VAUGHAN – Pre-season training isn’t officially underway, though York9 FC’s local contingent isn’t wasting a single minute before getting back to work for the 2020 Canadian Premier League season.
Case in point? A healthy contingent of York players took part in fitness training and drills in Vaughan on Friday, including newcomer Michael Petrasso, who didn’t miss a beat under head coach Jimmy Brennan.
It may be Petrasso’s first look at life back home in York Region, but for the rest of the Nine Stripes core, it’s back to business as usual , with a few exceptions. York captain Manny Aparicio was thrilled about reuniting with good friend Chris Mannella, and had plenty of praise for his new teammate out of Winnipeg, too.
“Man, I’ve played with Chris since we were 13, 14 years old, when I first joined TFC Academy,” Aparicio told CanPL.ca with a smile, when asked about his new cohorts.
“Knowing that he’s going to join our team, I know he has good chemistry with us. He’s played League1 with Joe (Di Chiara) and he’s played with Luca (Gasparotto) with the (youth) national team as well, so it’s something that, you know, he’s a player that’s not just good, but knows us and our style of play. He comes in with a lot of experience as well from Ottawa, playing a lot of minutes in the last two, three seasons. Those are all positives we can take with us.”
Aparicio continued: “If Mike (Petrasso) keeps healthy during the season, I’ve always thought he could be MVP of the league. I have really high regards for Mike. He’s a player who’s been at the highest level possible, and had some unlucky breaks with some injuries. But, he showed last year when he was on the field that he’s one of the best players in the CPL. Hopefully we can help him stay healthy and succeed in the CPL. I know he’ll fit right in with our style of football.”
So, positive first impressions for a team entering its second CPL pre-season. This year, as Aparicio explains, everyone’s got the little things down: They know their training habits, their teammates, what Brennan wants, how to get back into the swing of things, how to work with physios, etc. etc. Aparicio said it’s a “smoother transition” this time around.
But, there’s a new element in the mix this year, that York9 – hell, that no one – had this time last year.
Where once there was the great unknowns – who would play, who would be competitive, how would teams shape up? – there are now known variables.
And players are talking.
“Pacific has gotten a lot better. They’ve added some good players to their squad,” Aparicio begins, as he compares his team’s changes to those around the league. “I still think Cavalry and Forge have really good squads, even if Forge lost Borges, who was huge for them. Still, I think they’re a strong squad. Cavalry, same thing. They’ve lost some pieces but Tommy (Wheeldon Jr.)’s going to have them working hard and grinding out every game.
“You can’t take your foot off the pedal when you play against either of them. But, Pacific has been growing, and we all want to compete for the title, so it’s great to see everyone getting better and stronger.”
More than that, though, is the chatter from outside.
This year, with Petrasso and Gabriel Vasconcelos and Mannella coming into the fray, there’s talk of York9 being a contender to Forge and Cavalry’s throne.
Predictably, Aparicio welcomes those heightened expectations.
“I’ve always said our expectation, even last year, was to get into the Finals, and that’ll be our expectation again this year,” he affirmed. “I don’t know if it’s pressure, but I love playing with that expectation from people. I love people thinking these guys have to be there, because it sets a mark for yourself and your team to reach.
“When people write you off, sometimes you can relax and think you don’t have to get there. But because of all this talk of us building on an already-good team and getting better pieces from last year, I think it’ll keep getting better. We’re going for Finals.”