A highlight-reel goal conceded and a red card a minute later would be enough to sink some teams, even just 20 minutes into a match.
That wasn’t the case for HFX Wanderers FC on Saturday, though.
Despite Manny Aparicio’s free-kick golazo and João Morelli’s sending-off shortly after, HFX stayed firmly in the game against York9 FC and departed with a well-deserved point in a 1-1 draw, thanks to a stoppage-time equalizer from Omar Kreim.
“They showed a lot of character, and this team has that quality in spades,” HFX coach Stephen Hart said. “Even the players that come off the bench are coming on with an enthusiasm to make a difference, to give us a different look, to make things happen. I’m very proud of them and I’m also very proud of the way that they responded tactically, not lose their discipline, not lose their shape.”
Indeed, although they were at times pinned back with just 35.3 per cent possession, Hart’s men never retreated into a shell against York9. They managed to win over 63 per cent of their duels throughout the game, picking off attempt after attempt and trying earnestly to move the ball forward in search of an equalizer.
Hart did concede that he was forced to make a slight tactical change in the wake of Morelli’s red card. His side has earned commendations for its ability to press teams so far at The Island Games, but they had to dial it back slightly to avoid getting too stretched out with 10 men.
“We had to change the press,” Hart admitted. “We had to put the reins on (Andre) Rampersad a little bit because I thought he was getting pulled out of the pocket. A couple of subtle changes to the wide players in how we would press and how we would be ready to press.”
Finally, the moment came. After standing firm for 70 minutes, HFX found themselves with a free kick on the edge of the box in stoppage time. Not long after coming on as a sub, U SPORTS product Kreim stepped up with confidence and lobbed it over everyone to find the net at the back post.
He’ll tell you he meant to do it, too.
“Normally I go second post and I try to score,” Kreim said. “I did it like four or five months before with Montreal Carabins, I thought I could do the same thing and it worked.”
Ultimately, the Wanderers are in a pretty good position after salvaging this point. They remain fifth in the standings (their six points just one behind both York9 and Valour in third and fourth). With two games left at The Island Games, Hart continues to preach the belief he’s had in his club since they arrived.
“The confidence in the team has been there from game one,” Hart said. “I’ve looked at all the games again, I’ve had a number of people contact me (to say) the team has been playing well. We’ve continued to create chances in every game and maybe sometimes not as decisive as we would like, but that’s part of not playing a lot of games coming into this.”