After finishing one spot back of the playoffs in both 2019 and 2020, York United took a step forward in 2021. The Nine Stripes, building around and trusting a lot of young players, reached the playoffs for the first time, finishing fourth by a single point ahead of Valour FC — who were also looking for their first ever playoff berth — and HFX Wanderers, who were looking to get back into the playoffs after a run to the final in 2020.
York were a very difficult team to beat — and only lost eight times all season, second-fewest in the CPL behind Cavalry’s six. Their 12 draws were the most in the league, a testament to at least getting something for their efforts even if three points wasn’t always possible. They’re an energetic, hungry team with a lot to prove, which can at times prove to be an immovable object for even the most talented opposition.
The race for fourth place was an exciting one, and with the four-team playoff structure returning for the 2022 season, it should be another season of exciting battles right up until the end of the schedule. With most of the York core returning for another season, and another year of experience for the younger players in particular, they should absolutely be in the mix.
Despite their success, inaugural head coach Jimmy Brennan wasn’t brought back for 2022. The club has instead hired former Cavalry FC assistant Martin Nash, a first head coaching gig for the former Canadian international. Nash was also the assistant for Tommy Wheeldon Jr. at the Calgary Foothills, and also spent time as an assistant with the Ottawa Fury and the Canadian men’s national team.
Nash’s hiring gives the team a chance to learn some new ideas and continue to evolve as a unit. If he can maximize the potential of this current group of youngsters, York will be in a very good position going forward.
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- 2021 CPL regular season record (W-D-L): 8-12-8 (4th overall, lost in CPL semifinals to Forge FC)
- Goals scored: 36 (including playoffs)
- Goals against: 42 (including playoffs)
- Goal difference: -6
- Top scorer: Álvaro Rivero, Lowell Wright, Diyaeddine Abzi (6)
- Canadian Championship: Lost 4-0 to Toronto FC in the quarterfinals
Arrivals and Departures
The 2022 campaign will be the first season in which Nathan Ingham isn’t the starter in goal for York United, as the 2019 CPL Golden Glove nominee moves across Ontario to join Atlético Ottawa. He played 62 times in all competitions for the Nine Stripes across three seasons, keeping 17 clean sheets. York’s 2021 backup Niko Giantsopoulos will be the starter in 2022, but the club has also signed young goalkeeper Matthew Nogueira from C.S. Marítimo in Portugal — a member of Canada’s U-23 side from the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying in 2021.
The club has also signed four players and sent them on loan to FC Edmonton. Julian Ulbricht scored five goals for them in all competitions a year ago, but will spend 2022 on loan with the Eddies. He’s joined on loan in Edmonton by Felix N’sa, brother of Chrisnovic, who has yet to make an appearance for the Nine Stripes after dealing with an injury in 2021. York also signed a pair of Edmonton’s standouts — attackers Tobias Warschewski and Azriel Gonzalez — before sending them west for the season.
Coming east from the other Alberta side is attacker Oliver Minatel, who rejoins Martin Nash at York after three seasons together with Cavalry — where the Brazilian scored eight goals in 39 appearances. York added another Brazilian this offseason, bringing in youth international left back Eduardo Jesus. York’s team this year will have several talented youth internationals, also signing Canadian attacker Mamadou Kane, Danish defender Daniel Obbekjaer and Czech forward Martin Graiciar.
Also joining the club are a trio of internationals that were forced to spend 2021 on loan elsewhere as York had issues getting them into the country — William Wallace, Lisandro Cabrera and Mateo Hernández.
For the full list of ins and outs, check out CanPL.ca’s 2022 offseason roster tracker.
Mark your calendar
York kick off the 2022 Canadian Premier League season on April 7 against HFX Wanderers at York Lions Stadium. They hit the road for their second match of the season, taking on FC Edmonton at Clarke Stadium on April 15, before returning for a trio of home games against Cavalry FC, Atlético Ottawa and Forge FC in the first 905 Derby of the season on May 6.
They will also host The Hammers on July 8, and play the away 905 Derby matches at Tim Hortons Field on August 20 and October 1. A week after that October 1 match, they head east to close out their regular season against Atletico Ottawa at TD Place.
For York United’s full 2022 schedule, click here.
York United Projected XI:
(4-2-3-1): Niko Giantsopoulos; Diyaeddine Abzi, Roger Thompson, Dominick Zator, Chrisnovic N’sa; Noah Verhoeven, Isaiah Johnston; Mateo Hernández, Sebastian Gutierrez, Max Ferrari; Lowell Wright
In goal for the Nine Stripes will be Niko Giantsopoulos. The 27-year-old was signed from Cavalry ahead of the 2021 season, but was mostly stuck on the bench as Nathan Ingham had another strong season for the team. With Ingham now moving on to Atletico Ottawa, Giantsopoulos will finally get his chance to be a starter in this league, under the watchful eye of his former Cavalry assistant coach Nash.
The back four in CanPL.ca’s projected XI is exactly what York’s first choice unit a year ago would have looked like. Injuries limited club captain Roger Thompson to just nine league appearances in 2021, but if he’s healthy he’ll almost certainly be on the pitch. His leadership and calming veteran presence is valuable in a young team — and the same can be said about Dominick Zator right beside him. York’s two best fullbacks, right back Chrisnovic N’sa and left back Diyaeddine Abzi, were among the best in their positions in the league in 2021, and will be two of the first names on the teamsheet when available. Both are strong defenders, but have an attacking prowess that is hard for even the best opposing defenders to match.
This is Kadin Chung's heatmap today. He was glued to Diyaeddine Abzi – maybe sacrificed a bit of his attacking upside, but he did very well with a difficult assignment. #CanPL pic.twitter.com/54dnfGynIQ
— Charlie O'Connor-Clarke (@charliejclarke) July 11, 2021
Just ahead of the backline, York have several strong options in central midfield, including Noah Verhoeven and Isaiah Johnston. The duo work together well — Verhoeven is capable of playing some outrageous passes that many CPL players wouldn’t even attempt, and Johnston isn’t afraid to get stuck in defensively (sometimes to his own demise, picking up 11 yellow cards in 2021). They will be pushed all season long by Jordan Wilson, who is also a good fit for that role but spent some time at centre-back as well in 2021 due to injuries in the backline.
Max Ferrari is a player that is undroppable for this team when healthy. He’s versatile — able to play on either flank in attack, midfield or at fullback — and could be slotted into several positions in CanPL.ca’s projected XI, but is most effective in attack when he can link up with the fullback behind him and a central midfielder to create space for one another to exploit. On the other wing, Argentinian attacker Mateo Hernandez is finally able to join the club after he was unable to a year ago due to visa issues. After impressing on loan in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica last year by all accounts, York will be hoping him and Lisandro Cabrera (who went on loan to the same two clubs) are worth the wait.
After scoring a goal in 15 appearances in all competitions a year ago, Sebastian Gutierrez could be one of the players who gets an extended look at the top of the midfield in 2022. York have a lot of options in attack, but Gutierrez’s playmaking ability would compliment the wingers around him, and link the lines well with the players behind and around him.
Up top, teenage sensation Lowell Wright is expected to play an even bigger role in 2022, after scoring six goals in 26 league games in 2021. That was tied for the team lead, and Wright — who doesn’t turn 19 until this August — impressed enough to earn himself selected for the Canadian U20 national team for two friendly matches against Costa Rica later in April that will force him to miss a couple of weeks with York.
Key Player: Diyaeddine Abzi
Left back Diyaeddine Abzi added a new dimension to his game in 2021, establishing himself as one of the league’s very best players. Already an attacking threat heading into the season from the left side of defence, there were a lot of times in 2021 where head coach Jimmy Brennan experimented by starting Abzi as a left winger.
The decision paid off, as Abzi’s offensive output improved. He ended up tying for the team lead in goals, scoring six to match a pair of forwards — Alvaro Rivero and Lowell Wright. The Canadian youth international is fearless with the ball at his feet, and has pace that few other players in the league can match. Overlapping whoever is playing in front of him has been a strength, such as this goal against Forge FC in November:
Diyaeddine Abzi steamrolls his way to a 1-0 lead over @ForgeFCHamilton for @YorkUtdFC… and gives his team one foot into the #CanPL playoff door!
? https://t.co/hishXepRT3 pic.twitter.com/pgzzEfV2Uu
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) November 6, 2021
Abzi, in his fourth season with York and still only 23 years old, is often regarded as one of the player on the verge of a move to Major League Soccer or abroad. Another big season with the Nine Stripes will have teams lining up to acquire his services.