'We'll try and go down swinging': York United embracing underdog mentality ahead of CPL playoff gauntlet
With their backs up against the wall, they found a way to get the job done.
They needed some help along the way, sure, but when it came down to showing up in the biggest moments, York United answered the call, and then some, over the last few weeks.
As a result, they’re now heading to the 2023 CPL playoffs, where they’ve got the opportunity to put a long and topsy-turvy regular season behind them, as they try and become the third team to claim the North Star Cup.
Make no mistake, however - their potential journey toward doing that is nearly impossible as the fifth seed team. First, they must beat Pacific away in midweek, which if they’re able to successfully do, would grant them the opportunity to travel to Halifax next Saturday, where a win would then send them to a match against the loser of the 1v2 matchup between Cavalry and Forge for a spot in the final.
Then, if they’ve somehow made it that far, they’ll have to go play the final away to the winner of the Cavalry and Forge matchup, who will have had an extra week of rest, for the North Star Cup, completing an exhausting two-and-a-half week journey.
Tired yet? It’s just exhausting to read, let alone navigate.
At the same time, while they’ll have long odds at winning, having now made it into the big dance, York’s wondering - why not us?
“It was good,” York’s goalkeeper, Niko Giantsopoulos, said after his team officially booked their spot in the playoffs. “You don't want to celebrate too hard, because we did finish fifth, but step one was to qualify for playoffs, and now that we’re there, let’s see what we can do.”
GOAL 👑👑— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 7, 2023
Osaze De Rosario scores AGAIN to give @YorkUtdFC a 2-0 lead over @VanFootballClub, as @AtletiOttawa's #CanPL playoff hopes begin to fade before the 30-minute mark 🤯
🔴 Watch on OneSoccer pic.twitter.com/8lkEw9B7Vc
And to their credit, while the gauntlet that awaits them is daunting, if there is a team that is equipped to handle it, it’s *probably* York.
With their win over Vancouver this past weekend in Langley, the one that booked their spot in the playoffs, York officially clinched the league’s best road record for 2023. Finishing with 24 points from 14 road games, one point ahead of Cavalry in second, York’s been a team that has enjoyed frustrating opponents away from home all season long.
You compare that to their record at home, where they claimed just 14 points from 14 games, the second-lowest in the league, and it’s been night and day, as this York side has seemed to get the best out of itself when they’ve had to head out and get the job done in tough environments.
Because of that, while it may be daunting to now head out and have to face the prospect of playing the top four teams in the CPL at their home grounds, York will feel far more confident in their ability to do so than most in the league probably would if faced with a similar task.
“I think we like playing on the road,” Giantsopoulos offered. “We have that kind of road dog mentality to fight and make a run in the playoffs.”
“It’s our fault for not finishing higher up in the table, so let's see what happens on the road.”
Plus, for what it’s worth, York has been building towards this for a while now.
After a solid 2021 campaign, one where they made the playoffs for the first time as a fourth seed, falling to rivals Forge 3-1 in a single-elimination knockout game, they were hoping to build on that in 2022.
Unfortunately, that wouldn’t end up being the case, however - a Canadian Championship run, injuries, the sales of some key pieces such as Diyaeddine Abzi and Lowell Wright; that all added up as York was unable to sneak into the playoffs for a second straight season.
Because of that, they retooled this offseason, bringing in some new veteran CPL faces to fill out their squad, as they tried to add the depth and experience that was lacking last year.
As a result, pieces such as Jonathan Grant, Elijah Adekugbe, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, Brian Wright and more all entered the fray, giving York what they felt was the right mix to solve those aforementioned problems.
And seeing that York actually finished with their best points total in a season, ever, doing well to handle another tough season of injuries, suspensions and more, that investment in depth has certainly already paid off.
Now, they’re banking on the second part of that equation to really come to the forefront - experience.
Given that experience often manifests itself in the biggest games, such as in the playoffs, York will feel that they’re better equipped to handle the challenge of these postseason games than they would’ve before.
Based on the fact that they won two-or-die games over the last two weeks just to get here, that experience has certainly already started to manifest itself on the squad, so they’ll now just look to build off that.
“We’re going to bring our experience knowing that it’s do-or-die now,” Giantsopoulos noted. “It's going to be the fine details that will allow us to get results, so we’ll look to tighten up the screws with our experience.”
“There’s not much else to say, really, we know what the playoffs are, and we've been thinking about them for the second half of this season, so we’ll look to get the job done, be cleaner than we have been in the regular season, and we’ll try to go down swinging.”
Are York United the VILLAINS of the #CanPL season? 😈— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 7, 2023
No one will want to play 'em. They're not an easy team to play against. They can frustrate you... they frustrate EACH OTHER, as @KristianJack points out 🔥
But @YorkUtdFC are in. ✅ Now? It's time to show up. pic.twitter.com/KhMOubjYL9
Because of that, York is entering this postseason filled with confidence. Even though they slipped in through a back door, one that only opened up due to Ottawa losing five of their last seven games in the 85th minute or later, York has plenty of reasons to believe in their ability to make a run.
On their day, they can compete with anyone in the league, and they’ve proven that this season, especially when they’ve felt counted out.
Yet, that’s why York feels that they’re “the team that no one wants to face in the playoffs”, a mantra that they’ve leaned on over the last few months, using it as fuel to reach the big dance in the first place.
So now that they’re here, York certainly has no intentions of letting go of that moniker, one they’ve proudly started to carry.
“You’ve heard Martin Nash say it a bunch of times - nobody wants to see us in the playoffs,” Giantsopoulos proudly stated. “I think we’ve taken that to heart to get some wins, get some points and qualify.”
“Yeah, I don't think any team wants to see us, because we've been really good on the road,” Nash added. “For whatever reason this year, our record on the road has been better, for example, that was our seventh win on the road, and we’ve only had four at home. It’s been a comfort zone for us to be on the road.”
“The run-in is not going to be easy, no matter where we go, it’s going to be difficult game after difficult game, but we believe in ourselves and in the players we’ve got, so we just need to have that belief and approach things one game at a time, we can't worry about the one that comes next, knowing that we’ve got a talented squad.”
Now, of course, York will want to ensure that they don’t get too carried away with looking at their playoff gauntlet, instead focusing on one game at a time, as they’ve previously mentioned.
Because of that, they’ve now got their eyes on who lies ahead - Pacific.
A tough game, against one of the two teams York failed to beat on the road this season (along with Cavalry), York knows a tough challenge will await them in that game.
At the same time, there are a few things for them to be optimistic about heading into their clash at Starlight Stadium on Wednesday.
First, there’s the fact that York’s two away games at Starlight came in May and June. That’s relevant as Pacific has struggled heavily at home as of late, sitting with a record of 1W-2D-4L in their last seven home games, after starting the year 4W-2D-1L in their first seven (in which they played York twice).
Then, there’s the fact that Pacific has struggled a lot in the second half of the season, period, going from runaway leaders to barely finishing in fourth, sitting only two points ahead of York. As a result, they’ve only won one of their last six games, and have lost three straight heading into this game.
To be fair, it’s also worth noting that this all goes out the window in the playoffs, where form and past trends never seem to matter, but York will certainly have kept an eye on that.
Either way, York won’t bother too much with Pacific’s form, anyways.
As they’ve learned over the past few weeks, they’re at their best when they block outside noise, focusing on what they need to be good at to win games.
Therefore, they’ll look to lean into that for these playoffs, as they continue to embrace being the team that no one wants to face.
“None of them are going to be easy,” Nash said of his team’s playoff journey. “But we think that we can play with anyone in this league, and I think that we've proved that over the year.”
“The problem is that we've been a bit up and down, so if we can be consistent as we have over the last two games, we can have a chance.”