian Rossi and a local prospect in Soji Olatoye.

Both have some promise, but both are projects. Olatoye is older than Lowell Wright, and of a winger, but is similarly difficult to defend in channels. Rossi is a playmaker who has a lot of growing to do.

Given York are slammed right against the 23-man main roster limit, there’s little chance these guys sign. There are developmental slots they could use, particularly on Olatoye (who’s nearby), but Rossi’s probably looking at a longer time-line to pro soccer anyway.

Projection: 6th

I don’t believe in linear development. Nobody does.

Points of data make beautiful lines….

…but that’s not football. York may well be a lot better this year, they may possess the ball better and build more dangerous attacks, even — these are good things. They could do all this and still finish below last year’s team because a lot of football, especially at this level, is execution, and young players rarely execute consistently, especially when expectations are high.

If McNab’s latest crop of no-name South Americans with limited professional minutes and great data manage to make a bigger impact than previous attempts in the same mold, I’d revise my projection up and maybe even tolerate some limited gloating. The club did a smart thing last year by loaning Lisandro Cabrera and William Wallace out to keep them under contract during the pandemic restrictions, and more CanPL clubs should explore those kinds of partnerships, but it was a situation the club should never have put itself in if it had planned ahead — the pandemic was in full swing when they signed those guys. Meanwhile, Sebastian Gutierrez, whom they did eventually get in the country, managed… 1g/0a, and wasn’t starting by the end of the season.

When Brennan was fired, McNab talked a lot about his what he’d done for the club, but also talked a lot about the underlying numbers, as is his wont. Brennan is a smart guy. He can read an Excel sheet, I guarantee it. But he kept dropping guys like Gabby Vasconcelos and Gutierrez because they wouldn’t defend. It’s simple enough. Brennan wasn’t a McNab hire, and it seems likely McNab wanted a coach who would play his guys. Oldest song in the soccer manager merry-go-round, that.

If it works, hey, it works. I won’t knock success. I’m just not sure I call fourth-place success. Others may disagree.

And if it doesn’t, and McNab still isn’t satisfied with the ups and downs of Canadian soccer, he might consider sacking himself, preferably via promo video posted directly to TikTok.

About Dylan Matthias 216 Articles
Captain of this motley crew. Formerly editor-in-chief at The Dalhousie Gazette, covering university soccer and Halifax news from a student perspective. Once a Vancouverite, always a Haligonian.

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