MATCH ANALYSIS: York score early, often in transition to strike down Halifax Wanderers

Final Score: Halifax Wanderers 0-3 York United
Goalscorers: Baldisimo 11′, Alou 32′, Soumaoro 46′
Game of the 2023 season: 22
CPL match: 389

Match in a minute or less

York United rebounded from recent defeats with their second win of the 2023 CPL season, which they banked in emphatic fashion on Saturday with a 3-0 away triumph over Halifax Wanderers.

Matthew Baldisimo opened the scoring just 11 minutes in to cap off a spirited start for the visitors, and just over 20 minutes later Oussama Alou made it 2-0 with a beautiful curling strike from the top of the box.

Despite a halftime change from the Wanderers to try and stop the bleeding, York scored a third quick goal courtesy of Brem Soumaoro just a minute into the second half, which would spell the end of Halifax’s attempt to get back into the game. So, the Nine Stripes return to Ontario happy after their finest performance of the year so far.

Three Observations

York produce strong start at last, rewarded for it

York United coach Martin Nash said several times before the game — both in his prematch press conference and on the OneSoccer broadcast before kickoff — that the primary message to his team for this one was to ensure they start well. York have struggled a little with the opening phases of some matches this year, so Nash was adamant about wanting them to come out of the gates flying in Halifax.

It seems Nash got his wish at the Wanderers Grounds. York were all over Halifax from the opening whistle, with seven shots in about the first half hour. They showed a desire to get forward quickly and play some direct, aggressive attacking football, with players seemingly given the green light to shoot from all areas.

The visitors were duly rewarded for their early aggression, scoring twice in the first half before the Wanderers could get any kind of foothold. Matthew Baldisimo bagged his first for York just over 10 minutes in as Oussama Alou found him in a gulf of space in front of the backline and Baldisimo strolled forward before shooting from distance to score. About 20 minutes later — with plenty of other York chances in between — it was Alou himself who scored with a top-of-the-box curler, again stepping into space ahead of the backline.

Both times, York were able to score by playing direct and vertical, and not hesitating to shoot or looking for more favourable positioning.

“We wanted to come in and get in their face right away,” Nash told reporters postgame. We felt if we pressed well and cut off passing lanes, got guys’ heads down, that we could turn the ball over and we did a number of times in the first half.”

Indeed, York won 16 tackles in the first half, which helped them create those transitional opportunities and spring attacks quickly.

For a team that had scored just one CPL goal from open play prior to this game, York scoring three in Halifax is a massive triumph. Nash and his staff will undoubtedly be thrilled to see their team play a bit freer and more confident; indeed, this is the kind of performance that could be a turning point for the Nine Stripes after last weekend’s heavy loss at Pacific. To respond with a major triumph after a frustrating defeat is about as much as a coach can ask for.

Halifax midfield struggles without Callegari

With French midfielder Lorenzo Callegari missing due to suspension, the Wanderers had a noticeable gap — sometimes literally — in their side on Saturday.

Callegari has started every match for Halifax so far this season and he’s been tremendous in the number six role. He led in the CPL in successful passes prior to this weekend, establishing himself as the main tempo-setter at the base of midfield in Patrice Gheisar’s Wanderers side.

Without him, the Wanderers of course had to adjust. Gheisar chose to keep skipper Andre Rampersad in the advanced number eight role he’s played this year, deploying Mo Omar in Callegari’s holding spot — such is the importance this year of getting Rampersad higher up the pitch that Gheisar kept him in that position, despite him perhaps being a more natural fit at the six.

The rearranged midfield was, however, a major problem for the Wanderers in the first half. On both York goals in the first half, the visitors found a massive gulf of space in between Halifax’s midfield and back four, in a spot that might usually be covered by Callegari. Midfielders were caught too far forward on several occasions, which is what allowed York to play so direct.

“I had a feeling we would miss [Callegari], but not to the level we missed him today,” Gheisar admitted postmatch. “But they have three centre-mids, we have three centre-mids. Names are whatever — Lorenzo, Mike, Miguel, Bob, whoever it is it’s three men against three men. You do your job sufficiently; there’s nothing about tactics I can talk about other than desire, and that’s really disappointing because we were at home. … That’s two games at home that I almost feel like these great fans deserve more, but our guys are intimidated by them which is a bit silly.”

Ahead of the first goal, see the space left by Omar as he comes over to the right to challenge Alou — nobody else comes to occupy toe gap, so Baldisimo has acres to run into:

Space in midfield before York’s first goal (c/o OneSoccer)

The second goal is more transitional so Halifax aren’t in their defensive shape, but nonetheless there are still far too many York players closer to the net than any Wanderers midfielder:

Space in midfield before York’s second goal (c/o OneSoccer)

Those gaps cannot be entirely attributed to the absence of one player, but the midfield was a definite area of concern for the Wanderers on Saturday. Gheiser did, at halftime, move Rampersad into the six role as Tomas Giraldo replaced Omar and moved up to play as an eight, but by that time the damage was done — and York scored again right after the break anyway.

The disconnected midfield also hampered the Wanderers’ attack, with forward Théo Collomb completely isolated in the first half as the central three continuously had to track back.

York back six stifle Wanderers’ second-half attacks to seal win

As one might expect, after York United went up 3-0 they shifted into a more protective mode of play as their opponent began opening up more and more in search of a goal.

Thankfully for Martin Nash’s side, they were fully capable of slowing down the tempo of the match in the second half. Their attacking play was very transitional and direct in the opening frame, which meant they didn’t have the lion’s share of possession. In the second, though, York took more of an interest in holding onto the ball and moving it safely around to prevent Halifax from breaking them down or pulling them out of position. In the final 20 minutes or so they again ceded possession to sit back a little more, but York held Halifax’s attack to non-dangerous areas — just two of their 12 shots all game found the target with most of them blocked or sent wide, as seen in the map below:

Halifax’s shots against York United.

The credit for that success is due largely to the back four and midfield double pivot, all of whom were tremendously comfortable on the ball. Baldisimo and Brem Soumaoro spent most of the game together in the middle and dictated the pace of play; Baldisimo produced a sparkling 100 per cent passing accuracy in roughly an hour of work, while Soumaoro was a little more ambitious with the ball but nonetheless won four tackles and six duels to break up any Wanderers attempts to play through him.

The back four behind Baldisimo and Soumaoro were equally solid on Saturday; Max Ferrari at right-back won an incredible five tackles and 13 duels, while centre-backs Tass Mourdoukoutas and Paris Gee did very well to clean things up on the very rare occasions Halifax got into the box.

After Baldisimo left the game around the hour mark, Gee — a natural fullback — stepped forward from centre-back into midfield seamlessly, not missing a beat as York continued to lock down the central channels and force Halifax out wide for less dangerous attacking positions.

“At halftime I challenged them to bring the same effort and energy and control the game,” Nash said postmatch. “To score right off the bat in the second half was big, and I thought we held firm. There were a few moments but you know they’re going to come at you when they’re 3-0 down and throw caution to the wind, but I thought we held strong and even at those moments we were able to dictate the tempo with some of our passing.” Player of the Match

Austin Ricci, York United

A transitional, open game is where Austin Ricci thrives, and Saturday was no exception. Ricci was tremendous on the left wing for York, pushing the ball forward with seven successful dribbles and 11 duels won. He got credit for an assist on Alou’s goal plus another chance created, but overall he was exceptional at driving forward and providing energy for the visitors.

What’s next?

The Wanderers are back on the road next weekend when they travel to Vancouver Island for a clash with Pacific FC on Saturday, May 27 (7 p.m. PT/11 p.m. AT). York, meanwhile, are back home the following Sunday when they host Cavalry FC at York Lions Stadium (5 p.m. ET).

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