MATCH ANALYSIS: Strong start lifts Vancouver FC to first-ever win vs. York United

Final Score: York United 1-2 Vancouver FC
Goalscorers: Voytsekhovskyy 35′; Hundal 6′, Sandoval 18′ (pen.)
Game of the 2023 season: 5
CPL match: 372

Match in a minute or less

Vancouver FC are in the win column for the first time in club history, having beaten York United by a 2-1 scoreline at York Lions Stadium on Saturday afternoon. Brampton native Shaan Hundal made history with the first-ever goal for the expansion side just six minutes in, stealing the ball off Mo Babouli and finishing for 1-0. Vancouver doubled their lead quickly when Gabriel Bitar was brought down in the box, and Gael Sandoval buried the penalty from the spot.

York got one back off the foot of youngster Markiyan Voytsekhovskyy, who smashed in his first professional goal from distance later in the first half, but they couldn’t find an equalizer and thus fell to 0-2 to begin the 2023 CPL season.

Three Observations

Vancouver make history with energetic start, hold firm to end

One of the prevailing messages out of Vancouver FC’s camp after their Canadian Championship loss to York on Wednesday was that their poor start to that match was unacceptable. Players and coaches all pointed out that they finished the cup tie well, but they were lacking energy in the first half and gave far too much space to York.

This time, having spent the last few days in York Region (they’d had to travel all the way from B.C. prior to the midweek match), Vancouver looked far more up for it from the very beginning. They had five first-half shots and 34 final third entries, playing quick dangerous balls forward.

The reward? Vancouver scored the first two goals in club history within the first 20 minutes of this game.

“I think the players were very motivated,” said Vancouver coach Afshin Ghotbi postmatch. “They felt a little bit cheated from Wednesday night, and then they came into this game wanting to make a statement and show the right reaction. I think the reaction was firm and we played quite well in the first 15-20 minutes.”

Although both of their goals came partly from York mistakes, Vancouver did well to force the errors with their pressure and quicker ball movement. York did grow into the match as the half wore on, but they were perhaps caught off guard by the early energy with which Vancouver approached the match.

Clinging to a one-goal lead for the last 55-plus minutes, Vancouver FC had to work extremely hard in their own end of the pitch to hang onto the lead, particularly with York throwing a myriad of attacking players onto the pitch in the final moments.

The defensive effort was particularly strong in the latter end of the second half, and the likes of Rocco Romeo and Pele Martínez did very well keeping the more dangerous crosses out of the box. Ghotbi switched his side into a back five late in the game with Kadin Chung moving further back into more of a wingback role.

(Vancouver FC/CPL)

Early mistakes prove costly for York in makeshift midfield setup

It’s unlike Mo Babouli to influence a match in a negative manner, but such was the case in the early stages on Saturday. With some key injuries in midfield — particularly Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, whose ankle ailment from Wednesday kept him out — York boss Martin Nash deployed his star attacker further back in more of a number eight role alongside Matthew Baldisimo.

Naturally, there were some growing pains. Babouli had to drop below the backline early, just about six minutes in, to collect a pass from his goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos, but Vancouver’s Shaan Hundal cleverly spotted an attacking player in a defensive role and surged forward to steal it off Babouli and score.

The next costly mistake for York wasn’t long after; they allowed Vancouver to play through their midfield far too easily and let Gabriel Bitar into the box alone, where he had his ankles swiped by Giantsopoulos to win a penalty.

The Nine Stripes certainly settled into the match after the first 20 minutes, but by that point they’d already dug themselves a deep enough hole that they could not climb out.

York finished the match with 21 shots but just seven of them on target — 11 from inside the box — and they certainly had more than enough of the ball to find an equalizer, but they struggled to get the ball into the final dangerous areas.

To his credit, Babouli recovered very well from a rough start and eventually became York’s catalyst going forward. His delivery from both set-pieces and open play into the box was quite good in the second half especially, but neither Osaze De Rosario nor Brian Wright — nor the handful of other attackers deployed in the match — was quite able to direct any of them into the net.

Babouli created a match-high five chances, won nine duels and had four successful dribbles, but unfortunately for him this was not York’s day.

(Vancouver FC/CPL)

First club win takes pressure off Vancouver early in first season

After failing to get on the scoresheet the first two matches, Vancouver FC seem to have a weight lifted off them now that they’ve checked off a few boxes in their inaugural season.

Hundal of course got them on the board early into the match and the attacking play began to feel more free; late in the game, though, it felt as though a York equalizer would’ve been massively deflating for the Vancouverites. A point away from home is never to be taken for granted in the CPL, but after such a positive start to the match the negative thoughts might’ve begun to creep in had they not seen it out.

Now, though, the questions are settled. Who will be Vancouver’s first goalscorer? Shaan Hundal. Which team will they defeat first? York United.

Vancouver head east to Halifax next weekend, and when they do so they won’t be carrying around the pressure of looking for their first victory. In one sense, the season only truly begins now for the expansion club. They’re officially up and running now that they’ve scored and won a game, and the focus can turn more fully to the day-to-day grind that’s necessary for success over the course of a long CPL season.

Afshin Ghotbi did admit postmatch that it could’ve been a bit of a distraction in the early going, with players all wanting to make history and be first on the scoresheet; with that out of the way, it’s easier to go game-by-game and begin to find a rhythm.

“It’s a very emotional moment for our players, staff and the club,” Ghotbi said.

“It was weighing on their shoulders for a while now because the discussion was always about who’s going to score the first goal, when’s going to be the first victory. I’m hoping to get that out of the way because I think then we can play with better concentration and better football.”

Up next for VFC is getting back to work next weekend. Player of the Match

Gabriel Bitar, Vancouver FC

Playing in a more attacking role than he has in some prior matches, Bitar was extremely involved in the attack on Saturday. He created four chances and it was his run into the box that won the penalty for Vancouver’s winning goal. A team-high 18 of Bitar’s 20 total passes were in the final third, as he proved efficient with the ball. Afshin Ghotbi called Bitar the most valuable player of the match in his postgame comments, lauding his creativity in particular.

What’s next?

These two sides will each get a week to recover before hitting the road next Saturday, April 29 when Vancouver will head to Nova Scotia to play Halifax Wanderers (3 p.m. AT/2 p.m. ET) and York will be in the capital to play Atlético Ottawa (5 p.m. ET).

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