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Still Perched Atop The Table: Vancouver FC vs HFX Wanderers Recap

By on April 19, 2024 0 673 Views

The Eagles have truly landed!

On Thursday evening, Vancouver FC made it back-to-back home wins to start the season as they defeated a lackluster HFX Wanderers side 2-0 in Langley.

Eagles Earned Their Luck

In contrast to last week, Vancouver FC didn’t start this match slow: Ben Fisk got a shot off early to really set the tone for the Eagles, and despite HFX growing more into it after the opening stages, it was Vancouver FC that got the lead in the 17th minute. What looked like a simple corner to defend for HFX turned into a nightmare as a mix-up between Jeremy Gagnon-Lapara and Yan Fillion allowed Rocco Romeo to tap-in his first ever club goal for the Eagles.

While it was a fortuitous goal, Vancouver FC did not take their gas off the pedal, continuing to press HFX to make mistakes and force them to play long where their defenders could deal with it better. Their intensity allowed them to capitalize on a mistake in the 52nd minute, with Moses Dyer latching onto an uncharacteristicly bad touch by Dan Nimick, dancing through on goal and having his reflected-off-the-post shot tapped in by Alejandro Diaz.

One could say the rebound bouncing to Wero was a little lucky, but Vancouver FC worked hard to earn that luck. Up until that point, there was really only one team that was attacking with any danger, and that was the Eagles.

“If you look at that first goal, the delivery of the first ball is very, very good,” described Afshin on his team’s goals. “It’s difficult for them to clear it and then you have numbers in the right positions. Then you score the second goal, and even though it was a mistake, it came from a collective pressure on the ball and what Moses [Dyer] did… I don’t think it was lucky, but more the skill of how he took that mistake and created that opening.”

Whether it was more luck or skill, didn’t really matter. It was the mentality and maturity of this new-look Vancouver FC squad that earned them the win against HFX, and what keeps them at the top of the table.

Vancouver FC Goal
Photo Credit: Beau Chevalier

This is the Real ‘Vancouver FC’

When asked about what the difference was between last season and this season in terms of performance and structure, Afshin joked: “Better players”, he said coyly. “They always say you don’t find a bad coach with good players. It’s like as a chef, when you are cooking you need ingredients, so if you don’t have the right ingredients it’s difficult to make a nice dish.”

It might be a blunt response that puts some of the players of last season in poor light, but his team clearly have the right ingredients now: Vancouver FC are cooking. From defense to attack, the team was structured, organized, and compact. They did not allow Halifax to break between the lines with ease, forcing them to commit many players forward. They then went very direct with balls in behind, causing trouble for the Wanderers’ backline. They set out with a game-plan and, unlike the majority of last season, they committed to it for almost the entire game.

Even players that were not performing that well last season like star striker Diaz have found a new gear this season. He got two assists last game and finally managed to get his first goal for the Eagles since his second week out west last season.

“Goals are like vitamins for strikers,” explained a wise Ghotbi to media after the match. “And when they don’t score, you see players going into depression, so I think that the goals are important. I always try to take the pressure off him [Diaz], because it’s not always about how many goals you score. If you can’t score goals, defend well for the team, hold the ball, play combinations, create openings.”

If Diaz can now start scoring more goals alongside an already hungry-looking Dyer, Vancouver will have a lethal attack that can terrify any defense. After this match, it truly feels like Vancouver FC has arrived. As their motto describes, there is certainty something in the air, and it feels good.

Games Coming Thick and Fast Will Test Depth

Vancouver has little time to rest after his win as they have a Canadian Championship match against Cavalry this coming Tuesday. Here, they’ll look to improve upon last year’s first-round controversial defeat to York United. That means that Ghotbi may have to start relying on some of the other players in the team to also step up and perform, including the ones that have not been dressed in the last two games. Ghotbi named the same 18 as last week, meaning that players like James Cameron, Anthony White, and Elage Bah have yet to see the pitch at all for the Eagles.

With their ambitions high, Ghotbi admits that those players will be called upon, but that they will need to work hard for it regardless. “You know, especially with multiple competitions, I think timing is everything,” described Ghotbi on his selection methods. “It’s important for me to gauge the performances, health and form of each player, and only let the players that have earned the possibility to come on the pitch to play them.”

“But there is going to be a time when we’re going to have to use our depth, as the travel, the game loads, suspensions, and the injuries will happen. I just didn’t feel the first and second games were necessary [for that].”

It’s a fact that healthy competition breeds greatness from a group of players, but too much competition can stir the frustrations inside a camp. It’s not only what happens on the pitch that can dismantle a team after a good start, and that will be the balance that Ghotbi will need to strike in the coming weeks -especially if he wants to keep the good things rolling for the Eagles.

Header Image Photo Credit: Beau Chevalier

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