‘I want to bring a winning mentality to this team’: Former Forge fullback Johnny Grant joins York United
During the harsh Toronto winters, it can often be difficult to find field time given the city’s limited number of indoor pitches. It was that desire to just “get some touches in” that led Jonathan Grant to reach out to York United head coach Martin Nash earlier this off-season.
Grant, who had spent the last four years with rival Forge FC, initially joined York United’s preseason process just to train and stay sharp. As the weeks progressed, however, training quickly turned into a trial as the Pickering native impressed the York coaching staff.
On Wednesday, York announced the signing of the 29-year-old fullback for the upcoming Canadian Premier League season. He becomes the second player to switch sides in the 905 Derby in as many years after Mo Babouli did so in 2022.
“I think I’m someone that [Nash] rates pretty highly so evidently just through training he saw that, and things just sort of worked out for me,” Grant told CanPL.ca.
With 55 matches under his belt across the Canadian Premier League, Canadian Championship and Concacaf League, Grant brings a wealth of experience to the Nine Stripes. He also brings versatility, as during his time at Forge he sometimes played further up the pitch, or even centrally.
“He’s a three-time CPL champion and he’s been willing to work, prove his fitness and earn a spot,” said York CEO/President and GM Angus McNab. “The experience he brings to the group is really helpful and we feel that he can contribute at both right-back and centre-back for us, even though it’s probably going back to his days in Kansas City since he played frequently in the middle.”
Grant is excited to join a group on the ascendancy, joining a cast of CPL veterans acquired this off-season including Brian Wright from Atlético Ottawa, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé from Halifax and Elijah Adekugbe from Cavalry.
“They have always been a young and talented team, they just need to learn a few more things in terms of how to dominate for the duration of the season, and I think even this year they’ve brought in even more talent,” said Grant. “We’ve made a lot of new signings. We still have the young guys but I also think that a big part of it is we’ve added experience now. So it’s just a matter of getting all of those things to work in our favour together and I think we could do some damage this year.”
Joining the club from a Forge side who have won three championships in the past four years, not to mention all the aforementioned continental competition experience, Grant brings with him a wealth of knowledge. He has quickly noticed a lot of his teammates are inquisitive about how Forge has been able to set itself apart as a dynasty so early in the league’s existence.
“So many guys are curious in terms of what has happened at Forge and the history and all the games that we’ve been through, so I’ve received a lot of questions,” he said. “Mainly it’s the curiosity and just passing on personal experiences from what it takes to win in the CPL, a season or a championship. I think passing on those experiences to players will help them throughout this year.”
Grant has been a mainstay in the 905 Derby since its inception. He was in the starting lineup for Forge in the CPL’s inaugural match at Tim Hortons Field on April 27, 2019 against the club that was then called York9. He remembers how uncharacteristically nervous his Forge teammates were that day, recognizing how historically important the match was for Canadian soccer.
Unfortunately, that match also saw a more difficult part of Grant’s story in recent years. In anticipation of it, he had worked feverishly to fight back from a hamstring injury, but despite being included in the starting lineup, said he felt it basically from the opening whistle. He was forced to be removed from the match after just 13 minutes.
Before he even joined Forge, Grant’s European season with Nyköpings BIS in Sweden ended in the preseason with injury, causing him to need surgery and miss the entire 2018 season. Last year, he was limited to just 79 minutes of action across seven substitute appearances.
Grant, however, has shown impressive resiliency to fight back from each and every injury he has suffered over the past few years.
“I think with the injuries I have dealt with the main thing that keeps me going is just how I feel when I’m healthy,” he said. “I think once I get healthy I see that I still have the ability to be a really dominant player and I think when I’m injured just the motivation to get back to where I could be is what keeps me going mainly.”
If he can get back to that elite level, York United might not be the only side that benefits. International football could come calling as well.
Grant represented Canada at the Under-23 level, including at the 2015 Pan Am Games as well as that year’s Olympic qualifiers, where he suited up alongside York teammates Babouli, Gagnon-Laparé and Michael Petrasso, as well as then-player, now York assistant coach Mauro Eustáquio. He also appeared in a senior national team camp in 2015.
However, for the past few years, he has been going through the process of acquiring his Guyanese passport with an eye toward representing the fellow Concacaf nation at the senior level. Former Forge teammates Quillan Roberts and Emery Welshman have also represented the Black Jaguars.
“But the main thing I’ve been focusing on the past few years is just being healthy, sort of getting that consistency before I do anything internationally,” said Grant. “So, I’m still striving to do that, I would love to get some national team caps.”
As he said, for now though, his focus remains on how he can help the Nine Stripes achieve their goals this upcoming season. After the club finished sixth in the table last year, he believes that they have all the talent and ability to return to the top half of the standing this season.
“I think a goal for me personally is just to reach the playoffs,” said Grant. “I want to bring a winning mentality to this team, I want to have a successful season, I want to be out there on the field doing it personally myself. Obviously, staying healthy is a main goal for me, always, so hopefully I will be able to do that this year.”
As for his return to Tim Hortons Field, which could come as early as May 31, Grant has nothing but excitement about stepping back onto the pitch he has called home for so many years. The fact that he will be wearing green doesn’t change that, but will only add another storyline to the CPL’s original derby this coming season.