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.
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.
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.
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?
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?