TORONTO, ON – There’s no clear definition of what a derby match is, but in some ways, it was what happened on Friday night, and in other ways, it wasn’t, as York United topped the Canadian Premier LEague table with a 1-0 win against Forge FC.
Neither York United nor Forge looked like they wanted to win the match through an hour until York United put their foot on the gas pedal in the final 30 minutes and picked up their pace, with Sebastian Gutierrez channelling his inner George Best to dance through Forge’s backline, giving York a 1-0 win and the top spot in the CPL table.
How it happened:
Terran Campbell and Osaze de Rosario had records in their mind on Friday night, but neither was able to write history in a stingy match between two familiar foes. For Campbell, continuing in his central role in front of Alessandro Hojabrpour, he found space in behind several times. He showed his prominence in the attacking areas, but the centre-back pairing of Jordan Wilson and Dominick Zator held strong through the early moments, forcing Campbell outside.
Much like Campbell, de Rosario created pockets in front of the Forge backline but could not penetrate through Forge’s physical backline, which continually broke up passes.
It wasn’t until the 30th minute that the game’s flow opened up, and like nearly every week in the CPL, it came through refereeing decisions. On a 50/50 challenge, York’s DiyaeddineAbzi looked as though he was pushed off the ball, but instead had the foul called against him, giving a stellar free-kick chance to Tristan Borges. Although Borges’ can curl wonder strikes in, he merely tested Niko Giantspolous on the kick.
However, from there was not much-attacking football throughout the remainder of the first half, or to start the second. Really, the match did not open up until just after the hour mark, when York began to link passes in the attacking third, and introduced Austin Ricci.
Ricci changed the game in his earliest substitute appearance of the season, sparking attacks with Gutierrez and De Rosario through the match’s latter stages. In the 77nd minute, the Toronto native broke through on goal but failed to finish, only for his chance to rebound and find Gutierrez, who dazzled defenders before sliding the ball past Forge’s Triston Henry for the eventual winner.
There are not many better goals than the one Gutierrez bagged on Friday night, and for Toronto soccer fans, it has a few shades of Sebastian Giovinco in on goal. I guess there’s something about diminutive attacking players in Toronto.
“He was having a good performance, he battles works hard and I think with a short bench today, so to have him at the end to see out the game was great,” York manager Martin Nash told reporters about Ricci. “He’s now at a stage where he could start games, but that goes on whether he thinks he is ready to play.”
Forge did not threaten York after the goal, as the Nine Stripes continued to pressure in the final 10 minutes of the match, nearly extending their lead, before seeing out the final whistle and the three points to put themselves atop the CPL table for the night.
Adjustments for Wright and Johnston were critical in win:
Lowell Wright has a long career ahead of him at just 18 years old, but it will likely be in the middle with his stocky build and physical game. However, he did not look too out of place on the wing against Forge.
Shifted wide to get de Rosario in the middle, Nash spoke about the young winger, mentioning that he may not be able to go more than 60 minutes in a much more defensive responsible position. Still, Wright forced his way onto the ball, and generated attacks, working well with Abzi to overlap at points. While he may not have the defensive awareness at this point, it is an area that can be coached.
Comparably, Isaiah Johnston played a deeper role than he is used to, and looked promising despite being behind on the ball less, and not doing as much dictating the play. However, as a veteran of the league and playing in front of mentor Jordan Wilson, who had stepped into the backline, Johnston looked like he belonged.
“He might not have been the happiest guy out there,” Wilson said of Johnston’s game. “He can grind and battle and I think that’s an accumulation of many things. It’s Martin [Nash] and also just him coming into his own as a player.”
Johnston played the entire match and only gave away the ball three times, completing his 20 other passes. At the same time, he recovered the ball seven times, and advanced it to an attacking player the majority of the time, showing his versatility in a deeper role.
The Canadian Championship and moving on:
With the win in their back pocket, York United sits at 11 points on the season, good enough to pass Pacific FC for the night into the top spot on the CPL table. While Pacific have a chance to regain that spot with a point against Atletico Ottawa, it’s a watershed moment for a York club establishing itself under Nash’s managerial tendencies.
Speaking of Ottawa, York head up the 902 to take on Atletico in the first round of the Canadian Championship, a matchup that they will fancy themselves in after a hard-fought draw against Ottleti last weekend.
For Forge, things need to take a turn for the better. While a loss on Friday isn’t the end of the world, they need to turn their season around fairly quickly, and string together some wins. They head back home to face PLSQ side Outremont in their Canadian Championship first round, but the focus must be on their match next Saturday against Atletico Ottawa.