After going on four years, I think I’m finally starting to sour on the disappointment of dropping points at home.
There’s no other way to come at it anymore. That I could see Sunday’s equalizer at Wanderers’ Grounds coming says it all, really. Time and again, if there’s one thing Haligonians can count on their team to do, it’s play hard and give away an easy point at the end.
Silver linings exist, and have existed since 2019. It’s always worth trying to see the bigger picture — that this is a start-up professional club in Nova Scotia, trying to build a talent base where there hasn’t been one before.
There have been heady days where it doesn’t even seem real, and rationally speaking, perhaps the pattern fits where the project is at.
I don’t think that will be a lot of consolation to Wanderers, and it shouldn’t be to Wanderers fans, not at this point.
Week 5: 0 – 0 @ Valour
Week 6: 2 – 0 @ Guelph in the Voyageur’s Cup; 2 – 2 v. Cavalry
I remember a game from early 2019, in Winnipeg, in which Wanderers outplayed Valour for long stretches, then coughed up a soft goal, coming away with nothing.
By that measure, the 0 – 0 is an improvement, though they came pretty close to re-reading the same script late, when Valour were able to break a little bit more effectively.
There has been a tactical development for this team, however, from a team reliant of defending set-pieces to a possession team that controls space and now must be, like all such teams, a bit shoddy defending set-pieces (all four goals last weekend came from corners). Certainly, the coaching staff has evolved, from the steady-but-stodgy Stephen Hart to local leader Mesut Mert to Madrid-trained Alex Dorado. It is still coalescing, but we saw a sneak peek of what it could do against a discombobulated and overmatched Guelph United in the cup, when Wanderers generated a whopping 3.81 expected goals, and held the League 1 side to well below one.
There are some similarities with the way Forge play, and that game this Friday night is now critical. Much has been made of Wanderers home record, which is indeed very good, but every time they drop two points there — and they do it a lot — they set a tougher task for themselves on road trips in the heat of summer.
Next: v. Forge on May 20th; v. Toronto in the Voyageur’s Cup on May 24th.
Week 5: 0 – 0 v. Wanderers
Week 6: 0 – 3 @ Vancouver in the cup; 1 – 0 v. York
The cup exit was probably pretty predictable. For about an hour leading up to kick-off there was all kinds of fun talk about Phil dos Santos coming back to Vancouver, which really was one of the more genuine and authentic stories we’ve had in this league. More of that, please. More will come, as we grow up.
It was quickly replaced by polite aversion of the eyes. There’s a talent gap in Winnipeg — with the rest of CanPL, much less a Major League Soccer side that’s starting to repair some of the damage the dos Santos brothers did to it. The same foibles were on display as Vanni Sartini dismantled Valour with basic wide play — there’s a reason the Whitecaps used to lose so frequently to San Jose and Portland.
Winnipeg faces a lot of the same challenges in building an identity and talent pool as Halifax does, but there’s a divergence in willingness to try bold new things, and perhaps a divergence in that Valour have never lost at home in the dos Santos era, and though they failed to find the win against Halifax, they bounced back from a poor game to snatch it against York this past weekend.
I think the dos Santos approach is much better suited to a league like CanPL, and to a club like Valour, than it is to MLS. I don’t expect much of this team in the cup, never did, but they’ve been good in the league thus far, largely without their best defender in Andrew Jean-Baptiste. Phil has quickly figured out what works — Willy Akio and Moses Dyer hitting channels all day — and while that won’t break down top teams, it will get them enough points to be in contention for the playoffs.
Next: @ Cavalry on May 21st
Week 5: L 0 – 3 v. Cavalry
Week 6: L 1 – 2 @ Cavalry in the cup; L 1 – 2 @ Pacific
This was not a happy week for the Eddies.
It was, I think, the first time they ran into the Slog this year. Every team hits it, usually in mid-August when it’s hot and horrible, but the Eddies aren’t every team — they’re a patchwork assemblage of loanees and local products, thin even then, and as soon as the usual injuries hit, they caved. Bad.
They also bounced back, to the point they might have been unlucky not to get a result from both the road games last week, though in Victoria at least that may have had as much to do with Pacific looking a bit complacent to my eye, especially late.
What you can say about the Eddies, aside from their having the rough-edged energy of youth, is that they have one or two key pieces who have some serious promise.
One of them is Wanderers and one-time Canada U17 prospect Wes Timotéo. Every time he’s out for Edmonton, something good happens. He scored their goal against Pacific. If they can get 90 minutes out of him, Tobias Warschewski, and Kairo Coore consistently, Edmonton can look like a CanPL team, albeit a lower-end one.
The first two guys there are under option next year, with Wanderers and York, respectively, and both would fit in nicely if they keep this form up. Kairo Coore, who was pretty dominant in AUS last year, is one of the Eddies’ few players under contract.
He’ll be back in USPORTs in August — it makes too much sense to send him back to Cape Breton, where he can continue school and score a bunch more goals at a lower level.
Come January, however, I’d not be at all surprised to see him do what Matteo di Brienne did and sign directly with a CanPL club. If not, he’ll be the best player available in the draft.
Next: v. Ottawa on May 22
Week 5: Postponed @ Valour
Week 6: W 2 – 0 v. Outremont in the cup; D 1 – 1 v. Ottawa
Forge are too good to stay in this rut forever. Plus they always start slow, and Bobby Smyrniotis is too good a coach.
They’ll figure it out.
Hoo boy, it’s a bad rut, though, and signs are starting to emerge of something more structural. For all the talent, the attack is really, really predictable, is the thing. It’s combinations down the channels, every time.
You could see Ottawa recognizing that and reacting, and Forge eventually got their goal more off a broken-down potshot than anything Bobby drew up. The same problem made the game against Outremont look much harder than it needed to, and got their goals mostly off goalkeeping howlers. Even a PLSQ team playing their first game of the season figured Forge out. And both those games were in Hamilton.
Some of these problems are reminiscent of the last time we had a full season, with travel, way back in 2019. Maybe coincidentally, that was also the last time Forge relied heavily on Emery Welshmen at #9, too.
Welshmen’s a funny player. He’s one of those guys works in very particular ways and so has had a very particularly inconsistent career. If you play it into him and let him turn one-on-one, he’s among the most dangerous strikers in the league. He’s not really a hold-up striker, though, he doesn’t bring a lot else in the build-up, and you can limit him by putting two guys near him and not getting too tight.
For the first time, Forge miss Anthony Novak. (Cavalry miss him, too.) They got by last year; they figured it out, maybe as much with momentum as anything methodological.
Which is why I think they’ll figure this out, too. There are the usual suspects — injuries, mainly — but I’ll be very interested to see them (hopefully up close) on Friday.
Next: @ Wanderers on May 20th
Week 5: W 1 – 0 @ Ottawa
Week 6: W 2 – 1 v. Edmonton
Being the only team not playing mid-week in the cup — they get a bye to the next round — Pacific were able to bounce back from that week four loss in Calgary.
That puts them far and away on top, with 16 points from seven games, albeit most of those are home games.
They ground out the win in Ottawa, a little bit more through fortune than skill, but good teams find a way. Alejandro Diaz scored one of the kind of poacher’s goals that are very much his thing. Ottleti thought it was offside — it wasn’t. Pacific gave up 23 shots, though, and Ottawa very much should have had at least one.
It wasn’t a particularly great game.
Their match against Edmonton this past weekend was actually a fair bit better, partly due to the atmosphere at Starlight and partly because, for all Edmonton struggled at times, Pacific played down to them a bit.
I think where Pacific benefit is that they know exactly what they are. It’s not a team without weaknesses — no team in this league is — but this group has now had going on three years together and it shows in the speed at which they can pull off attacks. It lets their best players play in their best way, which is why Manny Aparicio and Marco Bustos have been so good.
Pacific spent a lot on those guys, neither of whom were sure things coming out of York and Valour, respectively. It paid off, and it do so largely because their coaching — first with Pa-Modou Kah, always with James Merriman — has been so consistent.
Next: York comes out to the west coast on May 20th
Week 5: W 3 – 0 @ Edmonton
Week 6: W 2 – 1 v. Edmonton in the cup; D 2 – 2 @ Wanderers
I long ago used up all my lines about how injured Cavalry are, and so have nothing left for this week. Sorry. My bad.
This team is literally being held together with sports tape right now. They’re not far off having to get Tofa Fakunle suited up again. Somehow, despite it all, they’re still getting points.
On Sunday, it was all basic, simple football — the kind Cavalry have brought every single game over the past four years. It is missing quite a bit of the flair and energy of 2019 right now, and if it weren’t, they might have come away with full points this fortnight.
They’ll be disappointed to concede two goals off corners in Halifax, both produced more by sloppy communication than by Wanderers being particularly dangerous on set-pieces — that’s supposed to be Cavalry’s thing, and it was, at the other end. They’ll also be disappointed to have let the Eddies back into the cup game with an unnecessary penalty. These are the kinds of things teams that are barely holding it together can’t afford, at least not for long.
More worrying, for me, are the injuries themselves. They’re getting Sergio Camargo, Charlie Trafford, and Jo Di Chiara back soon, but neither has ever been the picture of health. Three players are out for the year, impacting how much money Cavalry can spend (teams get roster spot relief, but still have to pay the injured players). They did sign Bradley Vliet to help replace Tom Field, but it was Vliet gave away that penalty against Edmonton. Cavalry’s best left-back is currently playing for Pacific. And guys like Jose Escalante, Joe Mason, and Mason Trafford haven’t been injured yet, but do you really want to bet on any of them over the summer?
Tommy Wheeldon will find some way to make it respectable, he always does, and he always believes in the project entirely.
I think a rebuild is coming this winter, though. This team needs to get younger, and it needs to find a way for that younger talent to contribute.
They did re-sign back Dan Kaiser this week after Fraser Aird tore his ACL, and Kaiser’s got some potential, though he’s not Aird. Aribim Pepple is back, too, after trials in various exotic locales. He’s not Anthony Novak.
When that rebuild comes, it starts with better and wider recruitment. No more punting on the USPORTs draft and they need to find talent beyond just Foothills. I’d look to the new League 1 BC to unearth a few prospects.
Next: v. Valour on May 21st
Week 5: W 1 – 0 v. Forge
Week 6: W 1 – 1 on penalties @ Ottawa in the cup; L 0 – 1 @ Valour
Things are moving in a direction, at least. On the field, anyway.
It’s still a bit hard to get a sense of exactly what Martin Nash wants this team to be about because so many of the international players are still only partway available and because Osaze De Rosario is exploding onto the Canadian soccer scene and making it hard to focus on anything else.
He missed a penalty last weekend, which might be the first blemish on his season. He’s still been York’s best player by a mile, doing basically what you’d expect De Ro to do, creating around the box and finishing with ruthless efficiency when he gets the chance.
The rest of the team is starting to find a shape around him, too, especially now Lowell Wright’s back. He plays off De Rosario really nicely, with Osaze running off Wright’s hold-up but also taking advantage of the space Wright’s own runs open. They’re both very modern, mobile attackers, and when York get them the ball, good things happen.
There’s a lot of Jim Brennan’s style still in this team, but Brennan was always about the midfield play and that’s where York.Nash is still coming together. I don’t think they’ve found their best combination yet. It definitely involves Isaiah Johnston, who’s been one of the best players in CanPL through the first month or so. It probably involves Max Ferrari when he’s healthy, and it probably has to involve Jordan Wilson for balance, at least for the time being.
Where does that leave the sexy internationals? Sebastian Gutierrez finally pulled off one of his hero moves against Forge. William Wallace has injected some pace when he’s come in, but it’s been late every time. Lisandro Cabrera is finally in Canada but hasn’t yet played.
Dunno. Don’t care. York are doing what York should be doing — playing young Canadians, and succeeding with them.
Now people need to show up and watch that.
Next: @ Pacific on May 20th
Week 5: L 0 – 1 v. Pacific
Week 6: L 1 – 1 on penalties v. York in the cup; D 1 – 1 v. Forge
I expected it to take until at least summer for this team to fall apart.
Ottawa fans are going to hate hearing that because they’ve been adorably brash so far, but this team hasn’t won since getting smoked at home by Valour and arguably hasn’t outplayed a team all year, save maybe this past weekend against fellow basement-dwellers Forge.
(Had to get that in there.)
Carlos Gonzalez’s team is still miles better than Mista’s team. The understanding and pace they used to get at Forge was refreshing, and if they can get Ballou Tabla making those plays in the channel consistently — he’s about halfway to showing that long-lost potential once more — Gonzalez can still pull this together. Offensively, at least.
Defensively, I’m a bit less sure. They’re struggling, and I can’t shake the suspicion it’s more personnel than tactical. MacDonald Niba hasn’t been as advertised. Diego Espejo’s a fighter but he’s struggling with the physicality of this league. Drew Beckie’s smart positionally but he’s never been a scrambler.
Consequently, a lot of goals against are coming off mistakes and second balls that Ottawa don’t do a great job of winning, especially in the box. See Diaz’s winner in week five for a great example. They haven’t kept a clean sheet since week two against Wanderers, and that one only came thanks to some superb goalkeeping by Nate Ingham.
Still a work in progress. Progressing, but not there yet.
Next: @ Edmonton on May 22nd, where they will need Malcolm Shaw and Brian Wright to rediscover their scoring touches.
Goatee of the Week
Also progressing: Aidan Daniels’ facial hair.
Like him, it’s got scintillating potential. Like his game last weekend, it’s not quite clicking yet, but with time, could be one of the best in CanPL.
Maybe even destined for a higher level.
What I’m watching next week
Wanderers’ match against Forge will be telling for both teams: is this the same old Wanderers team that will fritter away enough points at home to cost itself opportunities further down the line? Or is it a team that’s going to give TFC — and particularly TFC’s defense — a run in the cup? TFC’s defense does not like any kind of running.
The Forge of old could grind out road games. They have two, against Wanderers and then Edmonton, that they can win, if they find that stability and patience that served them well in past years. If they don’t….
I also want to see Ottawa and York this weekend, in their respective games. Both are potentially mid-table teams. Both could, if things go wrong — if they continue going wrong, in Ottawa’s case — slide. Both have some discipline problems. Makes for fun viewing.
I’ll have a liveblog for Wanderers – Forge, starting Friday at 6:45pm.