The Wanderers Recap: Bullying the Bullies
The Halifax Wanderers have no natural rivals in the Canadian Premier League. There isn’t a team geographically close enough, nor are there conferences to drive standings-based rivalry. Some people suggest a rivalry between the Wanderers and Atletico Ottawa, but in my eyes, it seems that it is between the fans, not the players.
On the field, the real rivalry for the Wanderers is with York United. Seemingly every match between the two clubs has at least one card for dissent, fighting, or an incident that leaves the opposing fanbases fuming. This match solidifies this rivalry, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there isn’t more bad blood shed next time the two clubs meet.
After a big weekend of Canadian Premier League games, York United and the HFX Wanderers knew that they needed to win to retain their positions in the standings after Atletico Ottawa’s win over Cavalry FC. While the two teams have a similar number of points, their mentalities are starkly different. York is seen as needing to win immediately. Otherwise, there will be wholesale changes on the management levels, whereas, for the Wanderers, the organization wants to see steady improvement as they give Patrice Gheisar time to mould his team into a championship caliber squad.
That wasn’t apparent on the pitch, as the Wanderers showed more desire, fight, and calmness under pressure from the first kick of the ball. While the first goal for the Wanderers didn’t come until the 45th minute, the only real chances that the Wanderers gave up were cheap free kicks (albeit in dangerous spots), whereas the Wanderers were creating open-play chances by pressing hard, winning second balls, and moving through their lines with efficiency and vigour.
Once that goal went in, the game went on autopilot for the Wanderers. They were cool in possession, took their opportunities to press forward when available, and allowed York to continue being disconnected in midfield. This culminated with Joao Morelli scoring his first goal since that devastating knee injury 15 months ago in the 61st minute.
This goal, created by lackadaisical passing from York and then an excellent first-touch pass from Callum Watson, highlighted the difference between the two teams. Sure, the Wanderers missed a few key chances they should have scored, but the difference was that they continued to press even after taking the lead. It may sound cliche, but the HFX players wanted to win more than York.
While I try not to bring attention to bad behaviour, the end of the game got chippy, with Matthew Baldisimo dangerously challenging Joao Morelli, which earned him a straight red. Thankfully nobody was injured during the play and the ensuing fight. Baldisimo can expect a long suspension which only compounds York United’s selection issues.
Typically in these game recaps, I talk about the standout performers, but in this edition, I think it would be valuable to mention some of the HFX players who have grown over the season and have been vital to the success of the club, even if their performances go under the radar.
The first player I want to mention is Cale Loughrey. At the beginning of the season, there was quite a bit of chatter about who would partner with Dan Nimick at centre-back. Well, halfway through the season, Doneil Henry might have trouble taking away Loughrey’s starting spot. Cale has improved week over week, and sure, he still has moments where he looks like a bull in a china shop, but in the past few weeks his composure, footwork, and organization have taken huge leaps forward. He might not get as much hype as Dan Nimick, but he has impressed me a lot this season, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he became a leader on the team in the coming seasons.
The second player I want to mention is Yann Fillion. Does he make mistakes? Sometimes. Did he take a bit of time to instill confidence in the Wanderers faithful? Definitely. Has he grown into the season and been a crucial upgrade to the type of goalkeeper on the HFX roster? Absolutely. This upgrade comes down to playing style. Much like many modern football coaches, Patrice Gheisar wants a goalkeeper who can play with the ball at their feet. Christian Oxner and Kieran Baskett, to a lesser extent, did not excel at that part of the game. On the other hand, Fillion is exceptional for a goalie at this level. He knows when to play it and when to clear it. Not having this ability is what leads to errors and broken play goals. This nuanced difference is something that won’t show up on the stat sheet, but it will show up in the win column.
After the Wanderers’ win against York United, they have moved up into fourth place. Which, if the results held, would give the Wanderers a first-round, home playoff game (which the city so desperately craves). Outside of this fourth-place spot, they are only four points off of a tie for first place. Confidence will be high for this Wanderers squad after getting their first away win of the season, and the additions of Joao Morelli and Doneil Henry bring added quality and leadership into the squad. Don’t be surprised if the Wanderers make a late-season title run.
There are two big milestones to cover. The first comes for Joao Morelli, who scored his first of the season but also now equals Akeem Garcia for most goals and goal contributions in HFX Wanderers history (21 goals and 22 G/Cont, respectively).
The second milestone is for Yann Fillion, who keeps climbing up the goalkeeping record books for the Wanderers. With that win, he is now tied for second all-time in goalkeeper wins with 6. While not a milestone or record-breaking performance, he also recorded his fourth clean sheet and second in a row. Fillion will need 12 more wins to catch Christian Oxner for the wins record.
Header Image Photo Credit: John Jacques