6 questions ahead of York United FC’s 2024 season

The 2024 season, beginning April 13, will be the sixth year of competition in the Canadian Premier League. To celebrate its arrival, we at have been asking the same six questions for each of the eight teams playing in the league from coast to coast.
To check out our 6 questions breakdowns for all eight teams, click hereTo see all of our season preview coverage ahead of the sixth year of the CPL, click here.

What can we learn from York United’s 2023 season?

We learned that this York United team is fully capable of rolling with the punches, and should never be counted out. They suffered from serious injury and other availability issues in 2023 with key contributors like Mo Babouli, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Roger Thompson all starting fewer than 20 games.

At the beginning of their four-game home stretch that started on Sept. 8, York appeared to have a golden opportunity to push into the playoff picture, but three weeks later it was all but wasted. They lost three in a row at York Lions Stadium — including disastrous defeats to Valour and Pacific — but had one final home game against Atlético Ottawa, with the winner to hold pole position for fifth place in the last match of the season. Kevin Dos Santos scored a 90th-minute winner for York, and they held onto that final playoff spot by beating Vancouver the following week.

York are able to find success when dealt a tough hand, which is often the mark of a well-coached team. Martin Nash will be hoping for an easier ride on the injury front in 2024, but he’ll nonetheless be well-equipped to shepherd the Nine Stripes through whatever this year throws at them.

York United Key Statistics

Who are three key players for York United in 2024?

DF – Oswaldo León

The 24-year-old looks set to play a major role in York’s rebuilt defence this season. A product of the Club América academy in Mexico, León represented his country seven times at the U-20 level, including at the 2019 FIFA U-20 World Cup where he started group matches against Italy, Japan and Ecuador. He’s played 90 professional games in Mexico already, including 73 league matches in the second division.

Alongside Frank Sturing, León will be a big part of York’s new-look centre-back pairing, which will offer plenty of experience at various levels of the game to a club that conceded the second-most goals in the CPL last year.

MF – Brem Soumaoro

Soumaoro had to start last year at centre-back, but once he moved into his more natural defensive midfield spot in the sixth game of the season it became clear how good he can be. He was arguably York’s best player in 2023, and in the four games he missed the club went 1-0-3, including heavy losses at home to Valour and Pacific.

Expect the Liberia international to shoulder some heavy minutes in York’s double-pivot at the base of a 4-2-3-1, where he’ll be expected to help distribute the ball as well as shield the defenders as they build familiarity with one another. Plus, Soumaoro does have an outrageous moment or two in his arsenal; he won the 905 Derby for York last season with this insane 94th-minute screamer:

FW – Mo Babouli

Often considered the straw that stirs the drink in York United’s attack, Babouli had a challenging 2023 year. He only played 19 regular season matches, missing games for a variety of reasons including injury and suspension, but he was still a joint-top scorer for the club with six goals and two assists.

The year before, he arrived late in the season and scored five goals with two assists in just eight games, looking like an absolutely unstoppable force. When in form, Babouli at the number 10 position could be the best attacking player in the CPL with his ability to create chances, blaze past defenders and hit a ball from a set-piece. He’s the most talented player at York’s disposal, and he’s the player that can push them to the next level.

Mo Babouli (L) in action vs. Halifax. Photo: CHANT

What does York United’s 2024 schedule look like? 

The Nine Stripes have a well-balanced 2024 campaign, but they’ll be happy to see that six of their last 10 games are at York Lions Stadium. Of course, they couldn’t take much advantage of a four-game homestand toward the end of last season, but with an added focus on playing better at home in 2024 they could be well set up to make a push up the table in October.

They start and end the season on the road though, kicking off in the capital against Atlético Ottawa on April 13 and finishing in Halifax on Oct. 19. York won three of four against Ottawa in 2023 so they’ll feel good about opening the season on a high, and they were also the only CPL team not to lose at Wanderers Grounds last year, winning on both of their trips to Halifax, so Martin Nash’s group will be hopeful for a couple of positive bookends to this season.

How did York United approach the off-season?

The main priority in player movement for York this year seemed to be revamping their international contingent. Five of the six foreign players currently on the roster are newcomers, with a distinctly Mexican flavour from Oswaldo León, Josué Martínez and Orlando Botello.

Last year, international players accounted for just over 25 per cent of the minutes played at York, with individuals like Oussama Alou and Lassana Faye leaving the club mid-season. They’ll want to get more value out of those limited roster slots so they’ve retooled that area of the squad. In addition to the trio of Mexican additions, York brought in a key attacking piece in Dennis Salanovic, who brings a wealth of experience from playing for the Liechtenstein national team. Salanovic, who seems likely to slot in on the wing, has gone up against the likes of Spain, Italy and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal in major UEFA competition.

Finally, they’ve added Thomas Vincensini in goal. The 30-year-old Frenchman might be the only international starting goalkeeper in the CPL, and he looks set to provide some leadership at the back and work with youngster Eleias Himaras.

What are three key storylines heading into the season? 

How quickly can the new defensive group settle?

York United’s back four on opening day last year was (from left to right) Lassana Faye, Jonathan Grant, Brem Soumaoro and Paris Gee. Only one of those players is still at the club, and Soumaoro is undoubtedly going to play in midfield this year, that being his natural position and a part of the pitch where he’s so valuable to this team.

In our projected XI, we have three newcomers to the team — Juan Cordóva, Oswaldo León and Frank Sturing — starting at the back with Max Ferrari at fullback. There’s a lot of quality in that group; Cordóva and Sturing both have Canadian national team caps and are looking to get back into that conversation, and León has been playing at a very good level in Mexico for years now, while Ferrari is now the club’s longest-serving player and appearances leader.

All that said, it’s very difficult for a defensive group with so little familiarity to mesh quickly, and it may take some time for this team to find its footing at the back. Adding to the learning curve, potentially, will be another newcomer in goal. Thomas Vincensini won’t have worked with the centre-backs in front of him until this preseason; again, it might take some time for this York backline to be communicating and organizing on the level that it’s capable of.

Where will the goals come from?

The Nine Stripes scored 35 goals last season, and 12 of them came from Osaze De Rosario and Kevin Dos Santos, two of the first-choice attacking options in Martin Nash’s front three. This was a side that struggled broadly to put the ball in the net in 2023, with the third-fewest goals in the league despite having the fourth-most expected goals and shots; what they really need is somebody to take responsibility and become the prolific finisher that, for instance, De Rosario was in 2022.

Mo Babouli scored the most goals last year among York’s returning players with six (in just 19 games, which is a pace for about nine in a 28-game season). However, Babouli is typically more of a creator than a finisher for York when he lines up in the number 10 slot. They’ll likely need one of Austin Ricci (eight CPL goals in 60 career games) or Brian Wright (15 in 74) to take up the mantle, plus they’ll need some scoring by committee from the likes of Clément Bayiha, Dennis Salanovic, Marki Voytsekhovskyy and whoever else lines up on the wings.

What does the new era of York United look like under Game Plan Sports Group?

Perhaps the greatest point of interest at York United is just how different things feel around the club in the wake of their takeover by Game Plan Sports Group. With the Pasquel brothers and Technical/Sporting Director Jorge Villalpando now taking the reins and working very closely with Martin Nash, there’s already a slightly different feel to the club. The stability of new ownership has given the players and staff new optimism and excitement for this era of the club.

The question now becomes, is there a noticeable difference to the team’s identity this year? Obviously there’s some more Mexican flair with León, Martínez and Botello all in the side. The expectation may be higher now for this club, especially after making the playoffs last season. Plus, is there a different vibe around York Lions Stadium off the pitch? The Nine Stripes might be the most intriguing club in the league in 2024.

Max Ferrari wearing York’s captain’s armband. Photo Credit: CHANT

What are the keys to success for York United in 2024?

Number one is staying healthy. York had 25 different players start a game for them in 2023, and only five players started more than 20. That kind of forced rotation made it difficult for Martin Nash to build a consistent tactical identity, especially with how often he had to change up his defensive quartet.

Beyond that, York need to play better at home this year if they’re to improve on last season. They earned just 14 of their 38 total points at York Lions Stadium in 2023, losing eight times on home turf to give them the second-worst home record in the CPL. It’s imperative that they make it more difficult for opposing sides when they come through Toronto.

This season will likely be considered a success for York United if they finish in the top four, which would give them their first ever home playoff game. Beyond that, they certainly have the ambition to achieve more, but this will be an interesting challenge for the Nine Stripes in 2024.