Match 2 (6/26/2021): Pacific FC 2 – 0 HFX Wanderers FC

Meta Focus

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.

Individual Focus

Peter Schaale

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.

Ollie Bassett

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.

Trends Focus

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.

Pacific FC

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.

Match 1 (6/26/2021): FC Edmonton 0 – 1 Atletico Ottawa

Meta Focus:

Both teams lined up in similar 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shapes which helped lead to a subdued opening, as each side was content to sit in their shape and let the other team have the ball in their own half. One route for FC Edmonton was clipped balls into their target man, Tobias Warschewski, while Atletico Ottawa were able to build down their left with winger Rafael Nunez drifting centrally to provide an outlet.

Thomas Gardner lined up as a second striker for Edmonton, however as the match began to settle he began to drop deeper into midfield when his team had the ball. This allowed the Alberta side to to creep their defensive line forward when in possession, and allowed them options to combine due to their numerical advantage in the middle of the park rather than having to rely on balls into Warschewski.

Meanwhile, Ottawa chose to overload the middle by having their wingers take up central positions. However, it was only when their central players chose to be brave or creative with the ball that they began to create chances. In the early part of the match Ottawa’s central mids and backs consistently chose to slow the game down and play regressive passes. On the one rare occasion where Drew Beckie stepped forward to slip a ball into the central Nunez, the on loan Spaniard turned cleverly and forced Ramon Soria into a yellow card. Soon after, Ben McKendry’s diagonal line splitter found Ryan Telfer in a central position and the Trinbagonian international just missed wide from outside the box.

A problem for the capital city side was that Chris Mannella, playing as an attacking midfielder, failed to offer anything offensively for his side. He was unable to find pockets of space in between the lines to combine with his wingers, or to drive in beyond Malcolm Shaw. On the rare occasion he did have the ball he played safe, backward passes. Forward destroyers can be extremely useful in an era where most teams have deep lying play makers, but it is difficult to be helpful to your side if you play in that zone of the pitch and aren’t an offensive threat.

Ottawa dominated possession and space more so in the second half, and increasingly Edmonton’s pattern in transition was hit Gardner into feet centrally, draw the opposition full backs inside, release ball into wingers and cross the ball into the striker. This pattern was attempted multiple times to zero effect in the first 15 minutes of the second frame. Alan Koch then made two substitutions to bring on Roberto Avila and Easton Ongaro and the two new men immediately executed the pattern only to be denied by a brilliant save from Dylon Powley.

In the first half a transition game didn’t really exist as both teams were conservative and played with deep defensive lines. In the second half Mista’s men began pushing their lines higher when in possession which gave the Eddies a natural way to counter when they won the ball.

Ottawa’s winner ended up coming after a brave forward run from young centre back Keesean Ferdinand found Nunez before the ball found it’s way into the box. Once again, a progressive decision from a deep, central area allowed Ottawa’s creative players to find time and space in Edmonton’s final third.

Individual Focus:

Thomas Gardner

If Ongaro and Warschewski are going to lead the line, they will need service from wide areas. If Edmonton are to get the ball into wide areas, they will need a supplier. Gardner lined up as a forward, but he often dropped into central areas to get on the ball. Perhaps he’s not the biggest goal threat, but he can create overloads and orchestrate, especially in transition.

Chris Manella

What is his role in this Ottawa side? Usually a deep lying midfielder, he was deployed as an attacking player to minimal effect. Ottawa need an initial supply line from central areas as their wingers appear to be their main chance creators, so perhaps Manella will drop into a defensive midfield role going forward to be that deeper creator.

Trends Focus:

FC Edmonton

What is Alan Koch going to do with the wide areas? He started the match with two full backs playing as wingers on their natural sides, and though they were able to get into decent areas their end product was sorely lacking. Perhaps Koch was just being conservative in the opening match, but with the profile of striker they have on the books they need their wide men to provide quality deliveries.

Atletico Ottawa

How are Ottawa going to get the ball from deep areas to their creative attacking players? On a couple occasions a centre back stepping forward created a positive outcome, while on one occasion a line splitting pass from a central midfielder gave Telfer a chance to drive forward. If their deep, central players can’t consistently get the ball forward, then maybe whoever plays as the number 10 can take a page from Gardner’s book and drop deep. Mista seems to have the attackers, he just has to get them the ball in good positions.

The CanPL Review: Season 3

The aim

The CanPL Review originally aimed to provide an analysis of each Canadian Premier League match from The Island Games, focusing on tactical trends and individual performances. Once all matches were analyzed, a team by team and season review summarizing the tactical trends and individual performances will be provided.

I was unable to complete this for the Island Games before the next season started, so I decided to start anew with Season 3 of the CPL. The format will stay the same, and I will do my best to try and keep up with the league each week.

The format

Each match analysis will have three focuses:

1. Meta Focus

The portion of the match that is deemed to be the most interesting and/or impactful will be discussed. This focus could be individual battles, how one side presses and how the other team responds to the press, how a team is overloading a specific area, etc.

2. Individual Focus

One player from each team will be highlighted. Often the players chosen will be ones who played a role in the meta focus of the match.

3. Trends Focus

We will look at how teams and managers evolve throughout The Island Games. Match to match, we will examine what stayed consistent, what changed, and how any alterations by the managers impacted their teams’ performances.

Match 8 (8/19/2020): HFX Wanderers 1 – 1 Forge FC

Meta Focus

Forge FC began the match by very aggressively pressing HFX Wanderers, and it seemed to catch Stephen Hart’s men by surprise as they cheaply coughed the ball up a few times in the opening minutes. Aboubacar Sissoko was playing along side Louis Beland-Goyette rather than in front of him, and he was able to drop deeper as the first function midfielder. This ability to offer an option to his defenders and then play forward, line splitting passes allowed the Halifax side some reprieve after a difficult opening, but the east coasters found it difficult to commit men forward and Forge’s committed press led to a number of wayward long balls.

On the other hand, Hart’s men tried to press in a 4-4-2 shape with Andre Rampersad often alongside Akeem Garcia. However, Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson would drop in between the centre backs when required to give Bobby Smyrniotis a spare man in possession. Kwame Awuah played wide, rather than inverted as he has done at times, and Forge had little issue in moving the ball forward. Awuah would help Marcel Zajac and Paolo Sabak overload the left flank, causing many problems. The Wanderers’ ability to win the ball high in dangerous areas, which was such a weapon in their opening match, was effectively neutered against the defending champions. The opener actually came from Daniel Krutzen having zero pressure on him and he just about found Awuah with a long, straight ball that led to a collision with the Halifax keeper.

As the half wore on Forge’s press predictably became less intense, and Halifax’s midfielders dropped deeper to find solutions in possession. A pattern that emerged was Peter Schaale having the ball in the right hand channel, and either laying it off to Sissoko to start an attack from the right side or launching a long diagonal to the left wing, to mixed success. The side effect of this was that Forge’s left wing was pinned back and therefore less dangerous in attack.

Towards the end of the first half Forge responded to this threat by occasionally moving Awuah inside when they had the ball. The Halifax right/Forge left had become the battleground in the match, and both sides were moving pieces to that area to keep up in the arms race.

The second half began with Kyle Bekker and Paolo Sabak switching their positions in midfield, and it was Bekker losing the ball in his inside left zone that led to substitute Alex Marshall setting up Akeem Garcia for the equalizer. In truth, it wasn’t exactly an intense press that led to Bekker coughing up the ball, but it did highlight Halifax’s willingness to win the ball in midfield and transition quickly, which was evident in their first match.

Sabak and Bekker would switch their positions in central midfield routinely, and Sissoko seemed to follow Sabak and as a result switch positions with Beland-Goyette. One might say this was coincidence, but it is rare for midfielders to switch positions (even if they are playing a ‘fluid’ system), and Hart did appear to instruct Sissoko to essentially man mark against Pacific FC.

Smyrniotis changed his front three, bringing the responsible Elimane Cisse (and then the also responsible Maxime Tissot) in to play left wing, and Hart eventually made a positive move and replaced Beland-Goyette with a striker. The second half was more balanced from a territorial stand point, with each flank (and the central third) being involved in the story of the game. Perhaps this was due to Bekker and Sabak changing positions at will, as well as the more effectual Cory Bent replacing Daniel Kinumbe on the Wanderers left wing.

Individual Focus

Aboubacar Sissoko

In the first match, Sissoko showed off his ability to cove ground and press, while shadowing Pacific’s main creator. That continued in this match as he followed Sabak before being removed, but he also showed off his ability to start attacks with both his passing and his dribbling. Will Hart continue to use him as a man marking destroyer?

Paolo Sabak

The diminutive midfielder got his first goal from the spot and was given much attacking freedom, often getting into good positions and overloading the flanks. But his big miss in the second half and lack of end product leave you wanting more. It is unfair to expect him to be a direct Tristan Borges replacement, especially since he plays deeper than the Golden Boot winner, but his technical ability and spatial awareness indicate that he should be impacting matches to a greater extent.

Trends Focus

HFX Wanderers

Their “press” led to their goal, but they were less committed to it than they were against Pacific. This is not necessarily surprising as Forge are likely better equipped to deal with and punish a committed press. Even an effective high press can’t be your only source of attack, so we’ll have to see if Hart continues his positive changes and plays Akeem Garcia and Joao Morelli together from the start.

Forge FC

Sabak and Bekker were moved around quite a bit in the second half; was this in an effort to free one of them, or just Smyrniotis giving his midfield creators freedom? Sabak played the entire first half in the inside left position where he was at his best combining with Awuah and Zajac. In the second half, the champs looked disjointed. It might be wise for Forge to let Sabak stay in one position to develop familiarity with his teammates as he appears to have the raw ability to be an important player.

Match 7 (8/19/2020): Atletico Ottawa 0 – 4 Valour FC

Meta Focus

Mista switched from a back four to a 3-4-3 for his second ever match in charge of Atletico Ottawa, while Rob Gale made major changes in personnel — he changed his midfield three out completely while Fraser Aird started at right wing and Brett Levis at left back to provide more natural width compared to their opener.

Immediately it was clear that Valour could exploit the channels by transitioning quickly against Ottawa’s back three. The geometry of a three man backline versus a central striker and two wingers always means that there is a potential for the attacking team to isolate against the back three in transition, and Valour nearly scored their first goal of the season early. Fraser Aird exploited the right side channel before laying it into Stefan Cebara, who in turn set up Austin Ricci, but te striker’s shot was well saved.

Valour continued to push forward, and Mista quickly changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Mohamed Korouma moving from left wing back to right midfield as Gianfranco Facchineri moved to left back. The Spanish manager immediately recognized that his three central defenders were being exposed and reverted to a shape more similar to their first match. It is unclear if Mista started the match with the new 3-4-3 to specifically counter Rob Gale, or if he did so because he was missing his first choice left back Vashon Neufville to suspension.

The change to a back four helped stabilize the expansion side somewhat, but they still had many issues to deal with. Out of possession, Gale continued with a relatively high line of engagement and pseudo man marking system, most notably with Raphael Ohin shadowing Francisco Acuna. In possession, Ohin would often split the Valour centre backs; this allowed his team to have a 3v2 situation at the back to pass around Ottawa’s press, and also let the full backs push high to create variety and overloads in attack. The Winnipeg side showed great urgency with and without the ball, often picking on the out of position Facchineri, and forced Nacho Zabal into numerous saves in the first half.

The second half started out with less intensity than the first, but Valour’s continued attacks down their right finally bore fruit just past the hour mark. A deep run from Stefan Cebara wasn’t tracked and a struggling Milovan Kapor cynically pulled him back to concede a penalty and a second yellow card to put Ottawa down a man and a goal. The rest of the match was academic.

Individual Focus

Gianfranco Facchineri

The young defender was put in a very difficult position. He started as the left sided centre back in a back three, but was quickly shuffled to his weak side as a left back in a back four. Valour consistently got behind him, most notably when they earned the penalty, and he often struggled to find the correct solution in possession. It is hard to criticize the teenager considering he was playing an unfamiliar position that his team didn’t initially game plan him for, and his situation illustrates that although a mid game tactical switch may make sense in a vacuum, the logistical considerations are often more important.

Raphael Ohin

Ohin came in as a like for like replacement for Dante Campbell, and whereas I highlighted Campbell for a poor performance against Cavalry FC, I highlight Ohin here for an impressive one. The Ghanaian midfielder man marked Acuna out of the first half, and provided a reliable starting point for his team when they had the ball at the back. His mobility and movement allowed the rest of his team mates to thrive in their roles.

Trends Focus

Atletico Ottawa

Last match I asked what Ottawa would do if Acuna was unavailable or marked out of a game. This performance only puts that question more into focus. Mista’s left side offered zero in attack without Neufville, and the coach abandoned the idea of Kourouma as a wing back after approximately 10 minutes. Ottawa are obviously willing to switch formations, even mid match, but perhaps it makes the most sense for a new club to focus on one system.

Valour FC

Despite being the better side, they did concede a couple dangerous chances, most notably when Ottawa played an accurate, straight ball over Valour’s somewhat high line. Gale is flirting with a high line/high press system with some man marking in midfield, but if you only commit partially to such a philosophy you are liable to be ripped apart by teams who play direct.

Match 6 (8/18/2020): Pacific FC 1 – 1 York9 FC

Meta Focus

Both managers kept their initial shapes from their first matches with Jim Brennan inserting Wataru Murofushi and Manny Aparicio into his 4-4-2 diamond, and Pa-Modou Kah rotating his central midfielders ahead of Matthew Baldisimo in a 4-3-3. This contributed to a relatively packed midfield, which in turn helped lead to a mundane first half. Both sides were unwilling to be too risky through midfield, and aside from an early Kyle Porter chance, the only real opportunities of the half came from set pieces and broken plays.

As mentioned in previous matches, when teams line up like this the deep lying midfielder is often the key. Murofushi was the player with the most time on the ball for York9 and he picked out a couple nice switches, but there weren’t too many penetrative passes through the middle. On the other side, Baldisimo had Aparicio as a natural opponent and played much safer than he did against HFX Wanderers, which meant that although he did not really turn the ball over in the first half, neither did he have the time nor the will to attempt creative and risky balls forward.

Because of the above, the only real creation from either side in open play came from the full backs combining with their teammates. In the second half, Pacific began to press more intensely and started to pepper the York9 box with dangerous crosses after overloading the wide areas. Brennan responded by bringing on Michael Petrasso for Porter. Petrasso played wide on the right while Ryan Telfer moved to left wing, giving York9 more width both in attack and defense.

After Alvaro Rivero gave York9 the lead, Kah brought on Zachary Verhoven and just like their first match moved Bustos central in 4-2-3-1. At this point, the York side were set up well to deal with this threat. Approximately ten minutes from time, Brennan made a number of substitutions to bring on fresh legs but kept his 4-1-4-1 shape. He had true wingers on each side to provide defensive support and a defensive midfielder to watch Bustos. But Pacific continued to push men forward and York sat back, allowing the bright Verhoven to win a corner that eventually led to the equalizing goal.

Individual Focus

Zachary Verhoven

Twice in two matches the young Verhoven has come on to provide natural width for Kah (and to allow Bustos to move central), and twice he has significantly impacted the match positively for his side. With Victor Blasco and Bustos naturally cutting in from their wings, Verhoven offers a different problem for the opposition while allowing Pacific’s star man to play in a potentially more dangerous position.

Ryan Telfer

Telfer started as a striker beside Lowell Wright, then moved to the left wing before flicking on a header to set up the opening goal. The Trinidad and Tobago international has played in almost every position in his time in MLS and the CPL, and Brennan needs to figure out where to put his most reputable player.

Trends Focus

Pacific FC

Without pressing high and playing with a high line, Pacific will have to create in transition, and a front three of Blasco, Bustos, and Terran Campbell has thus far not shown the ability to exploit space. We know that Kah is comfortable with the 4-2-3-1 as a Plan B, but perhaps he needs to consider it his Plan A as it will put more attacking players around each other to combine while allowing Verhoven to impact the match from the start.

York9 FC

Once again, the Nine Stripes struggled to create from open play. Whether Brennan persists with a narrow shape or moves to one with true wingers, he needs to find a consistent way to threaten the opposition. With York’s centre back options not appearing to be obvious candidates to play a high line, perhaps they need to rely on their attackers’ pace and power on the counter.

Match 5 (8/16/2020): Forge FC 2 – 0 FC Edmonton

Meta Focus

Jeff Paulus debuted his side at The Island Games in a 5-4-1 formation, while Bobby Smyrniotis continued with his preferred 4-3-3. The obviously interesting wrinkle early on for Forge was once again a full back tucking inside, with the versatile Kwame Awuah often moving centrally, and Kyle Bekker playing wider on the left hand side at times.

While Awuah’s central positioning led to him scoring the opening goal, it wasn’t necessarily due to any advantage created by the tactical nuances of the Forge XI. The Eddies weren’t exactly caught in confusion due to the rotation of Forge’s players on that particular passage. Perhaps what the build up best illustrated was the versatility of Forge’s players. Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson dropped into centre back, Daniel Krutzen and David Edgar were essentially outside backs in a back three, Dominic Samuel was providing width on the right wing, and Bekker was ostensibly playing as a left winger.

Forge’s fluidity in possession and willingness to get men forward allowed them to find gaps between Edmonton’s lines, and when they lost the ball they also used their counter-pressed at times as a weapon. On the other hand, the Alberta side seemed content in staying in their 5-4-1 shape, with Keven Aleman and Hanson Boakai having some license to roam infield to support Easton Ongaro. But the rigid nature of their game plan meant that they found it difficult to build attacks if they weren’t countering. In fact, when Forge did return to their defensive shape, Edmonton’s most effective plan in possession seemed to be to lull the defending champs back onto them by slowly playing back to their centre backs before launching long diagonals beyond Forge’s pushed forward defensive line.

As the match continued, Awuah abandoned his central positioning when Forge had the ball. Perhaps it was because his team had the lead and Forge wanted to retain their shape more easily when they lost the ball, or perhaps it was never actually meant to be the Plan A for the Hamilton based squad. For the Eddies, they continued to look for raking diagonals into space in the wide channels.

Forge seemed content to manage the game, picking and choosing when to attack, and Edmonton started to press a little higher in the second half. Ongaro had a decent chance from Krutzen overplaying the ball, but Paulus’ side still lacked any sort of initiative in the match. Amer Didic went of injured with about 30 minutes to go which gave Edmonton the perfect opportunity to bring on another attacking piece, but they opted for three like for like substitutions.

A recurring problem for Edmonton was their lack in variation in attack. Boakai and Aleman are jinky wide combiners, not outright direct burners, and while Ongaro isn’t strictly a post player he’s also going to struggle to stretch a back line. This would be fine if Edmonton controlled possession and territory, or if their wing backs consistently bombed forward into wide spaces created by their attacking midfielders, but neither happened. While they did hit the post twice, both times were off set pieces. While creating from set pieces compared to open play is not a zero sum game, it is difficult to be a top team if set pieces are your main source of chance creation.

Substitute wing back Terique Mohammed did eventually play much higher in the second part of the second half, with Ramon Soria playing more as a left back when FC Edmonton had the ball, but while the formation may have changed somewhat the flow of the match did not. Edmonton were unable to press, possess, or counter effectively and Forge held on for three points.

Individual Focus

Triston Henry

The Forge FC keeper is good with the ball at his feet which makes him ideal for Bobby Smyrniotis’ team, but can be less than commanding of his area at times, especially on set pieces. This may seem a minor quibble, especially since his style lets Forge dominate the ball and therefore the game, but in matches like these when the only real chances the opposition has are from set pieces you want your keeper (and your whole team, of course) to be able to effectively deal with that attacking threat.

Erik Zetterberg

The Swede played most of the match in a deep lying playmaker role, pinging cross field balls with regularity. With Allan Zebie playing the somewhat nebulous role of ‘functional midfielder’ (this is not a negative term), Zetterberg was tasked with being the architect. He also made a couple decent runs, so it will be interesting to see how many hats he has to wear for FC Edmonton to be successful.

Trends Focus

Forge FC

The way Bobby Smyrniotis plays is no secret to anyone, so the trends to focus on become more granular. When and why will he employ the central full back? Will he persist with loading the six yard box on attacking corners when it has been fruitless so far?

FC Edmonton

Set pieces, including throw ins, are clearly an attacking focus for Jeff Paulus. But how else are they going to create chances? Long diagonals can work if you have an effective out ball, but they didn’t for this match; and even if those balls work, you need to have a plan if the opposition sits back.

Match 4 (8/16/2020): Valour FC 0 – 2 Cavalry FC

Meta Focus

Cavalry FC continued with an unbalanced formation, although unlike the first match the roles of their full backs were reversed — the right back, Dean Northover, was attacking while Robert Boskovic, normally a centre back, was quite defensive minded on the left. Cavalry oscillated between a back four and a back three with and without the ball and with Mo Farsi providing the width on the left from a more advanced position in a hybrid wing back/winger role, the source of Cavalry’s attacks were more balanced from a territorial stand point. Their striker, Marcus Haber, continued to try and exploit the right hand channel, but this time Sergio Camargo was more willing to combine on the left hand side with another attacking player in that zone.

The opening goal came as a result of Farsi providing a wide option on the left wing in combination with Cavalry’s striker continuing to exploit the right hand channel. The goal also highlighted what Valour FC were trying to do to stop Tommy Wheeldon’s men, and the shortcomings that came along with such a strategy. Valour initially pressed with a fairly high line of engagement, almost in a man to man style. Dante Campbell was playing as the defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1, and he often roamed from his position in order to find a mark higher up the pitch. This meant the space in front of his centre backs was vacated, and it was this area that Bruno Zebie burst into to create the first goal.

Pressing high against a side featuring Haber up top makes sense as he is not much of a threat to run in behind, but to chase players all over the pitch, especially as a defensive midfielder, can lead to dangerous gaps opening up. Julian Dunn and Andrew Jean-Baptiste had to constantly make difficult decisions about whether to stay back and leave the space ahead of them available, or push forward where Campbell was and invite balls in behind. Campbell getting pulled into marking Nico Pasquotti or one of Cavalry’s central midfielders meant that Farsi and Camargo could easily create overloads on Valour’s right hand side.

Offensively, Campbell and the other central midfielders for Rob Gale also caused problems for themselves. Neither Campbell, Daryl Fordyce, nor Dylan Carreiro endeavoured to find space when their centre backs began attacks, and the Winnipeg side resorted to clipping hopeful balls in behind for Shaan Hundal or asking their wingers to create something in isolation.

Gale brought Raphael Ohin on for Fordyce at half and pushed Carreiro forward as his side played with more of a 4-2-3-1 formation. This change tightened the gaps in midfield as Ohin was able to support Campbell on the same axis, and the latter was no longer responsible for an entire area himself. While this allowed Valour to press more effectively higher up the pitch, it didn’t do much to help Valour with the ball. They continued to find it difficult to work through Cavalry’s press and their midfielders were unable to find any space to progress the ball.

A number of substitutions from both teams contributed to the second half being more and more disjointed as it went on. Valour naturally pushed players forward, and Farsi became more and more conservative as the match continued. Aribim Pepple found himself 1v1 against Julian Dunn a number of times in the left hand channel as Cavalry countered, and the on loan Toronto FC defender did well in shepherding the teenage attacker. Unfortunately for Dunn’s team, what they needed were goals rather than just defensive interventions.

Individual Focus

Mo Farsi

The Canadian futsal international had the run of the left wing as he impacted the game in all three phases. He combined well with Camargo in the first half, and showed good positional awareness in adjusting his role as the match went on. With Cavalry FC playing imbalanced formations it is important for Wheeldon to have hybrid wide players like Farsi in order to exploit overloads while providing defensive cover.

Dante Campbell

Another on loan TFC player for Gale, Campbell was poor in his positioning and decision making in the first half as Valour’s holding midfielder. Without the ball he vacated the space in front of his back four too often, while with the ball he failed to find space to show for his teammates. Playing this position requires an economy of movement that Campbell failed to display in his team’s opener. He looked more comfortable with a partner on his axis, but his exuberance and frustration led to a booking before his substitution.

Trends Focus

Valour FC

What formation will Gale choose going forward, and how will he build his attacks with it? The single holding midfielder was ineffective, and their inconsistent pressing was more detrimental than beneficial. If the plan is to have Fraser Aird and Brett Levis play as inverted wingers then getting the full backs forward to combine is logical. To do so effectively the midfield needs to be able to find ways to supply them the ball.

Cavalry FC

Tommy Wheeldon once again employed an asymmetric formation, hybrid wide players, and a complementary full back pairing to overload areas and put his players in positions to overwhelm the opposition. As their first match against Forge FC showed, it is difficult for the opposition to force their game plan onto Cavalry FC. While Forge were able to exploit Cavalry’s left back zone at times, Valour were not as Farsi added dynamic support on that side. Still, quickly transitioning against Cavalry’s weak side seems to be a potential avenue for success against last year’s finalists.

Match 3 (8/15/20): HFX Wanderers 2 – 2 Pacific FC

Meta Focus

Both teams began the match with a 4-3-3 formation which became a 4-1-4-1 without the ball. Theoretically, this meant that the deepest midfielder on each team would be the player with time on the ball, but in practice the two teams played fairly differently. Pacific FC were more willing to play out the back, while the Wanderers were happy to ping the ball into channels and let their wide attackers chase it down. Pacific FC not only inverted their wingers, which is commonplace, however they interestingly also inverted their central midfielders.

Matthew Baldisimo played as the aforementioned deepest midfielder for Pacfic FC and was caught on the ball a few times in the opening 10 minutes, but it was goalkeeper Nolan Wirth getting caught which led to the penalty that opened the scoring. The loose touches and poor passes in dangerous, central areas continued from Pacfic FC, and the Halifax side found it easy to press Pacific. After about 20-25 minutes, Pacific FC settled down and found it easier to keep the ball and break the Wanderers press with a combination of longer passes and by simply not missing easy passes like they did in the first quarter of the match. Once they possessed the ball in their opponents’ half they moved the ball quickly and purposively, with Victor Blasco playing fairly direct from the left and Marco Bustos constantly cutting in from the right to combine with his team mates.

The first half settled into a pattern of Pacific dictating the play and HFX Wanderers sporadically pressing. They had the lead and didn’t need to push the envelope, and their centre backs are designed to defend the box, not defend space in behind. Indeed, the way the deep lying midfielders played was a microcosm of how each side played. Louis Beland-Goyette: playing combative and simple in the middle for the Atlantic side, and Matthew Baldisimo: constantly trying to find space and playing forward thinking passes for the west coasters.

The second half saw Hart ask Aboubacar Sissoko to essentially man mark Baldisimo, likely realizing that their press was their best weapon and that Baldisimo was prone to losing possession. Kah responded by taking out the two midfielders in front of Baldisimo and moving to a 4-2-3-1 with Bustos central.

Shortly thereafter Pacific tied it up after the Wanderers committed men forward from a set piece and never properly reset their shape. Terran Campbell hit the bar and Pacific’s new right winger, Zachary Verhoven, evened the game with a fine finish. Bustos eventually scored their second from his central position after a mistake by Jake Ruby. Hart himself made multiple substitutions to get more men forward, and after a goal line clearance and a Pacific defender hitting the post, Kah decided to bring on Marcel De Jong for Bustos and move to three centre backs. The pressure eventually caught up to Kah’s men and a second penalty meant that no team had yet won a match at The Island Games.

Individual Focus

Cory Bent

The winger was his team’s best presser, and his hunger directly earned the penalty for Hart’s men. His athleticism and timing caused problems for Jordan Haynes all match, and he provided good support for his own full back, as well. His closing down was just as much a weapon as his runs in behind the defence.

Matthew Baldisimo

For any side playing a proactive 4-3-3 system, the deep lying midfielder is key. Baldisimo did well in showing for the ball and looking forward, but too often he was caught on the ball and misplaced his passes. For Pacific FC to be successful playing this way, they need whoever is playing in front of the centre backs to be more accurate in their execution.

Trends Focus

HFX Wanderers FC

Is pressing, and pressing to win the ball back in dangerous areas, not just to force a long ball, a real part of Hart’s plan? Or was it just a feature of this match against a side that often gifted them the ball in the opening stages? In the same vein, are individual instructions to man mark opposition players going to be common place, or was Hart just managing this specific match?

Pacific FC

How much will Kah rely on playing a 4-3-3 with Baldisimo, or anyone else, playing a deep lying role? Does he consider moving to a 4-2-3-1 and moving Bustos centrally if his deep midfielder is ineffective, and to get even more attackers in dangerous positions? Also, what’s the deal with the inverted central midfielders? Is Kah trying to funnel things through the middle, or is he simply over thinking things?

Match 2 (8/15/20): York9 FC 2 – 2 Atletico Ottawa

Meta Focus

On a macro level, this match was about which side was able to get their attacking midfielders the ball in dangerous positions. Francisco Acuna was Atletico Ottawa’s most dangerous player, while Alvaro Rivero played at the tip of York9 FC’s diamond and often found himself pushing past the two strikers ahead of him. In the formations the two teams played, the attacking midfielder is always going to be a key.

Both sides lined up in a way that made it natural for their full backs to be a secondary outlet, with Mista playing with inverted wingers and Jim Brennan choosing a formation containing no wingers. Acuna would drift into spaces around Matthew Arnone, often linking with Ben Fisk and Vasho Neufville, while Rivero was less a creator and more a driver from deep. As mentioned, he often found himself beyond the strikers and would periodically be the first presser for his team.

On a micro level, the battle between Ottawa’s left back Neufville and Joseph Di Chiara, who was acting as York’s right sided shuttler, was the most interesting. Neufville used his quickness and drive to push forward often, while Di Chiara found himself with a lot of the ball on the inside right channel. After an early exchange saw both players receive a yellow card, each one of their duels became more and more high leverage with Y9 increasingly pressuring the referee to send Neufville off.

Eventually, the constant attacks from Neufville led to Atletico Ottawa’s first ever goal as he made the decision to dribble past his man rather than swing in a cross before picking a calm cut back to Mohamed Korouma. Acuna was set up to be Ottawa’s key man, and his play and the focus required to contain him allowed Neufville to impose himself as the most dangerous attacking player on the pitch.

Early in the second half, Acuna popped up in the right hand channel after a very nice combination in midfield, and the Mexican midfielder calmly laid the ball to Malcolm Shaw to put his side up by two. But the mini game from the first half gave York9 a lifeline as Di Chiara beat Neufville to a loose ball and the provider of the first goal was sent off. Not only was this devastating for Ottawa for the fact that they were down a man, but doubly so because the man who was sent off was one of their best players. The knock on effect was also that Ottawa’s other star man, Acuna, was sacrificed by Mista to solidify his line up.

York9 were able to take advantage of their numerical superiority, and Di Chiara equalized from the spot after cleverly getting his body in the way of a defender to earn a penalty. Di Chiara’s ability to win fouls had single handedly earned his team a man advantage (he won both fouls for Neufville’s two yellow cards) and a goal. While not a long term strategy for success, such clever play can turn an individual match.

Rivero had been subbed off by this point, and two of the substitutes had combined for the first goal. While York had lacked any real plan before the red card, they now played with more purpose — perhaps not having to deal with Atletico Ottawa’s two most prominent attacking threats was as important as being a man up. In the end Atletico Ottawa held on for their first ever point.

Individual Focus

Joseph Di Chiara

Di Chiara was involved in the match in a variety of ways, and he was the most dangerous Y9 midfielder from open play. Perhaps that was because he was the shuttler on his natural side (as opposed to Kyle Porter who played on the left of the midfield diamond), but if York 9 FC play this system and their forwards are unable to create then he may be a key player for Brennan.

Francisco Acuna

The Mexican attacking midfielder was able to pick up the ball in dangerous areas and was a focus of York9 defensively. He looks to be the key man in Mista’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and must be able to combine with the inverted wingers as he did for the second goal.

Trends Focus

York9 FC

What will be York’s primary source of chance creation? Prior to the red card, they created one good chance which fell for Ryan Telfer. Telfer must be prioritized as a key player for the Nine Stripes, but it was difficult for them from open play. Their full backs were a positive last season, especially in the second part of the year, but it is difficult for them to be the primary option. Brennan was missing a number of players, including Manny Aparicio, so maybe it is unfair to read too much into this match.

Atletico Ottawa

For a brand new club, the way Atletico Ottawa lined up was clear and logical. A 4-2-3-1 with a careful double pivot, inverted wingers, overlapping full backs (especially on the left), and an attacking midfielder who finds and exploits space. With the book now out on them so to speak, what happens if Acuna is unavailable, has an off night, or effectively marked out the game? Neufville showed he can be a real attacking option from full back, but the other Ottawa attackers will need to be relied on during the season.