Every single time. Every year I write these, I type it out as Tork United (formerly Tork9).
After five long years, I’ve decided my body may be trying to tell me something and I’ve finally decided to listen.
Every year, I write the same thing about them, too, and every year I get stuck writing the York preview because I desperately want to be wrong about them.
Then, every year, they go and prove me right. Often spectacularly.
Usually, I moan about the head-scratching international players Tork GM Gus McNab has signed, all apparently possessed of as much data as they have hype, all of whom are summarily jettisoned at the end of the year.
Indeed, 2022 was no different. Lisandro Cabrera, Sebastian Gutierrez, William Wallace, Mateo Hernandez — all vanished while the team limped to just nine wins, actually an improvement on 2021’s eight, but still well out of the playoff picture.
Only… I think I might have been wrong about those internationals! Lisandro Cabrera showed flashes but struggled with injuries. So did Gutierrez and maybe even Hernandez once they settled in a bit. Gutierrez might be the best player at useless tricks this league has ever seen, but he literally faceplanted more than once at the end of them. It was almost adorable. I wanted him to pull one off, and then he finally did, scoring one of the wilder, more accidental goals you’ll see in this league.1You’ll have to go to the very end of that clip because for some reason, five years in, the league still hasn’t figured out that people share discrete highlights, not four-and-a-half minute packs.
Some of these guys just needed time to settle. You bring in some early-20s kid with great data from South America, you’re bringing in a young man who’s probably never lived away from home, putting him in a very different league and a very different culture, different language, different style. It takes time.
I was wrong, and then Tork did the usual thing of making sure they were even more wrong by releasing them.
|Never Mind These Guys….
|Dom Zator (sold)
|Jordan Wilson (One Soccer)
|Oliver Minatel (retired)
( * Playing at a level equal or higher than CanPL)
There’s a slight change of approach evident in the players McNab has added this winter, and I’m thus tempted to think it might work out better except for the sneaking suspicion it’s still a bit off and I might end up wrong about being wrong again.
But the idea is to move away from trying to get the kind of promising South Americans CanPL clubs were never going to get without paying a transfer fee and instead bring in slightly more experienced players with something to prove. Ironically, this occurs just as the league doubles down on U23 internationals it will never be able to re-sell without paying actual currency up front.2To get a U20 with any promise out of Brazil, Argentina, or a European youth system, you need to front some serious cashola — like, eight figures. And you sell them by proving to the very best clubs in the world that your league is going prep them for the Champions’ League. The sad truth was guys like Cabrera and Gutierrez were too old before they even started here, and had pretty much had their look in South America — if they’d had any real sales potential, they’d be under lock and key in Sao Paulo. CanPL is not a finishing league. Not now, probably not ever. It’s not what this league was ever about.
No, what Tork should be doing is grabbing all the young talent around them before other teams get the smart idea to just hire the guy who developed them. Those are the players you can burn though: 18 and 19-year-olds with promise and flair and a nearby parent to keep them stable and settled. Then you bring in internationals to either mentor them (i.e., guys older than 23) or as longer-term assets.3For which, by the way, I still think CanPL teams would do far better to look to CONCACAF because one thing this league can offer is quality-of-life and a cheque that doesn’t bounce. Which is a bigger deal than you’d think in world football. And CONCACAF regions, though somewhat opaque at times, are full of young and hungry teenagers looking for any opportunity at all. Which isn’t to say they won’t need time to settle, too, but you’re a lot likelier to get a teenager with a higher ceiling at a lower cost.
And, to their credit, Tork are sort of doing this. They sort-of sold Lowell Wright and Dom Zator. They didn’t stand in the way of letting Isaiah Johnston go to MLS NextInLine, and they loaned Ronan Kratt back to Germany until the end of the European season. This is good, though they didn’t get much for any of these moves and they need to if they’re going to float this club on player sales.
Tork sit, and will continue to sit every year until the team folds, on the biggest hotbed of talent in the country. Much of that talent, which spent 2022 training minutes from Tork’s front office, is now in Halifax, along with Vaughan’s star coaching prospect Patrice Gheisar.
As I type this, I’m watching Vaughan play North Toronto — both teams based directly in the region — and they’re loaded with CanPL talent, both former and future coached by a former York assistant coach. I mean, good for Massimo Ferrin and Kosi Nwafornso, may they score many goals in CanPL. I know I’m down on Wanderers this year, but I’m glad they’re getting a genuine chance.
At least Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé comes the other way. Which, actually, might be a fair trade. But my larger point here is that these guys are relatively known local entities — Ferrin and Nwafornso, among others, are coming off of ridiculously successful seasons in semi-pro. They needed a professional shop window two years ago. What does a CanPL club need to see to sign these guys? What makes them sign Lisandro Cabrera instead?
The one guy who fits this profile, and whom I thought Tork would surely be able to sell this winter, was Osaze De Rosario. He still has some work to do on his game, but he’s the kin of player I think could be sold on this summer, if he starts well again.
To that end, Tork have brought in Ottawa
back-up rotational option (I’m trying here, guys) Brian Wright, who pretty much lost his spot on another goal-challenged team. I still like Wright, and think he’ll probably fit better in Tork’s system, but I don’t know that he’s going to replace Lowell Wright, whom they sold for a very small amount of money to MLS Next last summer. Nor do I put it past Tork to sign a guy with the same last name and hope the fans won’t notice they’re different people.
Lassana Faye represents a return to the well that brought in Osaze De Rosario — that being crisis diplomacy in Ukraine. Faye has had a bit of a rough run over the past few years, bouncing around some decent mid-table Dutch teams as an early-20s loanee before Vitesse decided, as PSV had before them, that he wasn’t going to appreciate in value. This is how it works, guys.
He’s got some nice clubs in the résumé, as tends to be the way of Tork’s signings, but hasn’t played since the summer of 2021 thanks to the misfortune of signing in L’viv a month before Russia invaded. He’s a left-sided centre-back, though, which Tork badly need. Hopefully he gets a chance to stick here and get some stability.
The other international defender is Brem Soumaoro, and it sounds like he’ll play centre-back, though he’s technically a very tall d-mid. He’s a bit more experienced with a slightly less-impressive (but still good) Dutch résumé, mostly in the second division with Maastricht, then to a mid-table Cypriot team for a taste of a conflict zone. He has real minutes where he’s played, and guys who play tend to be the guys who get the job done.
Are these… experienced internationals? Guys who can mentor? I believe the may just be, but I could be wrong again.
Add Tass Mourdoukoutas, the Australian who signed from the A-League last year and it’s actually a pretty-good looking defensive group. Johnny Grant arrives form Hamilton with some more veteran leadership in tow and Roger Thompson is still around. It’s physical. What it’s not is fast, and there’s not a lot of depth at fullback, though we might see Gagnon-Laparé back at left-back.
In midfield there’s another Dutch signing — you sense Gus has hit on this year’s theme, and hopefully he got a couple decent waffles out of it. I suspect he’s the sort who does brunch.
But if you’re going to do European breakfast spots — and more managers should — Oussam Alou is the way to do it. He’s a prospect from a good-but-not-famous Dutch academy in Utrecht, came up through their youth ranks, and has never played a professional game. To be clear: it’s still a long bet, but there are good players in Holland who don’t catch on. A lot of them end up in the A-League. They could end up in Canada, too. Alou’s 21, so this is his big shot to prove to a mid-table German club that he’s got more to show. Don’t expect too much, hope for the best, churn on.
Matt Baldisimo is back, though probably no longer really counts as a major prospect unless people continue confusing him with his brother. Michael probably still has the higher ceiling but Matt’s the more rounded player at this point, and will bring some flexibility to Tork’s midfield. Gagnon-Laparé can slot in there, too, an Elijah Adekugbe will play some games, though probably not all the games, if you are familiar with his injury history. Paris Gee can also play fullback and in midfield. Flexibility is good.
They’ve signed one guy from League 1, at least, but I am not even going to attempt to type, let alone pronounce his name. Markiyan Voytsekhovsky4I copy-pasted both times. did put up decent numbers with ProStars, not Massimo Ferrin numbers, but they’re similar players. They also signed a Canadian wide attacker from Whitecaps 2 who I am never going to be able to avoid referring to as Theo Afterwork, though he’s actually played mostly in German youth leagues.
Max Ferrari is also sticking around, though he probably needs to turn promise into actual potential sooner than later — he hasn’t scored since 2021 and pretty well lost his spot to Ronan Kratt, who will be back to take it again after Canada Day. They’ve also brought back Austin Ricci, but he hasn’t scored since 2021, either.
That’s the biggest question this season, actually. Martin Nash was a can’t-miss hire — a long-time assistant coach, cerebral even when he played. It’s kind of a fascinating collection of pieces he has to try and make work.
He tried a bunch of approaches last year, but the common element was a lack of any real plan once the play entered the final third. Tork were good at moving the ball forward, but then the wrong guy would take the wrong touch and the fullback would make the wrong supporting run and it would all come apart.
Some of that is just having a team that’s constantly unsettled, so it may improve year-over-year, especially with more players coming in who know the league. Mo Babouli proved a good addition last year, though he’s getting older and is a bit brittle. Speaking of which, Mike Petrasso’s back.
When he’s healthy — which is rare — he’s Tork’s best chance creator. I just don’t think, at this point, his knees are capable of playing consistent minutes, at least not on turf. (He managed a lot more time in England, on grass.)
They also got Clément Bayiha, who’s in after some very up and down years in Montreal. He had a couple really good games, mostly in the Voyageur’s Cup, got a move to HamKam, and never quite put it together. At 24, he’s a different kind of Tork signing. I kind of wonder if he’s still got some promise, and he’s never actually played major minutes — even in Montreal he was very much a sub. But he did play, and he played a bit in Norway, too. He’s never been a smooth player, but he’s a direct runner and Tork don’t otherwise have enough of those. Sometimes the right option is just not taking the wrong option.
Of the various internationals last year, I also think they kept the best one in Kevin Santos. He’s not often noticed, and he doesn’t put up big numbers — see above about wrong option, final third, and watch Santos for 90 minutes and you’ll see lots of it — but he’s inventive and if Martin Nash can create a system where everyone understands how everyone else wants to be inventive, they might turn some of that xG into actualG.
Tork went Texan, and played a number of games down that way, not all of which have many details available, though it does look like they played Houston Dynamo 2 (what a thing, being a second dynamo) and Penn State, as well as the Montreal U23s. You may recall Ottawa beat them 6 – 0. Tork put up four.
I’d knock them for not doing more in Canada, but Toronto has been fairly cold the past couple weeks and we know how Torontonians love to complain about the cold.
Last year, Tork’s expected goals were almost comical. They picked up the scoring a bit towards the end of year — mostly thanks to Babouli — but still ended up tied with the Eddies for the league’s lowest non-Wanderers goal output.
Technically, teams should improve to their xG season over season, roughly. But that’s ultimately a statistical assumption based on both the actual stats being recorded accurately and also a certain level of continuity and skill that doesn’t necessarily often exist at the level of the game we’re dealing with.
Tork should be better than they are. They should have been better than they have been pretty much since day one. But it has to come with the pieces as they are, not as the model says they should be.
I think they can. I’m a lot higher on this year’s Tork than I am last year’s Tork, when they were still throwing darts. Yeah, Gus obviously got wined and dined by some Dutch agents, but these are veteranish guys who should know what they’re about. They may or may not work out longer-term, but they can do the job.
I just don’t think they’re going to score, though, at least not unless Petrasso stays healthy. It’s a gut thing, I won’t pretend it isn’t and I don’t expect anyone to necessarily believe it. But I have to put someone seventh.
I keep coming back to Nash because I just don’t think he ever got it figured out last year. He’s a smart guy, and it may be that the best development Tork can hope for this year is from their coach. He wasn’t bad in 2022, but he wasn’t guiding them to the playoffs, either.
Year-over-year, though, young teams tend to improve. There’s no one in this preview I’d rather be wrong about than Tork.