YORK REGION – Heading into the final month of the Canadian Premier League season, much remains to be played for.
Holding onto third place in the Fall competition, York9 FC trails both Cavalry FC and Forge FC by nine points with five matches remaining in their 2019 campaign — the two front-runners have a game in hand as well. And though odds are long on overtaking either of the top two sides and thus earning a spot in the CPL Finals, York9 will have a say in how the final table stacks up.
The Nine Stripes host Cavalry on Saturday at York Lions Stadium (6:00 p.m. ET, available on OneSoccer) and then play Forge back-to-back, first away and then home in the coming weeks.
“It’s come to the part of the season where we’re playing for ourselves, for pride,” said Y9 captain Manny Aparicio on Friday. “We know mathematically we can still make it, we’re just worrying about the three points, giving our fans a good game and trying to beat Cavalry, who we haven’t beat this season.
“To beat them, get back-to-back wins — something we haven’t done all season — a lot of positives to take away if we win.”
“There’s a lot at stake,” added defender Luca Gasparotto. “We feel as though we owe (Cavalry) after playing them four times and not getting anything from them. A lot of pride, players playing for next season as well. We want to win games, finish as high up the table as possible.
“Tomorrow is an opportunity to build on our result last week and go from there.”
“It’s been all about consistency for us. We’ve had very good highs and very low lows, we haven’t been able to find that,” said Aparicio. “You try to always have that seven- or eight-out-of-ten, we’re having a ten and then a three.
“We can’t have that. That’s points you lose, points you don’t get back and you don’t end up winning, or making it to, the championship game.”
That indeed has been the tale of York9’s season, with good results followed by poor ones: a big 6-2 win over HFX Wanderers FC is tailed by a pair of home losses to Valour FC and Pacific FC; an away win over that same Pacific saw them return home to drop three points against Valour.
“We get a string of games where we do really well and then we come out and throw out a stinker,” said Gasparotto. “That’s a huge part of football, stay consistent, and keep up with your performances all over the pitch.
“Everybody has to be consistent for it to work.”
Heading into the match against Cavalry, York is eager to build off the strong start in Edmonton last weekend, where they took the lead after just eight minutes and had three by the 31st.
“We’re going to build on last week,” promised Gasparotto, who opened the scoring against the Eddies. “We played well defensively, scored three goals, which is huge. We need to do the same thing: come out on the front foot, full of confidence. We can’t be scared of them and then just play our game.
“It’s going to be tough, the boys are up for it.”
Cavalry have won all four previous meetings, including the only one at York Lions Stadium in June.
“They’re a team that always come out flying,” Aparicio anticipated. “They have a great intensity, a great bite to them. They defend very well, play through the middle very well, attack very well. They’re a compact and unique group. You can see their philosophy, the way Tommy coaches them.
“We know the things we’ve got to do to take advantage of our pitch, we’re going to be ready.”
Having pushed Cavalry in the first three meetings (an own goal was the only difference in July), York were dismantled in the most recent one, losing 3-1, though in truth it could have been more.
“They’re strong all over the pitch. If you’re not switched on throughout the whole 90 minutes, they’ll punish you. Certainly, last time they did that to us,” Gasparotto recalled. “We let the game get out of hand defensively.
“We know what they’re capable of, know what we need to do. We’ve worked really hard this week on our defensive shape, stopping the counter-attack, all that to limit their chances, and we need to create chances and score them. It’ll be another good test for us.”
And after Cavalry, attention will turn to the two Ontario derbies against Forge.
“I’m not one to look that far ahead,” said Gasparotto. “It’s a cliché, but you take one game at a time. Just focus on Cavalry, get three points there and then move on to the next game.
“It’s a big stretch for us coming to the end of the season. It starts tomorrow.”
Regardless of the standings, these are big games.
“I live for these games; I love these games,” relished Aparicio. “They’re going to be back-and-forth, you have to fight all 95 minutes of the game.
“Games you live for as a professional: to test yourself against the best and try to come out with a win.”