May 20, 2024
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Pacific FC Reon Moore Halifax Wanderers Julian Dunn

The Wanderers Recap: Season 6 Premiere

By on April 14, 2024 0 931 Views

As always with the start of a new season, there is renewed optimism. For the HFX Wanderers, after a club-record season and retaining all of their core players, many people are expecting the club to challenge for some silverware this season. While I am one of the more optimistic Wanderers fans, I try to deal in realism: it is important to remember that this is only year two of the Patrice Gheisar project, while it is year six for Bobby Smyrniotis and Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

With that out of the way, let’s take an optimistic yet realistic review on Halifax’s first game of the 2024 Canadian Premier League Season.

Game Recap:

With last season ending in heartbreaking fashion, a sour taste lingered from a match that could have gone either way depending on a single bounce of the ball. For those unaware or having forgotten, Pacific FC knocked the Wanderers out of the playoffs last season. Now they meet again at the start of a brand new season, albeit on the opposite end of the country and in very different weather conditions.

Pacific had an off-season to forget as they lost Manny Aparicio and Amer Didic. In contrast, the Wanderers retained their young and promising core while adding veteran depth in all the right places. Regarding momentum, Halifax should have been the favourite to win this game. But, just like that day in October, fate did not want to cooperate.

Halifax Wanderers Andre Rampersad
Photo Credit: Canadian Premier League

The Wanderers started hot, finding space in behind and controlling the midfield. Sure, there were no clear-cut chances, but there were attempts that you could call a little more than a half chance. The ball was moving quickly and cleanly, and the press was ruthless when out of possession. Much of this is probably due to the new formation that Patrice Gheisar is trying out (I am calling it a 3-4-2-1, but I may be complicating things). In this formation, there are so many available runners and pressers that, in the right situation, there can even be overlapping runs made by centre-backs (we saw this a few times with Dan Nimick and Cale Loughrey).

Much like the start of last season, this high level of play was executed in spurts, and players got caught out of position once or twice, leading to a Pacific FC penalty shot and resulting goal. In a transitional moment, Reon Moore got behind Julian Dunn (who, outside of this moment, I thought played quite well in his first match back in Canada) and got taken out by a lunging Dunn, who did everything he could to get to the ball but found his trailing leg clip Moore.

Ayman Sellouf would step up and calmly slot it past Yann Fillion, who hadn’t had many moments where he was called into action up to that point.

So, 35 or so minutes into the game, on the road after multiple weeks of travel, how does the team respond to this adversity? Sure, it is match one, but the mentality is important. If Patrice Gheisar’s philosophy is to be believed, he wants a team that operates with clarity, aggression, and relentless energy. This is the first roadblock, and how they work to move past it shows exactly what type of hearts are underneath the Wanderer’s crest.

For some, the Wanderers wouldn’t end up doing enough as they couldn’t find a tying goal, but if you ask me, judging a performance purely on the final scoreline can be deeply misleading. After Pacific took the lead, the team seemed to snap out of their fog and applied consistent pressure. Their best chance came in the 59th minute as USL veteran Christian Volesky delicately set up Zach Fernandez in the box, but Emil Gazdov was able to get down in time to make the save. Much like the first half, the Wanderers would get a few more half chances after the Fernandez effort, none of which led to anything significant, and leave Starlight Stadium with zero points.

As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see how the formation evolves. I believe Dan Nimick is best suited to playing in the centre of the defence, and being the right centre-back in a back three did not seem to highlight his strengths. He is physically so dominant with his strength that being in all that open space leaves him relying on his pace (which is by no means slow) to defend, whereas, in the centre he can physically impose his will on opposing players. As with anything that Dan Nimick has done in a Wanderers shirt, he could most definitely excel in that position; this is merely an observation from the first match of his sophomore season in the pros.

Standings:

Record (W-D-L): 0-0-1 (0 Points), currently tied for last place.

The Wanderers have been on a super long road trip. While acclimating to new time zones is helpful, it must be considered how difficult it is to be away from home for multiple weeks. Add in that it is the first competitive match of the season, and I am taking this result with a heavy grain of salt.

As I mentioned above, the underlying structure and movement of the team looks stronger and more organized than it did at the start of last season, and they will find results. The Wanderers won’t be in last place for long this season.

Milestones:

HFX Debuts/Returns: Congratulations to Julian Dunn, Ryan Telfer, Christian Volesky, and Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare (who is returning to the club after time away with York United) on suiting up for the HFX Wanderers!

Aidan Daniels is now fifth place all-time in appearances and is 12 more away from tying for fourth place (Christian Oxner with 66).

Both Aidan Daniels and Zachary Fernandez could potentially catch Akeem Garcia for the second-most appearances in club history this year (Aidan needs 23 more, and Zach needs 25 more).

Next Match:

April 18th against Vancouver FC at 7:00PM PST in Langley, British Columbia.

Header Image Photo Credit: Canadian Premier League

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