The HFX Wanderers FC lineup had a markedly different look to it on Wednesday night against FC Edmonton.
Coach Stephen Hart, in a departure from the prior three Island Games contests, opted to start four attackers — Akeem Garcia, João Morelli, Alex Marshall, and Alessandro Riggi — across the front, leaving out Louis Béland-Goyette in midfield. Obviously, it worked out; the Wanderers downed the Eddies 3-1, punishing them repeatedly on the counter-attack with pace and precise through-balls.
The attackers, finally meshing and given license to play high-octane football, were much more in sync than they’d ever been in PEI.
“The connection is getting better day by day,” Morelli said of his fellow attackers. “It just feels natural, they’re very good footballers. When I have the ball I have three good options, and so at least one of them, I know I can get a good pass. The running, it feels like we’ve played a long time together.”
The Brazilian, who scored twice against FCE, played in his preferred No. 10 position for the first time since joining the Wanderers. Set loose in a position that makes him comfortable, his quality was on display throughout the night as he generated four shots for himself and provided another two key passes.
“We’re still trying to feel out this team and get many attacking players in positions on the field at the same time,” Hart explained about his lineup choices. “We’re still sort of trying to find roles and put players in certain positions, so I just thought this game would be a good game for (Morelli) to play in the 10, and let’s see what happens.”
He added, on Béland-Goyette starting the game from the sidelines: “Louis being on the bench was more me thinking that the midfielders need to get a bit of rest, and I thought okay, we’ll start without Louis and if we need him we can always bring him on, and if we don’t, he gets as much rest as possible. But the more important thing is the working relationship between all the four front runners and the supporting midfielders.”
Hart also had special praise for fullbacks Alex De Carolis and Chrisnovic N’Sa, both of whom he said excelled with their forward passes once they’d figured out the windy conditions and wet turf on Wednesday.
Of course, there was one particular moment in the match that seemed to galvanize HFX before their attacking onslaught. About 25 minutes in, the Eddies won themselves a penalty, and looked likely to be taking an early lead.
Christian Oxner, though — in his first start for the Wanderers this year, having recovered from injury — read Tomi Ameobi’s approach and made the save.
Hart recalled his annoyance at conceding the penalty in the first place, and he revealed that a brief moment with goalkeeping coach Jan-Michael Williams helped him through the play.
“Christian has trained well, he showed me that he was feeling good. It’s important for him to get the games, just like any of the other players,” Hart said. “We got the penalty and actually Jan said to me on the sideline, ‘Don’t worry, he’s got this,’ because he realized I was upset.”
Oxner did, in fact, have it.
Now, the Wanderers are back into the CPL’s top four with three games left to play in PEI. With the attack waking up in a major way against Edmonton, they’ll be hoping to continue their improvement when the weekend’s clash with York9 FC rolls around.