Morelli Penalty Helps Halifax To Three Points In Season Opener
The Halifax Wanderers won the opening match of the 2022 Canadian Premier League season through a Joao Morelli penalty kick.
York United hosted the east coast side during a rainy night at York Lions Stadium, with fans taking in a match that saw a dominant first half by the Wanderers give way to a second half that featured two struck posts and a red card.
The visitors looked the stronger side in the first half, pushing forward routinely and probing frequent through the left flank, where new recruit full-back Zachary Fernandez linked up well with Cory Bent. The duo caused all sorts of problems for a Nine Stripes defense that did well to limit shots at the end of several runs out left.
“When you find that you’re in a good moment in certain parts of the park, it’s important that you go there as much as you can until they figure out, eh?” said Hart of the left flank.
The first half would fizzle out with each side contributing a single shot on target apiece, though an early cross from the Wanderers actually pinged off the crossbar above Niko Giantsopoulos.
The Wanderers would take the lead early into the second half after Nine Stripes Captain Roger Thompson brought down Cory Bent in the box, with Brazilian Joao Morelli – who won the golden boot and league MVP awards after a fourteen-goal haul last year- stepping up to take the penalty.
He sent Giantsopoulos the wrong way, bagging the first goal of the campaign:
The 26-year-old operated in a false nine role throughout the game that will likely remain in place until Akeem Garcia returns from injury, with the Brazilian covering plenty of ground around the pitch in what was ultimately a man of the match performance. For his part, York United gaffer Martin Nash conceded that it was a fair penalty.
“You hope over the season the penalties balance themselves out. We had a shout for two, which we still feel are penalties looking at the replays back,” said Nash, “it’s not always easy for referees either.”
The second half would see York United find its attacking impetus: the Nine Stripes lobbed in no less than 19 crosses to a Halifax back line that was kept busy.
The Nine Stripes will feel hard done by to walk away without an equalizer after Canada U-20 selection Lowell Wright struck the post, with late game substitute Diyaeddine Abzi also proving to be a bright spark who missed a tap-in not long after coming on, before which he had his own penalty shout, too.
York United gaffer Martin Nash could be heard yelling for Zator to push forward as the clock wound down, though an equalizer wouldn’t be coming for the home side.
“They were raining in balls on us,” admitted Stephen Hart post-game, “we didn’t have the biggest squad out there but I thought we dealt with it well and managed to hold on for the win.”
The Wanderers nearly doubled the lead late into the second half after late preseason pickup Ryan Robinson pinged one off the post, but the final drama would come after Joao Morelli took on Mateo Hernandez in a one-on-one just before the final whistle. The Brazilian played the ball into Mateo’s arm in what was deemed an intentional handball as the last man back, with referee Yusri Rudolf giving the Argentine his marching orders during his debut match.
In an oddball bit of history, this marks the second time in four seasons that the Nine Stripes saw a player red carded on their debut during a season opener: former captain Manny Aparicio was also sent off in the league’s inaugural match against Forge FC.
Despite a flurry of opportunities in the closing 45, York United wouldn’t be able to reflect the effort on the scoreboard and would succumb to a 0-1 home. The near-miss comeback echoed last year’s season opener for them, too – though Nash had been on the opposite side of that one.
“I thought personally in the second half we were the better team,” reflected Nash, “I felt we were creating chances and doing a lot of good things, but just couldn’t buy a goal. I think the guys that came on made a difference, too.”
The opening weekend of the 2022 Canadian Premier League season will resume on Saturday with Atletico Ottawa hosting Cavalry FC, before Sunday sees a double header: FC Edmonton will host Valour FC, with Pacific FC hosting Forge FC in a recreation of last year’s final.
The Wanderers are set to face another Ontario-based opponent in Atletico Ottawa next weekend, whilst York United will travel to play underdog side FC Edmonton – a match in which team captain Roger Thompson says they’ll need to collect points in ahead of tough match against Cavalry.