The Kickoff: York United 2021 CPL season preview

2021 at a glance

Jimmy Brennan’s York United side has had a makeover on and off the pitch as the club looks to challenge for their first North Star Shield in 2021.

Competing as York United for the first time after rebranding in the offseason, the club’s roster also had a major overhaul, with a dozen newcomers from within and outside the CPL.

Returning stars like Diyaeddine Abzi and Michael Petrasso (among others) will also play a huge role in whatever success the Nine Stripes have in 2021, as should recruits like CPL veterans Dominick Zator, Noah Verhoeven, Niko Giantsopoulos, and Chrisnovic N’sa.

  • 2020 CPL record (W-D-L): 2-4-1 (5th overall)
  • Goals scored: 8
  • Goals against: 7
  • Goal difference: +1
  • Top scorer: Joseph Di Chiara (3)

What happened in 2020?

Struggling to turn draws into wins is what ended York’s run at the Island Games after the first round. In seven matches, they drew four of them, winning two others and losing their final match of the season 1-0 to Cavalry.

They started the season with three straight draws: 2-2 against Atlético Ottawa, 1-1 against Pacific FC and a 0-0 stalemate with Valour. While unbeaten, it was still an somewhat underwhelming start to the tournament.

The next match, a 3-2 win over local rivals Forge FC, was arguably their best performance of the season. Goals from Kyle Porter and Joe Di Chiara had York up 2-0 before halftime, but the defending champions came out firing in the second half, making it 2-2 after a pair of goals in the opening seven minutes of the second half. Di Chiara, who ended up leading the club with three goals in 2020, scored the game winner from the penalty spot in the 60th minute.

Manny Aparicio was the standout performer of games five and six for York in PEI, scoring directly from free kicks against HFX Wanderers and FC Edmonton. The drew 1-1 with the former before beating FC Edmonton 1-0.

They entered the final matchday against Cavalry, knowing that if either team won, they’d be into the next round for sure, but that both teams had a chance depending on other results. In the end, York fell 1-0 to Cavalry, sending them home after just seven matches.

The club also rebranded at the end of the season, from York9 FC to York United, so the 2021 season is a debut of sorts for the new-look Nine Stripes.

How have they changed?

Cavalry FC's Dominick Zator. (Tony Lewis/CPL).
Cavalry FC’s Dominick Zator. (Tony Lewis/CPL).

PLAYERS IN: Niko Giantsopoulos, Dominick Zator, Chrisnovic N’sa, Felix N’sa, Ryan Lindsay, Terique Mohammed, Cédric Toussaint, Jordan Faria, Jordan Wilson, Gerard Lavergne, Noah Verhoeven, Osvaldo Ramirez, Julian Ulbricht

PLAYERS OUT: Ezequiel Carrasco, Fugo Segawa, Luca Gasparotto, Matthew Arnone, Morey Doner, Julian Altobelli, Chris Mannella, Manuel Aparicio, Kyle Porter, Joseph Di Chiara, Wataru Murofushi, Gabriel Vasconcelos, Ryan Telfer, Jace Kotsopoulos

York United’s roster has been overhauled this offseason by President, CEO and general manager Angus McNab.

The roster has gotten younger since last season, with nine players this season eligible for the league’s U21 minute requirement, as well as a nominee for last year’s U21 Canadian Player of the Year award, the now-22-year-old defender Chrisnovic N’sa. This team is very young, but also very talented — a lot of those players are from the academies of MLS clubs, or have experience in League 1 Ontario.

They’ve also brought in several experienced players to balance it out — from both inside and outside the CPL. Also among the new additions to the York United squad are Dominick Zator from Cavalry FC, Noah Verhoeven from Pacific FC, and Jordan Wilson from Danish club Nykøbing FC.

The club also has four players signed who aren’t able to join the team for the start of the season in Winnipeg, due to delays in getting them visas. Lisandro Cabrera and Mateo Hernández have been loaned to Costa Rican side Guadalupe FC, while the club also has Sebastian Gutierrez and William Wallace still outside the country.

Leaving the club are several regulars from the past two seasons, including inaugural captain Manny Aparicio to Pacific FC, 2020 top scorer Joseph Di Chiara to Cavalry FC, and centre-back Luca Gasparotto — who had played every single minute in York United history before retiring this offseason — among other key pieces.

RELATED READING: Roster Analysis: York United’s young roster set for long-awaited debut at ‘The Kickoff’

Projected Starting XI

Nathan Ingham; Diyaeddine Abzi, Roger Thompson, Dominick Zator, Chrisnovic N’sa; Noah Verhoeven, Jordan Wilson; Ijah Halley, Max Ferrari, Michael Petrasso; Julian Ulbricht

In goal, York United have the best goalkeeping duo in the league. It’s hard to pick between them, as both could be starters in the CPL. Nathan Ingham was a 2019 nominee for the Goalkeeper of the Year award, and is tied for third all-time in CPL clean sheets. Niko Giantsopoulos was also an impressive backup to Marco Carducci with Cavalry, picking up four clean sheets in 10 matches for the club over two seasons. He’ll push Ingham for minutes, and could very well be chosen as the starter, but Ingham hasn’t done anything to lose his spot, which is why he is currently penciled in.

Two of the best young fullbacks in the league, Diyaeddine Abzi and Chrisnovic N’sa, will feature prominently in a backline that will likely be anchored by newcomer Dominick Zator, and veteran presence Roger Thompson. There are over 100 CPL appearances between these four, and Zator has been one of the league’s top defenders over the past two seasons with Cavalry. His signing is a major coup for The Nine Stripes, who entered the offseason needing to replace the aforementioned Gasparotto.

Brennan has a ton of midfield options at his disposal, as many of York’s players can play in multiple positions. Michael Petrasso had a standout season on loan at Barnet FC in England, and will be hoping to bring some of that good form with him to Winnipeg for The Kickoff. He was named Barnet’s player of the year, scoring 10 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions. He’ll be an important part of the attack, and is probably as close to a guaranteed starter as you’ll get on this roster on one wing. Options at the base of the midfield could include Noah Verhoeven and Jordan Wilson, while Max Ferrari, Gerard Lavergne, Jordan Faria and others could all see a ton of minutes in midfield. On the other wing, players like Nicholas Hamilton (who can play on either side, or as a striker) and youngster Ijah Halley are among those fighting for minutes.

Up top, Álvaro Rivero impressed at the Island Games and will be in Brennan’s plans again this season, while Julian Ulbricht is trading Hamburger SV II in Germany for the CPL. Those two, along with Hamilton, recent signing Osvaldo Ramirez, and up-and-comer Lowell Wright, will form an impressive group of strikers to choose from.

Coach’s profile: Jimmy Brennan

York United coach Jimmy Brennan. (Photo: CPL/Chant Photography)
York United coach Jimmy Brennan. (Photo: CPL/Chant Photography)

Entering his third season as the York boss, Brennan will be hoping to take the next step after finishing just out of the playoffs in each of the first two CPL campaigns. They finished third in 2019, when the top two went to the final, and 5th in 2020 after the top four advanced, so the club has been close.

The former Canadian international has a 13-13-15 (W-D-L) record in all competitions with York United, 11-11-13 in CPL action, which is good for third place on the league’s all-time regular season table.

The format for the 2021 season beyond The Kickoff is still unknown, but however it plays out, York United will be trying to push for the top part of the table.

What they’re saying

“We need to maintain good balance in the group and keep folks in good spirits. That’s the hard part about going into a bubble,” Brennan said. “We’re leaving seven days before the first game to give us a chance to get acclimatized and sorted out. Really its about getting our whole team together and help build up that team. We didn’t wanna go too early because you end up something like seven weeks in a bubble. That’s draining and demanding.” — Jimmy Brennan, York United head coach