EDMONTON — At the end of July, York9 was surging. The Nine Stripes ended the month with an emphatic home win over HFX Wanderers, in which six shots crossed the opposition goal line.
With home matches to come against Valour FC and Pacific FC, the two teams at the bottom of the CPL table, York9 was poised to join Forge FC and FC Edmonton in the conversation of “who is most likely to play Cavalry FC in the CPL Championship?”
But, after losingboth of those matches — and not scoring, either — York9 are in danger of sliding out of contention and into a spoiler role. York9 sits four points behind Forge for first in the Fall standings. That gap would go to six behind FC Edmonton, that is if the Eddies beat Valour FC on Monday. The one silver lining, from York’s perspective, is that Valour has been the Eddies’ bogey team so far this season. FCE has only beat Rob Gale’s men once in three previous attempts.
Whether the gap to first is four or six points, this is for certain. This coming week contains two season-defining games for York9. No, it’s not too early to make that bold a statement.
Some of York’s players went to the big KISS farewell tour stop in Toronto this past weekend. But, this coming week could be York9’s farewell tour. It could be their kiss of death.
That’s because, coming off this two-game slide at home, the Nine Stripes have to run the gauntlet in Alberta. A stop Wednesday night to face Cavalry FC at Spruce Meadows will be followed by a Sunday afternoon match at Clarke Field against FC Edmonton.
For any team in the CPL, it would be a horrible trip. Cavalry has just one home loss throughout the CPL season so far. Edmonton is undefeated in its last six on the quick turf at Clarke.
And, going from one stadium to the other makes for a fantastically difficult transition. Spruce Meadows’ thick grass means you need to put a little extra oomph into the passes, and that balls played behind the back line slow up for the attacking players to run on to. Then, in Edmonton, the turf is the slickest and fastest in the league. It often takes road teams almost a half to fully grasp just how through balls don’t slow up, that attempts to switch the play often end up going into touch. In terms of playing conditions, moving from Spruce Meadows to Clarke offers extremes in terms of playing conditions.
After slumping to 3-4-0, York9 would be considered outsiders to make a run for the Fall title. But, if Brennan’s men return from Alberta at 3-6-0, we can pretty much declare the rest of the York9 season a playing-for-2020 exercise.
It’s maybe not imperative that York9 sweep the two games. But it is vital that they don’t lose both. And a loss and a draw also wouldn’t help much.
Back in the late 1980s, when the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames were basically the two best teams in the NHL, the others teams used to refer to Alberta as “Death Valley.” Basically, when your road trip brought you through Calgary and Edmonton, you didn’t expect to get anything out of your efforts.
With the kind of home records Cavalry and FCE have amassed, CPL might have its own Death Valley. And, somehow, York9 have to find a way to survive it.