York United was the first CPL club to finalize their roster for 2021 by announcing the signings of left back Terique Mohammed, midfielders Jordan Faria and Gerard Lavergne, and striker Osvaldo Ramirez.
With the signings, they also announced that four international players won’t be joining the club to start the season — Lisandro Cabrera, Mateo Hernández, Sebastian Gutierrez, and William Wallace will all miss out due to delays in the visa process.
After the wave of recent transfers, here’s what Jimmy Brennan’s roster looks like to start the season – set to begin in just two weeks with “The Kickoff” in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
York may have the best pair of goalkeepers in the CPL — with Nathan Ingham and Niko Giantsopoulos — two players who could be regular starters in the league.
While we’re yet to find out who Jimmy Brennan plans to use as his number one, that job most recently belonged to Ingham, and there’s no reason yet for Brennan to drop him. Ingham has played 38 matches for York United since 2019, only missing three matches in club history — two in 2019 and one at the Island Games. His eight clean sheets leave him tied for third all-time in CPL history with Christian Oxner,
Joining Ingham between the sticks in York Region this year is Niko Giantsopoulos. After spending the league’s first two seasons with Cavalry FC, the 26-year-old has moved closer to his hometown of Markham, Ontario to play for The Nine Stripes. He made 10 appearances for Cavalry, one of which was at the Island Games, keeping four clean sheets. He also has the highest save percentage in the league’s history thus far. CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke is confident that Giantsopoulos will have a good season, picking him to win the Golden Glove in our way-too-early CPL Awards. Giantsopoulos has signed through the 2022 season with an option for 2023 .
Brennan could pick one of the two, or he could have them share minutes. The duo will push each other, so whichever option he chooses, York will be solid in net.
Two defenders are back from a year ago — Roger Thompson and Diyaeddine Abzi — but the rest of the backline has been completely revamped.
Abzi, 22, has been one of the league’s best left backs since the 2019 season, consistently starting there for York over the past two years. He’s made 35 appearances for The Nine Stripes in all competitions, scoring once, and impressing with his pace and ability to play on both sides of the ball. He was a finalist for the 2019 U21 Canadian Player of the Year award, and his standout performances earned him a call up to Canada’s under-23 national team earlier this year for the Olympic qualifying tournament, where he made one appearance.
Thompson signed a two-year deal this offseason with the club, with an option for the 2023 season as well. The 29-year-old centre-back joined York ahead of the 2019 season and has since played 19 matches in all competitions. He made 10 league appearances in 2019, as well as two in the Canadian Championship, missing a lot of the season due to injury. He played in all seven matches at the Island Games, and is expected to be a regular starter this year alongside new recruit Dominick Zator.
Zator, 26, joins Giantsopoulos in making the move east from Cavalry FC. He is one of just three players to have played in 39 CPL matches — 27 matches in the 2019 regular season, both legs of the 2019 final, the seven first round matches at the Island Games, plus three of four second round matches in PEI. The other two to reach that figure are Forge’s Kyle Bekker and Daniel Krutzen — the maximum a player could have played was 42, if his team made the CPL final in both seasons, which Zator’s didn’t. He also played in all eight Canadian Championship matches the Cavs played in 2019, establishing himself as one of the best defenders in the league. Zator received a first international call up in November 2019 for a pair of CONCACAF Nations League matches, but is yet to make his debut.
Also joining from within the CPL is 22-year-old Chrisnovic N’sa, formerly of HFX Wanderers. He played with HFX in 2019, but took a huge jump in 2020, earning himself a Under-21 Canadian Player of the Year award nomination as the Wanderers made the CPL Final. In 2020 he was a standout defender, finishing third in the CPL in successful tackles (16), third in successful duels (59) and fourth in interceptions (17). N’sa made nine appearances at the Island Games, to go along with 21 appearances for the club in 2019. N’sa can play at right back (where he played in 2020), centre-back or midfield.
His brother Felix has also joined York, from Panellinios Montreal FC in Quebec, where Chrisnovic also got his start. The younger N’sa brother, still a teenager, Felix can play the same positions as Chrisnovic, and the pair have both signed multi-year contracts. Felix had previously been on trial with Pacific FC prior to signing with York.
Another youngster in the York United backline for 2021 is Ryan Lindsay. Lindsay, and 18-year-old former Toronto FC Academy player, is returning from a stint in the under-19 team of Croatian giants Dynamo Zagreb. A centre-back and defensive midfielder, Lindsay has been signed through 2022, with an option for 2023. He was supposed to join Slovakian club FK Pohronie last summer before COVID-19 complications nixed that move, leaving the door open for a return to the GTA for the Ottawa native.
One of the most recent crop of signings, left back Terique Mohammed is also returning to Canada, on loan from League of Ireland side Dundalk FC. Another TFC Academy product, Mohammed was a standout on Toronto FC II in 2019, before joining FC Edmonton on loan for the Island Games last year. He played five times for The Eddies in the CPL before returning to his parent club, who released him, opening up a move to Europe. He’s with York on a season-long loan where he’ll likely be a backup for Abzi.
Speaking of Toronto FC II and recent signings, Mohammed’s former teammate with the Young Reds Jordan Faria has also made the switch to York United for the 2021 season. Faria, 20, played for TFC II in 2019, but didn’t play competitively in 2020 after the club withdrew from the USL League One season. He has played more than 30 times in the USL divisions, and has also worked with current York United assistant Paul Stalteri while with the Canadian youth national team.
The other midfielder signed last week is 22-year-old Dominican Republic international Gerard Lavergne, The central midfielder has nine caps for his country, as well as experience in the CONCACAF Champions League during his time with Atletico Pantoja. He was most recently with FC Tucson in USL League One, where he made one appearance earlier this season.
After most recently spending five years with Nykøbing FC in Denmark’s second tier, where he made making close to 150 appearances, Jordan Wilson has returned to Canada. The Mississauga native can play in central midfield or at centre-back, and will be a veteran presence in what is otherwise a young midfield. Despite only being 28, Wilson is the oldest midfielder on this York roster, with the next closest being 25-year-old Michael Petrasso.
Petrasso is back for a second season with York, after an impressive loan spell in England with Barnet. He scored 10 goals in 31 matches for the club, earning the nickname ‘The Canadian Messi’ during his stay. He spent the 2019 season with Valour FC, scoring six times in 20 matches in all competitions, before three appearances in PEI last year with York. The winger will be a big part of York’s team this year, provided he can stay healthy, which has been an issue throughout his career.
Considered quite a coup, Noah Verhoeven has swapped CPL teams by joining York from Pacific FC. The 21-year-old central midfielder played 30 times for Pacific in all competitions between 2019 and 2020, and is “one of the most exciting young Canadian talents about,” according to York United FC President, CEO & GM Angus McNab. He was one of the first young stars to breakout in the CPL, and the former Canada youth international should be a difference-maker for his new club.
Along with Faria, the club has four other midfielders under the age of 21. Cédric Toussaint (20) Max Ferrari (20), Ijah Halley (19) and Isaiah Johnston (19) are all born in 2000 or later.
Toussaint is the only newcomer from that group, joining the club from the CF Montreal (then Montreal Impact) academy on a two-year deal with options for more years beyond it. He can play as both an attacking and defensive midfielder, and is a good passer. He spent eight years with Montreal, and has taken part in youth national team identification camps.
Ferrari, Halley and Johnston all have fairly similar paths thus far, at the professional level, having all signed their first professional contracts ahead of the Island Games.
Ferrari spent three years playing for League1 Ontario side Aurora FC, making 37 appearances between 2017 and 2019, and also played eight times for the Humber Hawks in the OCAA in 2019 prior to signing for York. He played in each of their games at the Island Games in his first season as a pro.
Also playing in League1 Ontario from 2017-2019, Johnston made 24 appearances for the Woodbridge Strikers, before starting at Cape Breton University in 2019. He’d only play for one year with the Capers in U Sports, before joining York last summer. He was drafted by the club in the second round of the 2019 CPL–U Sports Draft, and elected to sign professionally instead of go back to school in the fall of 2020. He made three appearances at the Island Games.
Halley joined York in 2020 from the Toronto FC Academy, in search of professional playing time. He had appeared in preseason games with Toronto FC II, but was yet to sign a professional deal with the club. The youngster made four appearances in 2020 in PEI, and can operate as either a winger or a full back.
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Made up almost entirely of international players, the York United attack looks to be a promising one as well.
Jamaican winger Nicholas Hamilton, after not being able to take part in the Island Games due to travel restrictions, was loaned out to Dundee United of the Scottish Championship. Hamilton only got into one match for the club, after spending some time building up to match fitness. The club won promotion back to the Scottish Premiership, after two years away from the top flight.
Julian Ulbricht, a young forward and product of the Hamburger SV academy in Germany, is one of several promising young strikers on this team. He can also play on either wing. The 21-year-old spent the CPL offseason on loan at German fourth-division side 1. FC Phönix Lübeck, but is now in Canada ahead of the new season. He also spent time with FC St. Pauli’s youth teams before joining Hamburger SV.
Álvaro Rivero, a former Real Madrid youth player, was with York at the Island Games, and is back for 2021. The 24-year-old Spaniard played in all seven matches last season, scoring once, an impressive strike against Pacific FC. He could be a very important piece of the York puzzle in 2021, whether it’s in the starting lineup or as a super-sub.
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Signed this month, Osvaldo Ramirez is the fourth international forward on the roster to start the 2021 season. An American-born Mexican striker, Ramirez joins from Cancun FC of the Liga de Expansion MX. The 24-year year old has played for several Mexican teams in lower divisions, including some time with Pachuca II, a reserve team of Liga MX side C.F. Pachuca.
The lone Canadian in attack, signed on a long-term contract, is Lowell Wright. The 17-year-old made four appearances in PEI last summer, scoring once, making him the youngest goalscorer in CPL history — 16 years, 11 months, and 26 days. He still has three more years under contract (through 2023, with an option for 2024) with York, so while he may not be a regular starter this year ahead of some of the club’s other options just yet, 2021 is a chance for the youngster to continue to impress and grow as a player.
With a complete roster, all York need to do is get back up to match fitness and get ready for the start of the season. Games are rapidly approaching, and the club’s preseason has been severely shortened by COVID-19 restrictions in Ontario, so it’s up to both Brennan and the players to get ready as quickly as possible.
This is also a very young, relatively inexperienced team. Almost half of the roster, nine players, are born in 2000 or later, with all of them eligible for the CPL’s U21 minutes requirement. The quicker they can get acclimated with one another, the quicker this also very talented side can try to cause some real trouble for their opponents.