YORK REGION – Good things come to those who wait.
That seems to be the prevailing philosophy around York9 FC at the moment, as the club deals with the growing pains of infusing a brand new team with a system that relies heavily on chemistry. Having failed to win any of their four Canadian Premier League games, the going may be tough, but Y9’s coaches and players alike are adamant that they’re knocking on the door to success.
The Nine Stripes have just two points from four games, while clubs like Cavalry FC and Forge FC slip out of sight at the top of the table. York9 takes on another struggling side in HFX Wanderers FC on Wednesday night (6:00 p.m. ET, 7:00 p.m. AT, available on OneSoccer), in what feels like a must-win game for the Spring season.
York9 is doing anything but panicking, though.
“It’s not something you can lose sleep over or anything like that,” said Y9 captain Manny Aparicio. “It has to start clicking at some point. We think it’s going to come sooner rather than later.”
The Fall season is just around the corner; a late surge in the Spring could turn into a blistering start in July.
Aparicio is echoing what his coach said after last Saturday’s home loss to Forge. Jimmy Brennan stressed that the club is on the right track, and that they’re getting better every week.
Certainly, he thought that York9 was unlucky not to come away with three points from that particular game, having seen his side create far more chances than they ever had in one match. Their 20 shots nearly doubled their previous season high, with 11 of them coming from inside the box.
“We started the league a little bit slow, not creating many chances,” Aparicio offered.
“Now we’re creating more chances than our opponents and we’re defending well, so things are coming together. It’s just that next little (thing), maybe the last pass, the last cross, to put the ball in the back of the net.”
Like every CPL team, the Nine Stripes are a work in progress. It was no secret they would be, with a roster built from scratch. Fortunately for Brennan, his players are on board with that idea, no matter how long it takes them to get up to speed.
“We know this isn’t going to be, we wake up, we play in Halifax, and everything clicks perfectly, and that’s it; we don’t need to work on anything the rest of the season and we win every game,” Aparicio said. “That’s not football.”
Through the first month or so of the season, teams are starting to develop identifiable playing styles. Cavalry has their overwhelming press, and Forge has fast, powerful attackers who love to stretch out a game.
A lot of York9’s game involves playing through central midfielders like Aparicio, Emilio Estevez, and Wataru Murofushi. Smaller, skilled central midfielders like those two need to be on the lookout for quick pass options, which are a lot easier to find when the whole squad is on the same page.
On many occasions, we’ve seen York9 build up an attack from midfield, only for a key pass to find nobody on the other end.
Brennan has also mentioned that he wants his midfielders interchanging with each other frequently, with Kyle Porter or Ryan Telfer swapping around with Aparicio or Murofushi.
“It just gives us a different dimension,” he explained on Saturday.
The Nine Stripes certainly have the talent on their roster to contend in this league, but the fluid system they want to incorporate might live or die on chemistry — which takes a while to develop.
So, this club’s growth is an exercise in patience. Tempting as it may be to stray from their long-term objective in favour of long-term results, Brennan and his players are willing to take some knocks in the early going.
“If we were a team that parked the bus and just sat back, yeah, maybe we could get a result, if you don’t really care about the style of play or the identity of the club or things like that,” Aparicio said.
“But with Jimmy (Brennan), and (assistant coaches) Carm (Isacco) and Serge (De Luca), and all the staff here, we want to build a brand of football that people will want to come out and enjoy, and that takes a little more time when you’re trying to have that chemistry between the players.”
The idea that York9 is better than the results suggest (and that they’ve been improving) has weight to it. They’re snugly in the middle of the pack in the CPL in terms of shots per game (11.25) and completed passes per game (382.75).
After a tough inaugural match in terms of possession (they had 37.9% against Forge on opening day), York9 have improved every week, posting numbers above 50% the last two games. As a general rule, every league game the Nine Stripes have played so far has been better, statistically, than the one before.
What’s killed them has often been communication breakdowns — again, chemistry.
A win on Wednesday at Wanderers Grounds could indeed be a major turning point for York9. It’ll be their fourth CPL away game (of five in the Spring season) before they play four times at home in June.
An extended run at York Lions Stadium means York9 won’t be travelling for a few weeks, which gives them extra time on the training pitch to refine their system.
“We do need to get the wins, that’s football,” Aparicio said. “But right now it’s more focused on us, and building our team.”
If things do fall into place over the next month, then don’t be surprised if the narrative shifts on the Nine Stripes entering the Fall season.