Watch OneSoccer’s hour-long review of York United FC’s Island Games campaign at OneSoccer.ca.
The past calendar year has been… transformative for York United Football Club.
For one thing, they weren’t called that when 2020 began. York9 FC went into the second year of its existence hoping to improve on a third-place showing from 2019, unveiling a brand-new cast of young internationals and a few highly-touted Canadian soccer vets like Michael Petrasso and Chris Mannella.
Unfortunately, not all of those internationals made it to Canada for The Island Games, and the other newcomers weren’t nearly as healthy as they would’ve liked to be this season. The Nine Stripes finished fifth in PEI, missing the second round by just one point after Pacific’s late-game winner vs. FC Edmonton eliminated York on the final day.
So, the club promised change (in a few different ways) before 2021. The roster is still in the midst of a massive reconstruction, and the club revealed its new identity as York United in early December. A new era is beginning at York, after falling short of the mark in two seasons.
The new year started strong for the Nine Stripes, who signed Gabriel Vasconcelos, Michael Petrasso, Fugo Segawa, and Matthew Arnone in quick succession to begin 2020. They’d added 10 new faces in total by early March, when pre-season began.
A few short weeks later, though, they were scrambling home from training camp in Florida as the COVID-19 pandemic hit in full force. With the 2020 season’s postponement becoming more inevitable by the day, York9 turned their heads to a contingency plan for a potential shortened season. Between mid-March and the start of The Island Games, they added another eight names to the roster, picking up players that would be able to play in PEI with internationals like Adrián Ugarriza, Brian López, and Jacó all stuck in their home countries.
One familiar face returned as well, with Ryan Telfer signing back in York Region after a brief stint in Cyprus following his breakout season with the Nine Stripes in 2019.
All in all, Jimmy Brennan (and new assistant coach Paul Stalteri) arrived in Charlottetown with 14 new players year-over-year, not counting those who couldn’t make the trip. With some key returning veterans, like Manny Aparicio, Joseph Di Chiara, and Luca Gasparotto, the Nine Stripes looked to be potential challengers for the top four and, possibly, a sniff at the championship.
The Island Games began, for York, with a first look at newcomers Atlético Ottawa. The expansion side were a complete mystery, giving Brennan and co. little to work with in preparation. The Nine Stripes entered the contest without Petrasso or Mannella — who would play very little in 2020 due to injuries — as well as captain Aparicio. It was Ottawa who drew first blood, with goals on both sides of halftime.
Things changed when, in the 50th minute, Atlético went down to 10 men, prompting Brennan to make a trio of youthful substitutions. It paid off immediately, with Max Ferrari and Lowell Wright linking up for a 60th-minute goal (making the 16-year-old Wright the youngest scorer in CPL history). Di Chiara scored from the penalty spot just two minutes later, and York salvaged the point.
The next pair of games were a little dreary, with York drawing 1-1 with Pacific after a late equalizer, and following it up with a 0-0 stalemate against Valour. Álvaro Rivero’s superb volley was the lone high point of the two games, as York struggled to attack in open play and mustered just five shots on target across the 180 minutes.
That 3-2 win would stand as York’s greatest attacking outburst of the first round, however. That said, they remained firmly in the hunt for the top four with a draw against HFX Wanderers and a narrow 1-0 win over winless FC Edmonton. Brennan’s side was disappointed not to take all three points against the Wanderers, conceding an equalizer in the 91st minute, but they once again struggled to generate much in terms of scoring chances from open play.
Of course, they didn’t need open play for either of the goals they scored in those two contests; twice in a row, Aparicio stunned his opposition with beautiful free kicks that sailed over the wall and into the top corner of the net.
York’s season ended with a 1-0 loss to Cavalry, in which both Petrasso and Mannella finally found the pitch, starting together for the first time. It wasn’t enough, though, as the club was forced to wait until Pacific’s match the next day to find out if they’d qualified for the second round. Of course, Pacific went on to beat FC Edmonton with a late winner from Marco Bustos, eliminating the Nine Stripes and ending their 2020 campaign.
At the end of the day, the attack was a problem for the Nine Stripes (not unlike in 2019, frankly), despite remaining undefeated until their final game. They scored just twice from open play, failing to do so in their last five matches despite strong possession and ball retention.
To go along with the heavily retooled squad, York revealed in early December that 2021 will be a truly fresh start, in more ways than one. The club rebranded as York United, introducing a fresh crest and kit with a new identity as they try to reach out to fans across York Region and the Greater Toronto Area.
The 2020 season was ultimately one to forget for York, but there’s plenty to be excited about for the future. With a younger, more attacking roster and a new identity, the York United era is off to a strong start ahead of 2021.
York was solidly in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories, missing the top four by one point. Here’s how their 2020 looked, by the numbers:
Record (W-D-L): 2-4-1
Goals scored: 8
Goals against: 7
Goal Difference: +1
Top scorer: Joseph Di Chiara (3)
Assist leader: Kyle Porter (1)
“We weren’t good enough and there has to be some change. If we put the exact same roster together and expect a different result, it’s on us if we finish fifth again, right? We need to look at some degree of volatility.” – York United managing consultant Angus McNab
“It was important for us to use our platform, to stand up and speak up about this stuff that’s happening in the world. I’m just proud to be part of a united and diverse group of players who are demanding change, and that’s what we stood for on that day, and will continue to stand for moving forward.” – Kyle Porter on CPLers taking a stand against racism.
“We felt we were always fighting for relevance within the GTA and the York Region sports market and we needed to stand out. The rebrand, the visual aspect, is a reset button…. We need to be capturing the hearts and minds of people in the GTA and live our mission, vision, and values to build community and build this club. We want to be a powerhouse within the CPL.” – York United managing consultant Angus McNab
Most memorable moment
A trio of set-pieces and some dominant play by Joe Di Chiara lifted York to their first win of the year, and bragging rights in the 905 Derby.
Final Thoughts: York United’s 2020 Season
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke and Marty Thompson are joined by CanPL.ca contributor James Grossi to talk York United’s 2020 campaign.