Pacific FC enjoyed a numerical advantage in central midfield as HFX Wanderers FC played two out and out strikers, so much of the game revolved around Pacific’s defensive midfielder Ollie Bassett easily finding space and dictating play. HFX Wanderers’ two strikers were poor in picking up Bassett, and on the occasions they did initially pick him up they were poor in following him as he drifted to find the open space.
Bassett as the extra man allowed Pacific to break any HFX press easily, and it also allowed them to maintain possession in the opposition half easily. The lead up to the opening goal perfectly illustrated this as Bassett pinged a few passes side to side deep in the final third with no pressure on him before a neat combination play from the team in purple. The second goal was even a function of this phenomenon as Bassett was able to freely pick up a weak clearance with no one in sight, Stefan Karajovanovic meekly jogging backward to “pressure” Bassett as he lashed the ball into the back of the net.
In choosing to leave two strikers in high positions, one possible boon for Halifax was that they could find themselves in dangerous 2v2 situations on the counter. However, Pacific FC never really left themselves too vulnerable by losing the ball in a poor position, neither Akeem Garcia nor Karajovanovic checked back to receive the ball, and Halifax were poor in passing from deep. It was all a testament to how easily Pacific could keep the ball when they wanted to. In fact, many times Bassett was wide open as a safety valve but the Pacific player in possession didn’t even need to use him as he had other, more progressive options available. That being said, the Wanderers did find a little joy in simple balls over the top into Morey Doner and Jake Ruby on the right.
Joao Morelli was brought on at half for Garcia, and he played much more between the lines rather than as a pure striker on the same axis as Karajovanovic. This helped the Haligonians occupy Bassett when Pacific had the ball, and also helped themselves link midfield and attack in when they had the ball. However, they still had no consistent source of chance creation. Pacific dominated the ball and space so much that Halifax could not get a foothold in the match even when they were down by two.
The problems for the east coasters began with their defenders as the back four could not effectively progress the ball forward, and continued into central midfield as Jeremy Gagnon-Lapare constantly misplaced forward passes. When you combine an inability to build from the back with no chance of winning the ball high in dangerous positions you get no real systematic way to generate offense. The Wanderers staff was quoted as saying that they were treating this opener as a pre-season match, and it really showed on the pitch.
The German centre back is known for excelling at traditional defensive duties, but he was extremely poor on the ball in this one. For a team that may struggle to keep the ball and has to capitalize on long balls into the channels, their centre backs need to be able to hit accurate passes.
Taking over in the first match of the season for Michael Baldisimo, Bassett looked very assured in his debut in addition to collecting his first goal. As intensity ramps up during the season it will be interesting to see if he can influence matches to the same level he did in this one and make the starting spot his own.
HFX Wanderers FC
How much of this performance was due to their self-labeled “pre-season” focus, and how much of it was that Pacific are simply better? Regardless of the intensity and focus that was “chosen” for this match, there was little synergy between their striker pair or central midfield pair.
Will this team be able to be pressed and/or exploited on the counter? As well as the team played, there were occasions where their centre backs were left isolated and where perhaps a team committed to a high press could cause problems. Kah’s XIs will likely often contain a lot of attack first players, so players like Jamar Dixon and whoever starts as the defensive midfielder may have lots of defensive work to do week to week.