York United SEASON PREVIEW: Is this the year Nine Stripes earn their crown?
After a busy offseason, York United are eager to hit the ground running in 2023.
Having seen over 15 players depart the club over the winter, while bringing in almost a dozen new faces, this isn’t the same York side that finished sixth last year, and they’re eager to prove that.
As they get set to begin year two of the Martin Nash era, they’ve got big goals, and their offseason moves reflect that, raising the expectations of those around the club.
And rightfully so. Especially after they ended 2022 on a bit of a heater, there’s an expectation that this team could be an under-the-radar pick to be lifting some silverware this season, a claim that isn’t unfair based on the calibre of their new-look roster.
Now, they’ll look to make that a reality, as they look to leave a topsy-turvy 2022 behind them, and try to reach new heights in 2023.
Projected Starting XI:
3 key questions:
1) Can York replace big departures?
It’s both a blessing and a curse.
There’s no doubt that it’s usually a good thing to be a team that consistently sells players, as it shows that you’re good at developing talent, while also providing you with the funds to upgrade your lineup.
At the same time, it’s not easy to have to replace outgoing players, especially when they’re crucial to how you play.
York’s seen that first-hand, as in the last year alone they’ve moved on regulars Diyaeddine Abzi, Lowell Wright, Dominick Zator, Chrisnovic N’Sa and Isaiah Johnston, while Ronan Kratt could soon join them based on how the rest of his loan to Werder Bremen finishes up.
Because of that, it’s going to be intriguing to see how York fills those gaps, as while they’ve certainly amassed a good wealth of talent, those players are replacing some names who have stood out among the best in CPL over the past few years.
For what it’s worth, though, it’s not as if York is making big bets on players. 3-time CPL champion Jonathan Grant is a pretty good Dominick Zator replacement, while Clément Bayiha could certainly fill the shoes of Abzi, with experienced CPL veterans Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, Elijah Adekugbe, Matthew Baldisimo and Brian Wright proving to be good choices to fill the shoes of Johnston, N’Sa, Wright and Kratt.
Yet, for a team that has struggled for consistency throughout its CPL existence, the high turnover is something to monitor, especially if they’re not able to get out of the gates quickly in 2023.
2) Will a restructured midfield help control more games?
Despite finishing sixth last year, however, York often looked better than what their record suggested, especially when fully healthy.
That’s reflected in the advanced numbers from 2023, as they actually had the fourth-most xG in the league, and allowed the third-fewest xG, which is pretty impressive.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t turn that into results, as they finished tied for sixth in goals for, and were sixth in goals against, which is less than ideal.
One big reason for that, however, was their inability to control the middle of the park, as they were sixth in the CPL in possession, often finding themselves overwhelmed by their opponents in midfield.
As a result, it’s interesting to see that they’ve addressed that this offseason by completely remodelling their midfield, bringing in Gagnon-Laparé, Adekugbe and Oussama Alou alongside Baldisimo, who signed permanently after a loan stint with the club in the second half of 2022.
With Gagnon-Laparé having emerged as one of the best midfielders in the CPL during his time in Halifax, Adekugbe bringing 55 games of CPL experience in a Cavalry team that typically dominated their opponents in midfield, and Baldisimo also coming from a Pacific side that loved to control the middle, they will be a big boost to Nash’s midfield.
And arguably, they’re not even the most interesting additions, as the 21-year-old Alou is a fascinating name as he comes from the FC Utrecht system, where he played 37 games with their U21 team. He’ll be in tough to displace any of the other names, but he’s got a lot of upside, which is why it’ll be intriguing to see how he settles in the league.
One thing’s for sure, though, is that York should not be getting beat in the middle very often in 2023, and they’ll hope that can both help their team score more goals, and concede them less often, especially if they can build off of their strong advanced metrics.
3) Can they stay healthy?
Yet, for all of the promise that York showed in 2023, there was one big factor that limited them from reaching their full potential - injuries.
All year long, they were dogged by injuries, and that made it hard for them to find consistency, as Nash was left to constantly rotate his lineup due to those absences, which robbed him of players like Austin Ricci, Michael Petrasso, Roger Thompson, Max Ferrari and Niko Giantsopolous for large stretches.
Because of that, it’s almost no coincidence that their best stretch of form came at the end of the year, when they finally had a regular group of healthy players, allowing Nash to build some chemistry in his group.
The good news, however, is that they’ve at least tried to safeguard from that this year. Not only did they bring in some key new starters, but brought in some names who should be able to fill some key depth roles, giving York a deep squad.
In particular, they’ve stacked up in the attack, which should make for a fun competition to begin the year with players like Osaze De Rosario, Brian Wright, Mo Babouli, Kevin Dos Santos, Michael Petrasso, Austin Ricci and Theo Afework all competing for just a couple of spots.
Of course, no team is really ever able to fully safeguard against the injury bug, but York has done a pretty good job of trying, something that they hope should allow them to overcome the rigour of a busy schedule.
Player to Watch: Mo Babouli
Mo Babouli may have only played eight games in 2022, but he certainly left his mark on the rest of the league in his return to the CPL.
With five goals and two assists in those eight games, that was actually enough to sit second in team scoring for York, and tied for fourth in assists, as the former Forge forward was a revelation to his new team’s attack, contributing to 21% of their goals despite arriving so late in the season.
In fact, he was so dominant that he finished sixth in the CPL’s Player’s Player of the Year voting, just giving an idea of how much his peers admired his strong end to the season.
Safe to say, York are going to be relying on him heavily in 2023.
For most of the year, their attack looked rudderless, but when he came, it all changed, something that is best reflected in this fun stat - of York’s six games in which they scored three or more goals last year, five of them came in Babouli’s eight-game stint.
So... What does everyone think? 🤔 pic.twitter.com/3gjfgBXSwF— York United FC (@yorkutdfc) March 16, 2023
As has often been the case since they had their rebrand, York has knocked their latest kits out of the park.
First, there are the white kits, which build off of the team’s identity that they’ve had over the last few years, supported by some new key details. As a result, it leads to a clean and identifiable look, but one that also tries some new things, such as a fade in the middle lines, and some interesting patterns.
Then, with their away kit, they’ve got a contender for CPL kit of the year. Starting with a fun shade of green, they do well to contrast it with their blue shoulders, while also adding some intricate patterns, making it a fun kit to look at from both afar and up close.
York will do well if… Mo Babouli keeps up his form from last year. While York has certainly upgraded their roster this offseason, they were still a talented team last year, yet it just feels like Babouli’s arrival seemed to elevate everyone around him. If he can find a way to do that again this year, with the team now having addressed some key needs, that could make them a very dangerous team from day one in 2023.
York will struggle if… they can’t maintain some stability defensively. Among offseason moves, losing Zator could arguably be the biggest blow, as he ate a lot of minutes last year. Given that York is a bit thin defensively compared to other areas on the pitch, they’ll be asking a lot from someone such as Roger Thompson, for example, who has always been excellent when healthy from York, but has struggled with injury throughout his four years in the league. Because of that, it’s going to be crucial that York finds a way to get their defenders out on the pitch whenever possible, or else that could make it hard for them to build momentum as the year goes along.