2021 Canadian Championship -- Preliminary Round York United FC vs. Master's FA August 21, 2021 at 3:00 pm ET York Lions Stadium in Toronto, Ontario Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca // Tickets available here
Perhaps the most local Canadian Championship derby yet will come to York Lions Stadium on Saturday, as League1 Ontario outfit Master's Futbol Academy meets Canadian Premier League foe York United in the first-ever meeting between an Ontarian CPL side and a L1O club. These two Greater Toronto Area teams face off in this single-elimination knockout tie to begin their Voyageurs' Cup journey, with an incredible carrot awaiting the winner: a quarterfinal matchup with MLS's Toronto FC. Before either side can dream of that stage, though, they have to get through what's sure to be a fiery affair at the north end of the city. York's previous campaign in the Canadian Championship was a memorable one; they won their first two home-and-away ties (against PLSQ's AS Blainville followed by the CPL's FC Edmonton), before taking the then-Montreal Impact (now CF Montreal) right to the wire in a 3-2 aggregate loss for the Nine Stripes. The night Montreal came to York Lions Stadium was surely one of the most magical spectacles of that 2019 season, with two quick goals after the 80th minute giving York a brief lead before Montreal equalized with a stoppage time penalty. In recent matches, York have seemingly been rounding into form, undefeated in their last three (drawing 1-1 with Atlético Ottawa away from home midweek) Master's, meanwhile, will be making their debut in this competition. They won the 2019 League1 Ontario championship -- beating FC London 4-1 in the final -- to qualify for the 2020 tournament, but with COVID-19 affecting that year's competition and L1O season, Master's were automatically given a spot in this year's Canadian Championship. The Saints, as they're known, have developed into one of the strongest programs in L1O in recent years, under the guidance of technical director Junior Groves and head coach Rick Titus. They have quite an experienced squad, compared to some of the younger sides in their league, which means they might be well up for a knockout match with small margins -- certainly, they showed they were in their three-round run to the 2019 League1 Final. Among the key players for Master's this year are 34-year-old fullback Jaime Peters (who has 11 senior caps for Canada, plus six years' experience in the English Championship with Ipswich Town), former NCAA standout forward Terrell Spencer, and defender Adam Czerkawski (a member of Team Ontario for the 2019 CPL U-21 Showcase match), plus a whole host of other veterans. Former Jamaica international Akeem Priestley is also on the roster, but he has yet to see the pitch in 2021. York gaffer Jimmy Brennan revealed that his side went to watch Master's play this week to do a little scouting, but there's plenty of mystery. "They're an athletic side, they've got good size. We'll see how we manage them," he said. Brennan added, on a broader level, that this competition is an extremely important one to him. As a player, he won the trophy in 2009 with Toronto FC, and he'd love to get another crack at it. "I think it's amazing just to see how far along the (Canadian Championship) has come with all these teams in it, and it'll only get bigger and bigger," he said. "I was fortunate enough to win it as a player, and I was on the coaching staff at TFC when we won it as well, and the importance is huge. It's such a great competition, now being a head coach of York United and leading a team in this competition I think the players know how important it is. "This competition is no different from others around the world, where you have these cups where the lower leagues are always working their way up and then you're trying to take the top teams that are in the cup, so it's a great format." There's a lot on the line for both sides in this all-or-nothing cup tie, with a dream fixture the prize for the winner. Each side is sure to have plenty of friends and family on hand for this local derby; which team will be left standing at the end?
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3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Plenty of L1O familiarity: This will be the first time York coach Jimmy Brennan has played a League1 side since he took over the CPL gig, having spent several years prior working as the executive director and coach for Aurora FC. Ever since, Brennan and the rest of the Nine Stripes organization have had a keen eye on the L1O pathway, with a number of players having spent time in the league -- Max Ferrari, Isaiah Johnston, Lowell Wright, and a handful of other domestic players. As the nearest professional club to a lot of League1 sides, the chance to play against York is a good opportunity for players to show off their quality -- last time a L1O side played CPL opposition in the Canadian Championship, a number of players moved up a level (Maksym Kowal, Duran Lee, and Jarred Phillips all played in the CPL in 2020, and Alistair Johnston and Ryan Raposo now play in MLS). That's not to say players earned their move from just one game, but a chance to prove themselves against difficult opposition is always a big moment.
- York getting healthy at the right time: The return of Roger Thompson as a substitute was a very welcome sight for York on Wednesday against Atlético Ottawa. The club captain played the final 10 minutes of that game after missing several weeks with a lingering injury, and if he's nearing full health it'll be a real boon to the Nine Stripes' defence -- plus, Jordan Wilson may be able to move back into midfield. Jimmy Brennan was also pleased to see Jordan Faria take the pitch in stoppage time; the 21-year-old hadn't yet played for York due to injury, but he's a talented attacker that the club was eager to see in action. York have seen their fair share of injury troubles this year, but if they're able to lean on their depth more over a very busy few weeks coming up, they'll have a good shot at success.
- Chance of a 'cupset'? AS Blainville of PLSQ came quite close to knocking off a CPL side on Tuesday, when they fell 2-1 to HFX Wanderers FC on a 72nd-minute penalty kick to break the deadlock. Both Blainville and L1O outfit Vaughan Azzurri put up a good fight in the 2019 Canadian Championship against CPL opposition, but neither quite managed to get over the hump in their two-legged ties. That same year, we did get one "cupset" where a team managed to eliminate an opponent from a higher level -- the CPL's Cavalry FC beat the Vancouver Whitecaps over two legs on their magical run to the semifinal. This year, the possibility of an upset feels more real in so many of these ties; with just one leg rather than two, the margins are much slimmer, and any mistake could cost the "bigger" club the game -- a defensive error, a penalty, or even just one real moment of quality from the opposition. Brennan said it's definitely important not to take the opponent lightly: "It's always difficult, even in the first year when we played Blainville, it's a tough match. Blainville played Halifax the other day, it was a difficult one. They're one-off matches, and you've got to make sure you prepare and manage these games properly because they're always difficult." Aside from Cavalry, the only other real shock we've seen in the Canadian Championship was probably the NASL-era Whitecaps' defeat of new MLS side Toronto FC to hand Montreal the Voyageurs' Cup. Is this the year we see another one?
First meeting between these teams.
First meeting between these teams.