Lots of 9s in this one. 2019 could have been York’s year. It wasn’t.
The Canadian Premier League needs a footprint in the GTA’s communities. There’s no way around that. And so York9, Y9, the Nine Stripes–whatever–was born.
It actually worked better than I thought it would on the field. The team recruited heavily from League 1 Ontario, which makes sense as CanPL is a natural stepping stone for many of those players. Some stuck, some didn’t.
That’s local soccer for you. Now we need to support it.
What it meant
Apparently, not much. To the die-hard Toronto soccer fans–and there are some very die-hard soccer fans in Toronto, to whom both this league and Canadian soccer owe more than is typically made apparent–York9 was a lot of fun. Call it tacky, but the alien motif is actually kind of cute and I’m glad at least one supporter’s group went full CONCACAF with the trumpets and drums.
It’s just a pity there weren’t more. I don’t want these recaps to focus over-much on off-field issues, but the league needs this market to succeed.
There’s competition, of course. Soccer fans can go watch high-priced talent at BMO Field. A lot follow teams back home, too. CanPL has been more about the local angle so far, which is great, but Toronto’s a bit different. York9 really need to be exciting.
Credit to Jim Brennan, because, stylistically at least, they mostly have been. If York’s strikers could finish, they’d be one of the highest-scoring teams in the league–they had 30 in the fall, tied for second with Forge. Neither are they playing anti-football: for stretches of the year, they were maybe the best in the league at combining in midfield to create chances for Rodrigo Gattas to put in the parking lot.
My projection: Spring 4th / Fall 5th
There was a lot of guesswork involved back in the spring–as much from the club itself as from me. The roster felt like a bit of a gamble, with a lot riding on a Swedish lower-league star, a largely untested Canadian CB, and a bunch of reclamation projects in midfield.
If Gattas hadn’t been signed early in the year, it might have been much worse.
I’ll give Y9 the overachievement. They got better over the course of the year, even if they never solved the core problem in front of goal. That’s for the offseason. They ended up sixth in the spring, sometimes looking pretty dire after a plucky opening day draw. Third in the spring and fourth overall isn’t bad at all.
Key game: April 27th @ Forge, 1 – 1
This feels too easy, but I feel like the inaugural match gets forgotten occasionally?
Also, York looked good! They scored three minutes in! Cyrus Rollocks looked like an absolute revelation (he’s out of contract now). They were structured, Joe Di Chiara was and still is the best destroyer in the league, they had grit and guile, and most importantly, they were part of a festival.
I don’t think the long wait for the home opener helped. They went winless in four on the road, then opened with a bleh 0 – 0 at home against Blainville. The lack of finish was already obvious–they didn’t crack 10 in the spring. Weird weather and a botched CanPL home opener didn’t help.
Things really were a lot better even by June. I just can’t help but feel that by then, Toronto had tuned them out a bit.
Style of play
I spent a lot of my preview focusing on York’s midfield. Putting Di Chiara, Manny Aparicio, and Kyle Porter on the same field together really was bold. None of them has ever been especially consistent.
Mostly, it worked. There are still questions, not least because Di Chiara missed a chunk of time again and Porter… did not recapture the form he showed earlier in the decade.
But Jim Brennan got it all to work, and he got it all to work without any obvious off-field problems–Y9 are actually one of the only clubs I’ve heard nothing bad about in terms of team culture and unity. That speaks to Brennan’s leadership–he’s got a calm, measured demeanour now that was probably there even as a player but seems to have blossomed as he’s learned the coaching ropes. Bizarrely, York named five captains, but on the field, it was always Luca Gasparotto leading everyone.
Leadership is probably partly why Kyle Porter is back. He only put up 2g/4a in almost 2,000 minutes, and rarely finished games–it felt like he was constantly on the verge of losing his spot to Singaporean S-League star Wataru Murofushi. That’s probably Porter’s level now.
It still held together, and York will need that midfield group next year because it’s not going to be top priority for upgrades. Those have to come up front.
Finishing, obviously. Simon Karlsson Adjei did not score 30 goals this year. Seven in 24–0.44g/90–actually isn’t that bad, but you have to factor penalties into that. Both he and Gattas took some.
Adjei’s been re-signed, which likely bodes ill for Chilean journeyman Gattas. I like Gattas’ game, up until he shoots. On a team with other goal contributors, you could probably tolerate him launching a rocket from midfield and taking out some first-year on his way to English class. Plus, between penalties and opportunities, he did put some in. Not sure York can afford his cap hit, though.
Defending is also a bit of a problem. No goalkeeper faced more shots than Nathan Ingham. Diyaeddine Abzi and Morey Doner both got headlines for their forward play, but neither is quite as sure of themselves defensively. Sometimes, that meant Brennan went to a back three, but that often forced Ryan Telfer to play centrally.
Telfer’s probably going back to TFC. His eight goals will take a chunk out of York’s offense, too. They did add a couple creative players in the draft, where I thought York did very, very well after flopping in 2018.
The young League 1 Ontario signings–mostly ex-TFC Academy guys themselves like Rollocks, Steven Furlano, and Austin Ricci–won’t be back. That’s fine–not every L1O player is going to stick in CanPL and there’s more where they came from–but York could do with unearthing at least a contributor from the cloning tubes, and could Generation IX even dream of their own Tristan Borges to brag to friends about?
Up until York re-signed Adjei, my operating assumption was that they’d be first in line on Jordan Hamilton, who’s out of contract after getting released by Columbus Crew.
I still think they should be in on him. He won’t come cheap–he put up pretty decent USL numbers and there are teams in that league would pay him–but he’s from Scarborough and if CanPL is about local soccer, he’d be a great get. Also, he’d score in this league, probably a lot.
If Gattas is gone–and it looks likely if he’s not re-signed by now–then they could use a playmaker, too, although Aparicio could push higher. I tend to think he’s better further forward with runners ahead of him. When York were allowed to transition last year, he thrived.
At the back, Roger Thompson is back, which means he’ll likely partner Gasparotto despite being limited to only ten games this year due to injuries. I’m sad to see USPORTs vet Dan Gogarty go, and York are thin at the back now, so expect reinforcement there.
A lot will be placed on guys like Doner and Abzi next year, as well as Murofushi, Estevez, and Aparicio. All had good years, but all have to prove that this year wasn’t a fluke brought about by the novelty and motivation of a fresh start.
If York can find some goals, they’ll be good. If they can keep this slightly haphazard core humming and well-oiled, they could be great.
And Toronto soccer could use that.