Final Score: HFX Wanderers FC 2-1 Atlético Ottawa
Goalscorers: Morelli 45+3′ (PK), 54′; Telfer 68′
Game of the 2021 season: 78
CPL match: 213
Match in a minute or less
Joao Morelli has done it again.
HFX Wanderers’ brightest light in 2021 showed off his quality once more on Wednesday as the Haligonians beat Atlético Ottawa for the third time this season, 2-1. Morelli scored the Wanderers’ first goal just before halftime with a penalty kick, before following it up just after the break with a sensational strike from distance. Ryan Telfer would add a goal for Ottawa in the 68th minute as they attempted to mount a comeback — and they certainly did make things interesting — but HFX held firm to hang on for the win.
Record-breaker Morelli remains an Atlético Ottawa killer
What more can be said about the season Joao Morelli is putting together in Halifax?
The magical Brazilian attacker has been far and away the Wanderers’ best and most valuable player in 2021 so far, and he remained so on Wednesday with yet another brace. With 14 goals now on the season, Morelli surpassed Tristan Borges’ 2019 benchmark of 13 with his pair in this match.
As a team, the Wanderers have scored 21 goals so far — just seven of them off the boot of a player other than Morelli. He’s scored eight of HFX’s nine total goals against Atlético Ottawa this year, too. With eight games still to play after this one, Morelli could very well add a handful more to his total in this extraordinary season he’s having.
Of course, one of Morelli’s two goals on Wednesday came from the penalty spot — an opportunity which Cory Bent won for him — but his second was a tremendous finish from outside of the box. Stephen Hart has been calling out for his other attacking players to start contributing in the goalscoring department and get Morelli some help, but if he really does continue doing things like this the secondary scoring may not be as necessary as once thought.
“(It’s) the liberty he has on the field, he has a lot of freedom on the field,” explained Ottawa defender Matthew Arnone about what makes Morelli difficult to counter.
“He’s not a player that stays in a fixed position, he’s not somebody that’s perhaps in a structure, let’s say, more so given the freedom to roam and be creative. He’s got a knack for showing up in the right spots, today he was neutralized for most of the game and he shows up at the top of the box on a transition and if I’m not mistaken it’s one of the only sniffs at goal he had. He’s a quality player and we knew that coming in, we know that based on his scoring record against us and in the league, he finds ways, and that’s why he’s a top player.”
For those wondering, Morelli himself revealed postmatch the significance of the wristband he kissed and flashed to camera after scoring his first goal: He dedicated the goals to his aunt back in Brazil, who was recently diagnosed with cancer — he assured everyone in the post-match press conference it’s nothing to worry about, but he nonetheless wanted to show his support with the gesture.
HFX shows resolve in tight late moments
After the Wanderers went up 2-0, it really looked as though they would see the match out in comfortable fashion. For a stretch after the second goal, a Morelli hat trick marker seemed more likely than an Ottawa comeback.
As soon as Ryan Telfer scored in the 68th minute, though, the match seemed to turn on its head. Ottawa ended up with just over 65% possession in the second half, but the Wanderers held them to just three shots from that time — one of which, of course, was the goal.
Peter Schaale and Eriks Santos, who are developing a very good partnership at centre-back, were resolute together in the middle of the backline, with Schaale making seven clearances and Santos making four.
“I thought we controlled most of the game; at times it started to get a little bit scrappy when they started to push the numbers on us, but I thought we did well,” coach Stephen Hart said of his side’s performance to hold on to the win. The goal was probably avoidable, I have to see it again, but the players did very well defensively — didn’t give up a lot of shots, didn’t give up a lot of corners. Not bad.”
Make that two consecutive games, now, where the Wanderers have been able to maintain a narrow one-goal lead right to the end despite pressure from the opposition. That hasn’t always been the case with this team, who have dropped points to teams like Ottawa and York United by conceding late goals.
Coupland promising but isolated in no. 10 role
Teenage phenom Antoine Coupland has slowly been working his way into more regular minutes for Atlético Ottawa the past few weeks, having started the last two games in a number 10 position with Alberto Soto unavailable. The Chelsea, Quebec native has shown a few real signs of improvement in his recent outings, with his confidence starting to grow; he’s always been touted as an exceptionally talented player, but now that he’s settling into the professional level that talent is beginning to rise to the surface.
Coupland was very energetic in Ottawa’s press on Wednesday, often drifting higher than the striker before dropping back into the pocket upon his side regaining possession. With the ball, Coupland showed some real talent in taking on opponents and looking to create dangerous chances for his teammates. That said, he didn’t actually get the ball very often — despite playing in the middle of the park, Coupland was limited to just 24 touches in his 55 minutes of work. He was accurate with 12 of his 14 passes, which came in all sorts of different areas across the field as he had to work very hard just to find the ball.
HFX did a good job of cutting off passes into midfield, which is part of the reason Coupland was wanting for service, but in general Ottawa have struggled this year to get the ball to creative players.
“Antoine did a great job because it’s not easy trying to defend (Andre) Rampersad and the other midfielders on Halifax,” Ottawa manager Mista said postmatch. “We trust a lot in Antine to have more meaningful time, and we are here to improve all together.”
Coupland is expected to be a major part of this Ottawa team’s future, so for him to start really getting comfortable in the starting XI is a major positive in an otherwise difficult season for the club.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Joao Morelli, HFX Wanderers
It’s hard to justify picking anybody else. Morelli is the Wanderers’ MVP (and perhaps the league’s), and it showed on Wednesday with his seven-shot, two-goal performance.
HFX will head back out on the road now, as they visit York United this Sunday (1:00 pm ET). Atlético Ottawa, meanwhile, are back home at TD Place on Sunday for a clash with Forge FC (3:30 pm ET). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.