Early Impressions: Patrice Gheisar’s Reign In Halifax
Two matches in – both against Atletico Ottawa – and Halifax Wanderers fans have had two distinctively different match experiences to start the season. Here are a few of the noticeable thoughts that I have had about the team after two games. Most of these thoughts / predictions will end up being inaccurate, so please use these to embarrass me in the future.
Without further ado, what I have noticed from the first two games of the HFX Wanderers 2023 season.
Let’s start with the GK situation: throughout the past four seasons, the Wanderers have needed a bona-fide number one goalie, with multiple players taking turns holding the title of goalie one, sort of: Christian Oxner seems to have departed from the pro game, Kieran Baskett is now on the west coast with Pacific, and Yann Fillion has been brought in and is the clear number one ahead of U SPORTS draft pick Aiden Rushenas. With all of the offseason moves the Wanderers made, Yann’s signing was the one that was met with the least scrutiny while also bringing calm to worries that we would lack experience in the net.
Through two matches, however, that solidity that many expected has gone missing for Yann: that isn’t to say that he has played poorly, but he has let in four goals and hasn’t made a hugely noticeable impact. Hopefully, it is a bit of rust from a long off-season that will be shaken off shortly.
Next, we move to a backline that seemed settled at the beginning of the offseason. But, as the first game of the season loomed and the starting line-ups were released, an unfamiliar face was listed in the centre of the defense. That name was Daniel Nimick, a Happy Valley – Goose Bay-born, British-raised, ex-MLS SuperDraft pick. Nimick, who the Vancouver Whitecaps drafted out of Western Michigan, is a player who somehow flew under the radar, despite his clear pedigree.
He started at the Leeds United Academy, went to Harrogate Town, and then won the MAC Player of The Year award in his final season for the Broncos.
Through two games, it is clear that he is an elite modern centreback at the CPL level. He has great size, strength, footwork, passing range and an eye for goal that is rare among defenders at this level. It would be quite surprising if he didn’t end up as the main centreback with Mo Omar, Cristian Campagna, and Cale Loughrey sharing time as his partner to help anchor the line.
I don’t want to compare the two, but I believe Daniel Nimick will have a more significant impact in defence than Peter Schaale did for the Wanderers in 2019. He has a bright future and could even be the first player that moves from the Wanderers to Europe.
Riley Ferrazzo is the next CPL full-back that will grab the attention of many. He is almost uncontainable, as his role is wildly fluid. Throughout a match, you can see him pop up as a full-back, inverted winger, defensive midfielder, and somehow be on both sides of the pitch. His engine is tuned for one speed setting – ‘go’. Whether he ends up playing in the middle of the park as a holding midfielder, further forward as a wingback, or stays as a full-back is up for debate, but you don’t find players with motors like his very often, and with professional experience we can expect his game to develop rapidly.
Another massive plus for Ferrazzo is that it helps give Gheisar some credibility in the early months of his tenure. A player that Gheisar gambled on that is paying off from the jump. That is a huge foundational block which has been set.
League 1 Talent:
Gareth Wheeler immediately questioned whether or not a team with plenty of L1O talent could compete at the CPL level. While it is still shockingly early in the season to make this claim, they can make a positive impact: Massimo Ferrin has shown flashes of brilliance, like his most recent free-kick goal against ATO:
Kosi Nwafornso has gotten into dangerous areas and looks like he’ll be able to physically hold his own. And, well, Riley Ferrazzo earned an entire section of this article.
Look for these talents and other ex-L1O players around the league to blossom as they raise their level and experience professional football.
When Gheisar was hired, he talked heartily about how he only knew one way of managing: attacking front-foot football. And so far, that has been the truth. Some of this is evident through possession stats as well as total chances created, but it is more evident because of the shapes the Wanderers are taking up in possession. Whether it be the inverted full-backs adding bodies to the midfield or how far the midfielders are pushing up the field when in transition.
‘We’re Going To Commit Players To Attack’: What Gheisar Is Bringing To Halifax
In comparison to Hart-Ball, you had players anchored to their positions and using this form to provide defensive solidity. While it provided a decent defensive record, it relied on individual moments of brilliance (or penalties) to create goals, whereas Gheisar is trying to out-create the opponents.
What To Look Forward To:
Two matches in and there is a mix of optimism and worry: there is a clear, exciting tactical identity for the first time in Wanderers’ history. But whether this is the right identity, squad, and leader will be questioned throughout the season. As it has been four relatively barren years for the Wanderers faithful, you need to wonder how long the fans will stay loyal to a team if it continually underperforms. We will see how the tactical identity evolves over the next few game-heavy months and if Gheisar-ball can lead the Wanderers to the promised land.
Header Image Photo Credit: Canadian Premier League