“A very emotional moment”: Vancouver FC push past York for first CPL victory

TORONTO, ON – Beating Toronto for the first win in club history — it’s seemingly a requirement for professional soccer teams from Vancouver.

Similar to the Vancouver Whitecaps’ inaugural MLS win in 2011, 4-2 over Toronto FC, Vancouver FC picked up their first CPL victory, a 2-1 win over York United at York Lions Stadium on Saturday.

Although the less than 1,000 fans in rainy north Toronto wasn’t quite a sunny, packed day in East Vancouver, the win meant just as much for the province’s newest professional club.

Vancouver FC CPL

“It’s a very emotional moment for our players, staff, and for the club,” said head coach Afshin Ghotbi post-match. “It’s been weighing on their shoulders for a while now because the discussions were always about who was going to score the first goal and when would be the first victory.”

“I thought that was a wonderful game, and with those games, it’s exciting, I’m sure.”

Utilizing the high press as they showcased in their opening loss to Pacific FC, Shaan Hundall put York’s Mo Babouli under pressure on the backline before stealing the ball and smoothly finishing to the far post past Niko Giantsopolous.

For Hundall, it was a moment that seemed destined. Playing youth soccer in Toronto, he spent time being coached by Toronto FC’s inaugural goalscorer Danny Dichio, who had a famous chant from TFC supporters that he envisioned himself having one day.

“This [goal] meant a little bit more, I grew up playing for Danny Dichio, and when we would go to [TFC] games, they’d sing a song for him,” Hundall said post-match. “I grew up looking up to him, and it’s super special to score a first goal being back home in Toronto.”

Vancouver also kept up the pressure, with Gabriel Bitar charging forward into the box before colliding with Giantsopoulos and earning a penalty in the 18th minute. Former Liga MX standout Gael Sandoval stepped up to the spot to make it 2-0 for the visitors.

Yet, the goal woke York United, who hadn’t played exceptionally poorly. They threw bodies forward, allowing Babouli to slide more centrally to support Osaze De Rosario. As well, right-back Max Ferrari linked up with defensive midfielder Matthew Baldisimo as they advanced play through midfield.

On the left side, Paris Gee thrived on the ball while putting himself in wide positions to send in a cross, as he did in the 35th minute to connect with Canadian-Ukrainian 19-year-old Markian Voyteskohovskyy, who smashed a shot past Callum Irving to make it 2-1.

As the second half wore on, Vancouver had to hold firm on the backline to keep off waves of York pressure, eventually turning to consistent fouling to draw out time. Irving commanded his area, particularly on crosses, making several claims and not allowing York’s attackers to get their heads on them.

Ghotbi tinkered with his lineup in the second half, with right midfielder/right back Kadin Chung forced out of the match with an injury.  Meanwhile, former League 1 and OUA standout striker Ameer Kinani replaced Shaan Hundal in the striker position.

Vancouver FC/Canadian Premier League

While Chung only lasted 60 minutes, he continued to thrive in a more advanced position and combined with Ibrahim Bakare down the right wing while bringing a veteran mentality to the pitch that helped Vancouver see out the result.

“He’s such a complete player; I feel he’s one of the most complete players I’ve seen in a long time; combined intelligence and technical skill, and his attention to detail,” Ghotbi said of Chung. “Sometimes it feels like we don’t have enough [veteran players] because late in the game, sometimes we lose the ball so quickly after we get it back.”

For Vancouver, the win is just another step in their journey towards building a club that the community can be proud of. While they let their chance to play, the MLS Whitecaps slip away in the Canadian Championship, giving the Lower Mainland a winning club is something at the forefront of their minds.

“I know there’s the Whitecaps, and I don’t think they win a lot of games,” Hundall said. “It’s nice to be a team that’s got a win… I hope we can show the rest of Vancouver what we can do and what the Whitecaps can’t.”

With a first win in their back pocket, Vancouver FC looks ahead to a clash against the league’s easternmost team, the HFX Wanderers, on April 29 in Halifax, ahead of their home opener against Cavalry on May 7 in Langley.

The Third Sub Player of the Match – Paris Gee (York United)

York United may have come out on the wrong side of the result and still be winless on the season, but Paris Gee was among their bright spots on Saturday. Back with the Nine Stripes after a season on loan with now-defunct FC Edmonton, he’s settled in nicely and was exceptional against Vancouver.

The 28-year-old created two beneficial attacking flanks for York, with Max Ferrari on the other side, and linked up well with Babouli through the afternoon, sending in several crosses that threatened the Vancouver goal.

While he connected on one cross, he finished the match with three key passes, 90 touches, and 50 passes while also winning the ball back nine times through duels, tackles, and interceptions.

Moving forward, his ability to get involved in the attack could push him into midfield, allowing Babouli to bring his attacking qualities higher up the pitch to help support De Rosario to a greater extent.

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