Match Analysis: HFX Wanderers FC 2-1 Atlético Ottawa

Final Score: HFX Wanderers FC 2-1 Atlético Ottawa
Goalscorers: Morelli (25′, 37′); Telfer (21′)
Game of the 2021 season: 37
CPL match: 171

Match in a minute or less

HFX Wanderers made their return to Halifax in style on Natal Day as they saw off visiting Atlético Ottawa by a 2-1 scoreline in the rain. Ottawa found the net first, with Ryan Telfer heading home a well-delivered corner kick, but the Wanderers responded quickly thanks to two first-half goals by Joao Morelli. The score at halftime would ultimately hold throughout the second 45 minutes, as the Wanderers held on to bank three crucial points at home.

Three Observations

HFX dominates in wide areas

Both of the Wanderers’ first-half goals came from Cory Bent running into space on the right wing and delivering crosses before the Ottawa backline could react or pick up their marks in the box.

With about 80% of their possession coming from the wide channels, the Wanderers — Bent and Morey Doner on the right flank, and Jake Ruby and Alessandro Riggi on the left — did well to hurt Ottawa with their pace and direct play, which has always been a staple of their best performances over the years. Ottawa didn’t seem able to handle the Wanderers’ quick forward movement down the touchlines, and as a result HFX’s wide players found acres of space.

In Bent’s leadup to the first goal, he knew exactly where to make his run off Doner’s shoulder to put himself in a position where he didn’t need to do much before sending his cross in, and in the run he made before the second goal he cleverly put the ball through an Ottawa defender’s legs to play himself in behind. His decision-making both on and off the ball was top-notch in that first half.

HFX gaffer Stephen Hart had particular praise for Bent, who was excellent on the wing: “He’s one of those players that doesn’t get the recognition, but he will do anything for the team and that’s really important. Today he got to play his favourite position, so to speak, and he looked like he enjoyed himself.”

Joao Morelli, who was the beneficiary of both of Bent’s crosses (although the second goal required some outstanding finishing work from the Brazilian) spoke very highly of the winger as well, and it seems that the Wanderers have really managed to get everyone on the same page in attack.

“This is a thing that we always practice, me pulling a bit back in the box and receiving the ball as a cutback,” Morelli said postmatch. “To be honest I looked Cory in the eyes and I realized he was going to weight that; it was a really hard finish but I’m happy to connect with that.”

Wet conditions force direct play

It’s hard to get fancy when rain is coming down on a grass pitch as hard as it was in the first half. So, both sides — HFX in particular — had to simplify things a little bit, playing direct forward passes as often as possible to move through midfield and break each other’s lines. That style probably suited the Wanderers, who have a little more pace both on and off the ball, and it showed in how much more they were able to challenge the opposing goal.

HFX’s Joao Morelli said postmatch that he’d enjoyed the wet conditions, which allowed him to be more aggressive in attack.

“It was pouring rain, it was really, really strong in the first half, but for me I like it. The game’s faster, it’s harder for defenders to play so you’re always pressing them. I enjoyed the first half more than the second, to be honest.”

The Wanderers did well to focus on basics and just get at the Ottawa defence as much as possible, and their off-ball movement was good enough to shake off markers in the box and drift into open space. Stephen Hart felt that they really settled into that attacking routine in the first half after a cagey first few minutes, where Ottawa probably looked a little more comfortable.

“I thought the opening 10, maybe 12 minutes we took too long to get ourselves, understanding what the conditions were like,” Hart said. “They were pressing us high. But once we started spreading the play a little bit quicker, getting around the corner so to speak, then we started to create chances. We also had a couple of chances through the middle due to our pressing; we just weren’t aggressive enough to get the goal. But luckily Cory adapted really well, got his crosses in, and Joao got on the end of it.”

HFX has always been very dangerous in transition and on the counter-attack, getting into the attacking third very quickly after winning the ball, and they were at their best in that respect for long stretches of this game.

New-look Ottawa attack not in sync yet

The good news for Atlético Ottawa: they were able to get Ryan Telfer, Raul Uche, and Alberto Soto into the starting 11 together for the first time. The bad news: those players are not quite on the same page yet.

With Telfer missing seven games due to the Gold Cup, Uche only joining with the squad recently, and Soto playing in just his second game for the club, it’s not surprising that the attacking chemistry is still a work in progress. The attacking quality is certainly there in all of those players, but too many times on Monday their attacking moves ended in giveaways or goal kicks because nobody was on the end of a pass or through ball. Soto, in particular, has been playing as a traditional number 10, which is a difficult position to succeed in when the attacking chemistry isn’t there yet.

Ottawa will likely not be as direct in possession a month from now, when the tactics are more fleshed out and Soto can pull the creative strings along with Telfer. They tried to force things a little on Monday, and as a result couldn’t threaten in open play — they finished with just one shot in the whole game, which was Telfer’s goal from a corner, despite having more than enough time on the ball to build attacks.

“We need more time with (Telfer) as well as the new players to establish the way we want to play,” said Ottawa assistant coach Ajay Khabra (standing in for the suspended Mista). “It’ll take some time to get the cohesion and chemistry with him and the other new guys… I think we have more than enough time.” Player of the Match

Cory Bent, HFX Wanderers FC

Playing at his preferred right wing position in this game, Bent was an incredible attacking force. He was keen to take on defenders to put himself in space, which he typically used to send in excellent crosses. Bent’s delivery into the box for both of the Wanderers’ goals was just about perfect, and he had a few exceptional through balls as well. He picked up a knock at the end of the game, but hopefully it’s nothing serious.

What’s next?

The Wanderers will remain at home after this contest, with York United paying Halifax a visit next Saturday, August 7 (2 pm ET/3 pm AT). Ottawa, meanwhile, will remain on the road, as they travel to Hamilton for a match against Forge FC on Sunday, August 8 (1 pm ET). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.