Of the many unknowns that Canadian Premier League coaches are dealing with at The Island Games, mental resolve proved an underrated one on Saturday.
HFX Wanderers FC was one CPL club to show cohesion, clawing back from a second-half deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Pacific FC in their 2020 CPL season opener.
As much as player fitness, tactics, and even player quality were great unknowns, Wanderers coach Stephen Hart insisted how his team came from behind after conceding back-to-back goals was a great learning experience.
“One thing you can’t plan for or see is how players deal with stressful situations – they’re down and the clock is ticking away,” Hart told reporters after the match.
“But they fought their way back and could have easily scored. They showed good character and I told them that.”
HFX kicked off the “Coastal Clash” with a bit of good fortune. CPL rookie Cory Bent earned an early penalty when he was fouled by Pacific goalkeeper Nolan Wirth inside the box, and Brazilian newcomer João Morelli converted from the spot to give HFX a 1-0 lead.
GOAL ? | #CanPL ?@HFXWanderersFC on the board inside 12 minutes after Nolan Wirth brings down Cory Bent in the box. João Morelli tucks in the resulting penalty, cool as you like!#HFX 1-0 #PAC
WATCH ?https://t.co/S1fIuqGe5w#IslandGames pic.twitter.com/X7fmHzhSyB
— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 15, 2020
That lead held for Hart’s side until the second half when back-to-back defensive mishaps led to a pair of Pacific goals from Zachary Verhoven and Marco Bustos, respectively.
Hart was quick to remind pundits of the 300-day layoff from any sort of professional match for his players.
“It’s just a matter of sharpness and being switched on. We were too concerned with the ref’s calls at times… They took some quick free-kick, moved the ball across to attack our weak side,” Hart said.
Hart shifted to a two-striker set up halfway through the second half, adding Akeem Garcia and Ibra Sanoh up top. It worked, ultimately, as a second penalty was given (which Sanoh converted) after Pacific defender Lukas McNaughton was called for a foul inside the box.
“We saw them lose their balance a bit… Sanoh and Akeem were effortless in the channels and allowed us to push on,” Hart said.
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“Yeah, we got two penalties, but you can only get penalties when you attack. We seemed to only have the last pass or flick on picked off.
“It’s the nature of the game but I’m happy we could have fought back.”
First overall CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick Cory Bent earned Gatorade Man of the Match honours post-match, drawing the first penalty and attempting an incredible ten crosses. It was a tireless light-speed performance from Bent, who Hart claims was too fast for his midfielders.
“There were times when no midfielders were showing for him, but he’s so quick that it’s hard for midfielders to catch up,” Hart said.
“He got the first goal with his pressing – he knows exactly how to press and get chances like that.”