MATCH ANALYSIS: York United clinches final CPL playoff spot with gritty 2-1 win over Vancouver FC

Final Score: Vancouver FC 1-2 York United
Goalscorers: Cantave 39′; De Rosario 17′, 27′
Game of the 2023 season: 110
CPL match: 477

Match in a minute or less

York United are heading to the playoffs for the second time in club history, as they officially clinched fifth place in the CPL table with a 2-1 win over Vancouver FC, eliminating Atlético Ottawa in the process.

Needing a win in this game to clinch that spot, with a draw or loss opening the door for Ottawa to sneak in on Saturday, York seemed to have that at the front of their minds, and that was reflected in their start to this match.

Even though they were up against a red-hot Vancouver side, York came out strong as a result, as Osaze De Rosario nabbed a first-half brace inside 30 minutes to put his team up 2-0.

Yet, from there, it was far from easy for the Nine Stripes, as Vancouver made it 2-1 through Mikaël Cantave in the 39th minute, setting up a nervy finish.

Despite a late Vancouver push, however, York held strong, earning the win they craved off the back of a gritty defensive performance the rest of the way.

Three Observations

York United book playoff spot off the back of gritty performance:

Sometimes, you’ve got to win ugly.

Everybody always wants to win with the perfect performance, one capped with great goals and a spotless defensive showing, but it’s never that easy to win at this level.

Especially when there’s something on the line, things can get ugly, and teams must find a way to overcome that if they’re to get wins over the line.

York certainly saw that firsthand in this game, as they looked to be cruising early on, but had to really weather a late Vancouver storm to get things over the line, doing well to take the sting out of the game and slow down proceedings. From two key injuries on either side of half time that messed up their plan to chase this win while accumulating vital U21 Canadian minutes, to the waves of Vancouver attacks that they faced all second half, York was made to really work for this win, doing well to respond to each test that was thrown at them.

“We slowed the game down the game well,” York’s head coach, Martin Nash, said after this game. “We did well to frustrate them, and not in a bad way, but we had good gamesmanship in how we slowed things down to help us see out the game.”

Yet, it makes it almost fitting that they were able to book their spot in the playoffs the way that they did, as it came down to the wire for both their actual qualification, as well as those U21 minutes, which at one point this season had seemed like a potential hindrance as they dealt with key injuries to youngsters. Despite dealing with all of that, however, York always found a way to respond whenever their backs got pushed up against the wall, no matter the scenario.

Because of that, they head into these playoffs filled with confidence, even if they had to squeak in via the backdoor.

It won’t be easy for them to win a North Star Cup – in fact, they must beat every team in the top four in four consecutive elimination games, all on the road, but they’ll believe that if there was a team who could do it, they’ll ask themselves: “Why not us?”

Seeing how they responded over these past two weeks, for example, where at one point they were one shot away from being eliminated by Ottawa last weekend, this is a team that almost needs that sort of pressure to thrive.

Armed with the belief that they can go up against any team in the league, with the mentality that “no one wants to face us”, York is ready to take on the challenge, one that they welcome.

For what it’s worth, given that they’ve accumulated a league-high 24 road points after the game, you can certainly back the confidence, too.

Now, they’ll need to turn that confidence into more results, starting in midweek, but this game was just a precursor for what York will be about when that moment comes.

“I don’t think any team wants to see us because we’ve been really good on the road,” Nash said. “For whatever reason this year, this was our seventh one on the road, and we’ve only got four at home, so it’s been a comfort zone for us to be on the road. Going on a playoff run is not going to be easy, as no matter where we go, it’s going to be a difficult game, but we believe in ourselves and the players we have, so we’ll keep that belief to go and approach every game and go one game at a time.”

“I think we like playing on the road, we’ve got that road dog mentality to fight, and it helped us make the playoffs,” York’s goalkeeper, Niko Giantsopoulos, added. “Now it’s our fault really for not finishing higher up on the table, so let’s see what happens.”

“Nash keeps saying that nobody wants to see us in the playoffs now, and we took that to heart.”

Photo Credit: Vancouver FC/James Glezos

De Rosario gives York much-needed presence up front:

It’s no secret that York has struggled for consistency up front this season, as they entered this game with the fewest goals of any team in the top six.

Between strikers Brian Wright and Osaze De Rosario, they’d combined for just six goals heading into this final game, which is a far cry from the combined 19 they put up in 2022 (De Rosario had 12 for York while Wright had seven for Atlético Ottawa).

Fortunately for York, other names had stepped up, as Mo Babouli and Kévin dos Santos had put up six goals apiece to lead the team, but there’s no doubt that York would’ve loved to see one of De Rosario or Wright ahead of them in that category at this stage of the season.

Because of that, they’ll be pleased to see that with De Rosario’s brace in this game, their wish will become true, as it put him up to six goals on the season, tying him with Babouli and Santos for that team-lead.

Not only that, but it came off the back of a strong performance from the York striker, too. Despite not being able to get many touches on the ball, finishing with just 29 in 84 minutes, he made sure to apply constant pressure on the Vancouver defence, both with his defensive pressure as well as his off-ball runs.

As a result, he ended up contesting 11 duels, and although he won just five (including both of the aerial duels that he contested), it showed his willingness to get stuck in.

It might seem like a small thing, but that’s important, as that can often be the best way to get out of a slump. It’s never easy, as strikers will always prefer if their lone job is to get on the edge of chances and score them, but sometimes you have to work to earn those opportunities, and De Rosario certainly did that in this game.

Now, York will hope that this showing can now propel De Rosario onwards as they now push into the playoffs. As any manager will say, having an in-form striker can go a long way towards being able to win big games, and that York won this game with playoff-like stakes on the line off the back of De Rosario’s showing just shows that.

After a trying year for the York striker, it was the exact showing that he needed, and now he’ll look to carry it into the biggest games of them all.

“Yeah it was great to see,” Nash said. “We told him to simplify his game, and for him to run across in your post as he did for the first, and then to have the cushion header for the second, it was perfect. As I say is, the six-yard box is where strikers make their their living, and he had to make sure to get into the six yard box.”

“Sometimes, he tries to drift out and get into different areas, but we told him that if he kept getting into the six yard box and time his runs, good things would happen, and he did that today, so hopefully he can keep that going.”

Photo Credit: Vancouver FC/James Glezos

Vancouver eager to get back at it in 2024:

Despite the result, Vancouver will be pleased about how they went out in this game.

After going down 2-0 early, it had felt that York was going to cruise to a victory, allowing them to clinch a playoff spot without much sweat.

Yet, for those who may have though that Vancouver was going to let them do that, they clearly haven’t been following their most recent games.

Given that they’d been one of the hottest teams in the CPL as of late, winning four of their last five games despite being eliminated from playoff contention, they’d already showed that they weren’t going out with a fight.

Because of that, it was hardly surprising to see them grit up their sleeves even despite going down two goals, as they looked to give York a fight until the very end.

Which to their credit, they did, as they did well to claw one goal back, and pushed hard for the equalizer, doing everything but scoring as they tried to grab that second tally.

As a result, even if they came up short in the end, they left the field with their heads high, knowing that they gave their very all right until it was no longer possible.

“We’ve seen that mentality throughout this whole season,” Vancouver’s head coach, Afshin Ghotbi, proudly stated after this game. “I’m proud of the effort, and I’m proud of the spirit we showed.”

Now, frustratingly, it’ll be a long wait for this team to play meaningful soccer, as they must now wait for next season, but at least they can now do so filled with optimism.

As seen over these past few weeks, they can compete with anyone in the CPL, and have the potential to be even better given how young this squad is.

Plus, as they’ve shown, they got pieces across their lineup that can really cause damage, such as the partnership of Gabriel Bitar and Mikaël Cantave, who have been on fire as of late for Vancouver offensively, fittingly linking up for the team’s final goal of the season in this game.

“It’s funny, because we actually played together in the offseason,” Cantave said of Bitar. “And while I knew him, I didn’t know him personally, but I knew him as a player, and I told people that I’d love to play with him, so maybe that connection was there, we’re both from Ottawa, so maybe it was meant to be?”

“We understand each other perfectly on the pitch, and off the pitch we have a great relationship, and I think that helps us on the pitch, so hopefully we can keep growing.”

Because of the growth of partnerships like that, of which there are many in this squad now, they’ve got every reason to want to look forward to next season. It’ll be a long wait, but having had one season under the belt, they know what they need to do between now and first kick next year to find the next level, one that they certainly flirted with in recent weeks.

Having spent most of the last few weeks preaching the importance of build for the future, they can say that they’re on the right track, although they’ll also know that the hard work is still far from over as they look to mould this team into one that can contend for trophies going forward.

“I think it’s promising that we can really build on this, we have a foundation to build on,” Ghotbi said. “There’s a DNA, there’s an identity, and there are moments where we see the kind of football that that I would love to see us play. Even tonight in the loss, we saw there was some great sequences of passing that got us in good positions, we just need to make it a habit of keeping that up for longer periods over the course of games.”

“We’re going to look to build on these these  performances, especially those from the last month and a half, to help us build a solid foundation for next season,” Cantave finished.

Photo Credit: Vancouver FC/Beau Chevalier Player of the Match

Osaze De Rosario, York United

Goals win games, and De Rosario certainly did that for York, scoring a clutch brace, one that proved to be enough for them to snatch the victory.

All of Osaze De Rosario’s actions from this game (OPTA)

What’s next?

Having locked up the fifth seed, York will now wait and see who ends up in fourth between Forge, Pacific and Halifax, as they’ll travel to face them in midweek. As for Vancouver, they’ll continue training despite it being the end of their season, although they won’t play an official game until 2024 now.

Watch all CPL matches live on OneSoccerIn addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.