York United has found their new coach. Weeks after parting with three-year gaffer Jimmy Brennan, the club announced Tuesday that former Cavalry FC assistant coach and Canadian men’s national team midfielder Martin Nash would be taking the managerial reigns on a a two-year deal, with an option for an additional twelve months. In a behind-the-scenes look at the hiring process, York United’s President & General Manager Angus McNab sat down with CanPL.ca to discuss why Nash was McNab’s only candidate he sought out, what impression he made with the Cavs that could make him a sucessfu8l coach at York, and how a off-chance run-in with Martin’s brother, NBA legend and current Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve, played a part in the deal.
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Marty Thompson, CanPL.ca: We'll start just before Martin comes on board: Generally why making the coaching change and why now? Angus McNab, York United CEO/President & GM: We looked at the back end of the year, and in the regular season we had just two wins in the final nine games and, ultimately, we finished fourth – but we were joint-third lowest for wins with eight. That wasn't enough. When we looked at some of the underlying bits in there; second in expected goals against with 45 goals against, well over one per game, third lowest in possession and finished with, on average, 10% less possession per game than the teams that found themselves in the final, lowest passes per minute.. And there were a few others. So that's one side – the other bits come in our organization: Last in the league in progressive passes per 90, seventh in the league on passes to the final third. Chatting to ownership, we felt we didn't really have an identity and being counter-attacking and things like that is fine -- we have athletic players, we can do that -- But I think the best teams in this league, dominate the ball, dominate the game. When I look at us versus Forge FC or a Cavalry FC, there was just so much that I felt we could improve on. It was a challenging year last year with very little in pre-season but others who adapted to it. So we've just got to always strive for more. We just really wanted to change, to be honest. CanPL.ca: Talk about the process and hiring Martin -- there was some international interest there -- what went into that? McNab: When you announce you're going to make a change, obviously there's an influx of interest. I wanted to make a real point of not saying no to anyone, just on a name, as we waited for a full resume. If people were willing to put their ideas forward, I was going to try and make the effort to read over any presentations, any materials that they prepared. If you've got a lot of very talented football minds doing analysis on your team, there might be something in there that they produce that you've not seen. We went through it all from that initial batch of resumes, presentations, everything else, and then spend in the region of 25 to 30 hours interviewing candidates, really getting their feelings on the roster and answering some core questions; looking at our strengths and who they feel will be key for 2022, our weaknesses and how they would address them, their general philosophy and ambitions as a coach. With Martin, there was actually the opportunity to conduct that in person as he was he was down in Brooklyn, seeing his brother. It was a good opportunity for him at the end of his season to actually formally go through that and present it. Martin was someone that was really high on my list. I remember first meeting him after the 2019 Finals -- what struck me was even in that moment, just after a final he had lost, he gave me a really succinct tactical summary of where they hadn't got things right and whether it was a game plan that they hadn't executed, or whether it was adjustments that Forge made that caught them out that they didn't react to. He had a real strong gut technical feeling that there was something that they should have done. I was just impressed by that. The only candidate that wasn't an applicant that I immediately went and sought out was Martin. A quick phone call to Ian Allison [President] at Cavalry and then another one very quickly to Tommy [Wheeldon Jr.. head coach] and, from there, we fast forward and Martin was able to meet up with me for an hour and a half walk here in New York. Caught up with him again that afternoon for his formal presentation which was meant to be like 75 minutes in a big old conference room, so we were miles apart from each other, but that's 75 minutes went on two and a half hours as it was just great -- really, really detailed -- and then that evening, we just because we're all in town, went out to dinner again in Manhattan. To be honest, the thing with all of this that just shone through was his enthusiasm to work with this squad, and how excited he was how dynamic players like Cedric Toussaint and Isaiah Johnston were, how technical someone Noah Verhoeven is -- he's obviously got history with Niko Giantsopoulos and Dom Zator. It was very simple. It was all worked out very quickly. There was one really nice moment in it all -- probably about 20 minutes before I rang Martin to offer him the job I was walking from my son's school and bumped into Steve as he was walking back from morning shootaround. I stopped him and said, "I'm actually about to make a phone call in the next 15 minutes to your brother to become York United's new head coach." It was quite serendipitous. CanPL.ca: Why Martin Nash specifically for this group of players because this group is obviously very special, very young and with the international players etc.? McNab: The age obviously comes into it, right? We know what we're sitting on as potential for this group. I genuinely believe we have a spectacular core – every single player has the ability to be the absolute best in their position in the league. The plan from Martin for each player was impressive. What each player needs to work on was again, succinct, focused, and was something that you could imagine the players listening to and having very clear direction where they need and want to go to progress to creating a winning team. Just when you add all that together, it felt very right for us as a club and when you feel you've got the right guy. CanPL.ca: What else can you tell us about his presentation? McNab: Something that really stood out was some of the players he focused on as key for us for next year. It was, ‘here's what we need to do to get better in defending as a team, what we need to do better in possession and controlling tempo, what we need to do in set-pieces’ -- everything had an action plan next to it. He focused on creating habits and principles that we can take forward. There was also a pragmatism with his philosophy and things there, too. We're not Manchester City where we have an academy with multiple teams in each age group. We have to be a little bit more pragmatic and it's always been about the best available and good technical players with great footballing fundamentals, who've got tactical flexibility. So him understanding and grasping that, as we see it in how we compose rosters, sees this player might be the best pure right back in his position, but if he can just play right back, that might not be what we need because we're carrying a 23-man roster. If it's not him, and for whatever reason he's got a knock or we've got something else, we need to have someone else instead of completely changing systems. He understood, because he's lived it for three years, just how much of like a sort of a dynamic and shifting jigsaw puzzle CPL rosters can sometimes be CanPL.ca: What specifically about Martin's time at Cavalry, as you see it now, was important to you when you're trying to hire him? McNab: The set pieces, when I look at how many times in 2019 and 2020 they managed to create movement and chances -- that was one of his core strengths. We maybe didn't do that enough this year. Then there is their press, and their high press, and the way they've used forwards to set traps over the last couple of years. What they did with that meant that they were able to win the ball higher up. They also they've seen improvement over the three years in their average distance to goal -- they are taking more shots from closer to the goal on average and that's important for me because we've been pretty poor on that since inception in the league. We tend to have one of the furthest distances from goal for each shot on average and that is the contributing factor in why we have a really good volume of shots that we get off. We could actually be better at recycling the ball and playing a pattern in the final third to create higher probability expected goals, higher probability chances. CanPL.ca: Is there anything you wanted to add, maybe specifically to the fans? McNab: This is a big moment for our club because I truly believe we have the guy that's going to drive us forward. We have the guy who has a plan, so far we have a great working relationship with him, and we share a lot of the same ideas on how we're going to get there and the same excitement about the group that we have representing us. It's a really, really good mix all-in and we just want everyone to get on board and join us. I really see a great future for the club with Martin in charge on the playing side, and just everything else that's going on around the club in the last couple years. It's very exciting.