The Wanderers Recap: Does One Loss Lose the War?
The HFX Wanderers’ turnaround after an abysmal season in 2022 has been well documented. While there has been a huge improvement, this team is not invincible and is in the throes of a playoff race.
This Labour Day game against York United felt like a critical match that would show whether this team could get over the finish line, and after their performance against an inconsistent York team, the Wanderers might be destined for a playoff spot but lack the silverware they so desperately crave in the first season under Patrice Gheisar. Let me explain why:
The HFX Wanderers came out of the gates clearly intending to control the ball and keep York United penned into their own half. Mo Omar and Callum Watson combined well in midfield, creating many half-counter attacks, freeing up Massimo Ferrin and Joao Morelli to run at the York backline. Run at them they did, as they created chances, but none of them challenged Adisa De Rosario (who has played a single match for the Wanderers) until TFC loanee Jordan Perruzza latched onto a headed through ball from Massimo Ferrin and slyly slipped it between the sprawling leagues of the 18-year-old goalkeeper.
For Perruzza, this was his first Canadian Premier League goal. His half-season loan spell had an underwhelming start, as he had missed quite a few legitimate chances in his prior games. With lofty expectations, Perruzza needs to find some serious form in the last six regular season games if he wants to impress Toronto FC. This goal showed that he has the pace, vision and technical skills to score goals; now, he needs to do it more often.
The Wanderers didn’t just sit back and defend, as they continued to exploit York United’s less than compact defensive line as Joao Morelli bared down on the younger of the De Rosario brothers, but he was unable to finish with an uncharacteristically poor strike at goal. At this point, the Wanderers felt that the game was in hand, and even with Morelli’s miss, the second goal would come sooner rather than later.
Unfortunately, the curse of complacency bit the Wanderers once again, showing that it still lurks deep inside the temporary Wanderers Grounds. In the dying moments of the second half, Tass Mourdoukoutas swung in a hopeful cross that was just out of the range of Doneil Henry’s head. The ball took a hard forward skip, placing Dan Nimick out of position and allowing Austin Ricci to head the ball down and away from Yann Fillion. Half-time, Wanderers one, York United one. The collective air sucked out of the stadium after a momentary blip in concentration.
As a Wanderers fan, it was hard not to get flashbacks to last season, where every goal against felt like a fatal blow. While that hasn’t been the case for much of this season, Ricci’s goal turned out to be catastrophic, as the Wanderers looked dejected coming out of the dressing room and eventually conceded a goal to Roger Thompson, the most unlikely of York goalscorers.
While the Wanderers had ample time to come back from the deficit, when the second goal went in, the flashbacks from 2022 became more vivid and tangible, as all of the Wanderers’ attacks lacked the confidence that Gheisar built meticulously over this gruelling season.
It will be telling how they respond against Pacific in the coming days as the season hangs in the balance. Has Patrice built enough resilience in the squad to bounce back after such a demoralizing loss? Or will they show their inexperience and falter under the ever-intensifying pressure of the playoff push?
As the weekend of Canadian Premier League matches comes to a close, the standings look just as murky, and won’t really take their final form until the final matchday. The Wanderers sit in sixth place, tied on points with both York United and Atletico Ottawa, albeit with a game in hand over York United. For the Wanderers, a title push seems all but over, as they are now seven points back with six games remaining. Seemingly, the regular season title will go to either Pacific, Forge, or Cavalry.
The Wanderers are in a war right now. They have six more battles, and they have just lost their first one. As with most wars, you can endure minor wounds, but time will tell if the loss to York festers and turns into a fatal blow.
Header Image Photo Credit: Trevor MacMillan / Halifax Wanderers