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York9 FC looks to soak in the sun ahead of frosty reception in Hamilton
Canadian Premier League

It’s been a long, cold winter for those of us who have spent all of it in Canada.

Thankfully, April has brought with it some warmer days, but a quick Google search suggests that’s nothing compared to the 30-degree sunshine that York9 FC and the rest of the Canadian Premier League’s clubs are enjoying down in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.

“It’s nice to get some sun on the face for the players,” York9 coach Jimmy Brennan told CanPL.ca. “It does kind of rejuvenate you a bit after being indoors for so long.”

This pre-season has indeed been a long one – midfielder Manny Aparicio reckons it’s already been longer than any he’s experienced in his career – and so a change in environs is a welcome novelty for the Nine Stripes, who spent March under the roof of the Ontario Soccer Centre.

Caribbean destination aside, though, this trip is no vacation for any CPL team. This is where York9’s players are expecting to take their training up a notch in anticipation of the season opener against Forge FC on April 27 at Tim Hortons Field.

In a way, all they’ve been doing previously has been focused on getting their fitness up before they nail down the details these next few weeks.

Y9's Simon Adjei (L) and head coach Jimmy Brennan (R) in training. (Photo: Nora Stankovic/CPL).

Y9’s Simon Adjei (L) and head coach Jimmy Brennan (R) in training. (Photo: Nora Stankovic/CPL).

“We want to maximize as much field time as we can,” said midfielder Joseph Di Chiara. “We’re only down there ten days; the month we were (in York Region) we wanted to get into full stride so while we’re down there we won’t waste any time.”

This would also, in a way, count as York9’s first away trip. That’s an exciting prospect for most players, who are relishing this chance to get to know each other a little better.

“You’re in an intimate setting where every day you’re working with your teammates,” said Brennan, who’s seen his share of team road trips in his days. “You start creating bonds where you really get to understand one another.”

“When you’re training (at home),” added Aparicio, “It’s not the same as spending 24 hours for 10 days straight where you’re eating together. You do everything together.”

Unto the breach together, or something like that.

The Nine Stripes expect to emerge from this trip as a well-oiled big green machine after taking on some local competition in exhibition matches. And that word – competition – is not used lightly here; the York9 players and coaches predict that their Dominican opponents will be looking to impress.

York9 took on Inter RD on Sunday, and they’ll be getting another couple of matches under their belt before coming home.

“They’re probably looking at the CPL, and saying that would be amazing to get into,” Aparicio said of the Dominican selects that form their opposition. “I can see them coming out hard and being competitive, to maybe make a mark for themselves, which will be amazing for us because that’s the best type of rival you can get.”

York9 FC vs. Inter RD.
York9 FC vs. Inter RD.

Brennan is also looking forward to seeing what the Dominican clubs have to offer. He’s seen a list of their opponents, and he’s impressed. He’d quite like to see a few of them in action, because who knows – maybe some of them are indeed looking at the CPL, as Aparicio suggests.

Ultimately, though, there’s no time to lose for York9. Once they return home, they’ll have less than a fortnight until gameday against Forge FC.

When exactly the focus shifts specifically to that one game varies from player to player. For Aparicio, it’s been at the back of his mind since the date was announced, and he’s hoping to sneak a few glances at Forge in training down in the Dominican, if he can.

Brennan suggests that he’ll try and turn his squad’s attention directly to the immediate task at hand about a week before, but everything they’ve done so far should translate into preparation for winning that match.

That watershed moment at the end of April looms ever larger as the date approaches, and the Nine Stripes can now see Tim Hortons Field on the figurative horizon. The trick, though, is to stay focused.

“When you look at it like that the task seems monumental, but my theory is you don’t look too far ahead,” said Di Chiara.

“You try to improve every day. Then eventually, when that day comes, you’re in full flight. If you look at the big picture and think, ‘wow,’ you maybe get a little overwhelmed.”

Only three weeks left in preseason.