BIG READ: York United's Max Ferrari 'loving every second' of life at full-back
In soccer, one’s fortunes can turn into an instant.
Less than 12 months ago, things were not looking great on the field for York United as they rolled into the middle of July. Through their first 15 games of the season, they had amassed a record of 2W-6D-8L (12 PTS), stuck in a battle just to exit the basement of the CPL, all while dealing with a whole host of injuries and departures that had stretched their lineup thin.
But then, they caught fire in the last 13 games of the season, picking up a record of 7W-1D-4L (22 PTS), even flirting with a playoff push for a few weeks in the fall before eventually missing out.
And now, they’ve carried that over into this season. With a record of 5W-2D-5L (17 PTS) through 12 games, the Nine Stripes sit second in the CPL table as of writing, with July just around the corner.
It's safe to say York are in a much better place today than they were just a year ago, something that’s not lost on someone who's been there to see it all in Max Ferrari.
He may have been injured for a large portion of that 2022 season, but he’s been impressed to see how the mentality has shifted from that time.
Before, the team was just battling to find any sort of consistency, and now, they’re frustrated if they lose 1-0 on the road to a Pacific FC side that’s steamrolling over everyone, a result that would’ve pleased them before but certainly left them frustrated this week.
“Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve come a long way, especially when talking about last year,” Ferrari told OneSoccer this week. “It's a different group, we’ve got a lot of different guys, and we didn't have a lot of returnees."
“We also had a lot of injuries at this point last year, including one to myself, so going from last year to this year, it’s been different for me, a lot different, it's been a lot of games in a row for me, and we're doing well, we're getting the results. The attitude right now around the club from our coaches to the players, it’s all positive right now, it feels like everything's working.
“Like this week, we went to Pacific. We thought we played well but were a bit unlucky (to lose), but now we know that we have that positive mindset to just keep going, and that’s going through everyone right now.”
And Ferrari is certainly playing his role in that shift. Limited to just 776 minutes in 14 games last season in all competitions with those injuries, he’s already up to 996 minutes in 13 games, having featured in all but one game for York this season.
Not only that, but he’s doing so in a new role, too. Always known as a winger, he’s made the transition into a full back role this season, one he’s taken on very quickly.
With some key injuries at the back, Ferrari’s play has been a huge positive for York there, giving head coach Martin Nash someone to lean on consistently, only strengthening the relationship between player and coach that has grown plenty since Nash’s arrival at the club last year.
“Yeah, it's definitely been different.,” Ferrari explained. “Last year, we had (Martin) Nash come in, and for me, he's been really good right from the start, as we have the same ambitions. It’s been a lot of change, as I went from a winger in my first two years and have now made that transition to full back.”
“It’s been something that I’ve really enjoyed learning, and those learnings have been coming thick and fast, but it's something that as a pro I want to learn, because at the end of the day, it's I'll do anything that coach wants me to do to help pick up points, as we want to win games here.”
As a result, it’s making some wonder - might it be worth it for him to switch to the position full-time?
Given how quickly he’s adapted to his new role, it doesn’t seem like a wild proposition, either.
Always known as an energetic and speedy winger that was eager to take defenders on, he’s done well to translate those skills to his new position, while showing good defensive responsibility on the other side of the ball.
That’s no small feat, as there’s a reason why some argue that full back is the hardest position to play in modern soccer given the demands it places in all phases of the game, yet it’s been a task that Ferrari has taken to with ease.
Therefore while some might look back at Ferrari’s body of work on the wing, which included a three-goal and four-assist season in all competitions in 2021, and wonder what he could do at that position long-term, he’s just as proud of what he’s been able to do in his new spot.
“Yeah, I think it's something that suits my high-energy style of play and for me, if Nash wants me to play there, I play there,” Ferrari said. “I would say over my time at York I’ve started to slowly play there, and then this year is where it’s become my main position, I've played almost every game as a fullback.”
“It’s something for me that I’m looking forward to, it's a role and a position that I would like to learn and make my main thing because I do enjoy being on that side of the ball defending, and then picking up the ball and making things happen from deep, but it's something that I'm still learning and I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Thanks to his high motor and fine attention to detail, it’s helped ease that transition, and for what it’s worth, he’s not done there yet, either.
“It’s been about fine-tuning everything,” he continued. “As a full back, when you’re that far back on the pitch, I learned that I had to clean up my passing, and Nash will agree that from last year to this year, I’ve cleaned up a lot of my game technically, that’s something I’ve really focused on.”
“Something that I still have a lot to improve as a fullback is playing both sides, I've played right back and left back this year, but to be able to play comfortably at both is something that I would like to learn, because I would always say my left foot has been a very strong part of my game, so if I can learn to play on the left side as well, it would help me out in the future and help the team.”
And for what it’s worth, Nash has been extremely pleased with the progress his young charge has made.
It’s one thing for a coach to suggest to a young player to take on a new role, but it’s a whole other for them to commit to that challenge, and doing so with the right attitude.
That’s never been a problem with Ferrari, however, who has been eager to learn, and is enjoying the intricacies of that process.
A student of the game, he’s made Nash’s life a lot easier, which is why the York boss has no problem in saying that he’s been a “coach’s dream” throughout this whole journey.
“Yeah, you know what Max is going to bring, and that’s energy,” Nash said of Ferrari after York played Halifax this week. “He gives you everything that he’s got, every time he steps on that pitch. He still has a few little things to learn as a fullback, but I thought he was really good today, and I thought he was really good on Sunday.”
“Sometimes, when players drop back, it doesn't suit them, but I think it works with him and his pace and the timing of his movement to get forward, because he’s shown the ability to be a dangerous attacking half as a winger.”
“He’s got a lot of upside, with his engine and energy, it might be the position that's best for him in the long run. He’s willing to learn, and he’s enjoying playing there, but also knowing he can still play as a winger is a bonus.”
“So we’ll call him a full back now,” Nash laughed. “But yeah, he’s been a fantastic person, fantastic player, he gives everything he’s got and has been a coach's dream.”
Yet, that attitude is a big reason why Ferrari is such a key part of this York side.
He may be only 22, but it’s easy to forget that he’s now in his fourth season at the club, sitting as one of the most-tenured players, behind only Roger Thompson and Michael Petrasso in that regard.
Because of that, this season has been a big chance for Ferrari to step up as a leader, especially after all of the turnover that the club faced in the offseason.
With over a dozen departures and nearly as many arrivals, it could’ve been easy for York to lose the identity that they gained on their hot streak last year, which makes those sorts of leaders like Ferrari so key.
Therefore, while Ferrari is still getting used to seeing himself as a leader given that he himself still seeks the likes of Petrasso and Thompson for guidance, he’s been happy to take on that responsibility.
“Yeah, for me as a young guy I still want to learn from everyone, I'm still only 22 years old. So I'm learning a lot every day,” Ferrari admitted. “And it’s been good to have guys like Roger Thompson and Michael Pretraso here, they've helped me since day one, Petrasso has always been by my side and is someone I've looked up to since I was a kid watching him play overseas, so that's been cool.”
“Then having seasoned pros come in as well throughout my time here, you’ve got Jonathan Grant who's won three CPL championships, that helps a lot to have a guy like that come in as he brings a lot of experience, and then you’ve got guys like Paris Gee and Mo Babouli, they’ve been around, so for me as a young pro that wants to learn, it’s been really good.”
“And then for me to have been at York since the York 9 days when I was a 19-year-old kid, so I always think of the young guys who are in that situation now, and I try to help them as well. Guys like Markiyan Voytsekhovskyy, Noah Abatneh and Theo Afework, I try to give the tips I can, obviously I don't know a lot compared to these guys who have been around, but I try to get my two cents in here and there.”
The kids getting it done for @York9FC as 19-year-old Max Ferrari passes to 16-year-old Lowell Wright, now the youngest goal scorer in #CanPL history 👏 https://t.co/IuspEi4qFA pic.twitter.com/4kONvvuvG2— CBC Sports (@cbcsports) August 15, 2020
Having been at the club since he was a fresh-faced teenager fresh out of League 1 Ontario and in college with the Humber Hawks, he’s seen what it takes to be a professional, having learned from some good players over the years.
From Manny Aparicio to Dominick Zator, and Diyaeddine Abzi to Nathan Ingham, Ferrari’s learned his fair share of lessons over the years with this club.
The biggest one? How to be a pro, and the consistency that entails, something that has probably been the biggest thing he’s pushed on his younger teammates.
“When I was playing League 1 Ontario, I played with good players, but the consistency is just not the same as when you then make that step up,” Ferrari explained. “And for me when I came in, we had a team with a lot of experienced pros at York, so I got that reality check right away, probably in my first week, I realized that you can’t be slacking during these training sessions, you’ve got to be good all the time.”
“And when you have these pros in my first year like Manny Aparicio, Chris Manella, Kyle Porter, all of these guys, they're just good all the time. And that's something that they were really hard on me about at the start, what was good, as it’s only had a positive impact, and that’s what I’m trying to pass on to the young guys, too, because you always need someone to push, and I’m still trying to learn every day and push my consistency up to where it needs to be.”
And now, Ferrari is looking to use all of his learnings to now push to that next level.
Having seen York teammates such as Abzi, Zator, Lowell Wright and Ronan Kratt all make that jump up to that next level over the last year, he’s looking to become the next York player to make such a move.
He knows it won’t be easy, but seeing someone like Zator on the CanMNT or Kratt now in the system of a Bundesliga club just shows what’s possible, something that’s fuelling Ferrari right now.
“I think especially as a kid from Canada, everyone's looking at the national team right now and seeing how well they're doing, and where all these guys are playing, so it’s cool to have an old teammate like Dominick there,” he explained. “And then guys like Dom, Lowell Wright, Diyaeddine Abzi, these guys are all doing really well at other clubs, and of course, while my focus right now is helping York get points, for me, personally, it’s also about how can I improve myself to maybe make that next jump and test myself somewhere else like that?”
Before he makes that happen, however, he’s happy to keep living out his dream close to home, just a half-hour drive away from his hometown of Newmarket.
An original York 9 fan from their first season, he knew instantly that he wanted to play with the club from the first game he attended, where he was a youngster sitting in the crowd with his dad.
Now, over 60 appearances for them later, he’s still got the same joy to live out that dream as he did when he was a 19-year-old in 2020, appreciative of the opportunity he’s been given.
Had it not been for the CPL, he knows that his dreams of playing at a higher level and for Canada could’ve easily faded away fast, as before this not many had made the jump that he made from Humber College to where he is now.
Yet, that just shows the importance of creating a player pathway in Canada, and now, Ferrari is bearing the fruits of that opportunity, and has just scratched the surface of what’s possible for him now.
“Honestly, it happened really fast,” Ferrari reminisced. “I was playing for Humber and I was playing for Aurora, but I was a York 9 fan right from the start, me and my dad spent every game in the stands. I wasn't really sure if I could make that jump right away, but then it all happened so quickly, I had a promising year in League 1 and with Humber, then I got a chance to trial for York, did well, and then got the pleasure of signing my first pro contract soon after.”
“Then everything ever since then, it’s just happened so fast, we went to the PEI bubble in 2020, and then the Winnipeg bubble in 2021, and then we had last year where I had injuries and then all of a sudden this is my fourth year.”
“It's been a great time. I always tell everyone that I’m doing what I love for a job, so for me, I just look forward to learning more and playing more every game, and I’m loving every second of it.”