Well, it was closer than they might’ve liked, but the job (for Saturday, at least) is done for HFX Wanderers FC.
They held off a second-half surge by Cavalry FC to win 2-1 in their second group-stage match, putting them in a pretty good position to qualify for the CPL Finals next weekend.
It wasn’t pretty, though. The Wanderers stunned Cavalry in the first half, taking a 2-0 lead off a pair of penalty kicks while the Cavs adjusted to playing with 10 men after defender Jonathan Wheeldon’s 12th-minute ejection.
In the second half, though, they let their opponents back into the game. Cavalry didn’t score until the 80th minute, but they had seven shots in the latter 45 as they tried to claw their way back.
HFX coach Stephen Hart took some of the blame onto himself for that; he told reporters that a tactical change at halftime might have hindered the Wanderers’ ability to punish an opponent with 10 men.
“We played well up to the half, and then when we came out, it may have been a bit my fault,” Hart admitted.
“I kind of said, let’s defend just a little bit deeper and see what they’re doing first, and then we can press on again. But we failed to do one of our principal defending aspects, that’s a big part of us. They started to find space and move the ball well in the second half, and we needed to get back to that basic principle.”
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Nonetheless, the Wanderers emerge with a bounty of positives from the win. Not only are they currently tied with Forge FC for the top spot in the table, they’re also faced with an opportunity to see themselves through on Tuesday as they take on Pacific FC, who have already been eliminated.
Plus, thanks to Hart’s adjustments, they’ll have a very fresh Andre Rampersad and Aboubacar Sissoko for Tuesday, who exited the match at the 45th and 58th minutes, respectively. Hart has said in the past that fatigue has been a major factor for all teams at The Island Games, so having key midfielders ready for a full 90 could be game-changing.
The first half also saw more fruit born by the blossoming partnership between Halifax’s attackers, particularly Akeem Garcia and João Morelli, the game’s two goalscorers.
“We have a good connection,” Morelli agreed. “Me, Akeem, Cory (Bent), (Alex) Marshall, (Alessandro) Riggi, any of the players that play up top with me. I think off the pitch we’re very good friends, and we take all that onto the pitch. We don’t need to talk much. We just look at each other, we know what we need to do.
“It’s incredible, because we’ve only played nine games.”
The chemistry in the Wanderers’ attack is a major reason for the club’s success so far at The Island Games. The team’s direct style of play, with plenty of through balls and quick counter-attacking moves, only works when attackers are in sync with the timing of runs and passes.
Garcia, who scored his sixth goal of 2020 against Cavalry to widen his lead in the Golden Boot race, has begun drawing a lot of attention in conversations about the CPL’s Player of the Year Award for this season.
However, Hart doesn’t want to definitively declare (yet, at least) that the Trinidadian striker is the MVP.
“I can’t say,” Hart said. “He’s having a good tournament, he just has to keep it up, keep on pushing, keep on learning, keep on doing what he’s been doing. Then those people that make those decisions one way or the other…
“Knowing Akeem, he would much rather the team be bathed in the glory than himself.”
The glory is certainly one step closer for Halifax after beating Cavalry; this time next weekend, they could be CPL champions.
“We haven’t achieved anything yet,” Hart added. “We’ve got a game to go.
“We’re hoping it’s two games to go.”