Coastal Rollercoaster: Pacific FC, Halifax Wanderers combine for entertaining 2-2 draw in ‘Island Games’ coastal clash

Pacific FC and Halifax Wanderers combined for an entertaining 2-2 draw in their opening match clash at the ‘Island Games’ on Saturday, giving each team 1 point heading into their second set of games. Here is our post-match report from this one. 

While there has yet to be a victory so far, you can’t say that it hasn’t been entertaining. 

For the third straight game at the CanPL’s ‘Island Games’ tournament, there has been a 2-2 draw, this time between coastal rivals Pacific FC and Halifax Wanderers, who combined for an entertaining matchup this Saturday afternoon. 

After Halifax clawed out to an early lead after a clumsy penalty from Pacific, the Tridents did well to reverse the score with a pair of second-half tallies, before Halifax got the equalizer via another penalty. 

So for the third straight game at this tournament, a team sees it’s lead slip away, and for the third time, it’s via the penalty spot, as rustiness has certainly played a role in the up-and-down starts from each of the 6 CPL teams that have played so far. 

“Yeah, we all know that it’s the rustiness,” Pacific FC head coach Pa Modou Kah said after the game. “People are rusty, because you’re not used to getting into that situation, you’re not moving your feet, and then that causes penalties.”

“So that’s part of football, again like I’ve said, people haven’t played a competitive game in however many days, training doesn’t give you the same competitive edge that you’re gonna get when you get to play against the opposition.”

While Pacific will be frustrated with themselves after throwing away a late lead, Halifax was full value for their draw today, especially after the late comeback. 

As a rebuilding squad at this tournament, they wanted to make sure to leave an impression with their play at these ‘Island Games’, and if this first game is any indication, mission successful so far. 

“Really the only bad spell we had was the 10 minutes where they got the goals.” Halifax manager Stephen Hart said after the game. “But other than that, the game was fairly balanced, I thought, although I’d have to see it again, because I might be biased, but the way we clawed back, every single substitute that came on had an impact, the shuffle was excellent.”

To start the game, Pacific FC came out in what appeared to be a 4-3-3, but was announced to be a 3-5-2, with Nolan Wirth getting the nod in goal for Pacific over newcomer Callum Irving. 

On the other side, Halifax came out with a 4-3-3 of their own, with former Montreal Impact man Jason Beaulieu starting in goal over the injured Halifax native Christian Oxner. 

Despite the offensive lineups from the two teams, the game would remain in a stalemate rather early on, with both sides unable to break down the other. 

So in a sense, it was no surprise to see a mistake lead to the score being opened, as Wirth mishandled a backpass into his box in the 12th minute, giving it right to Halifax winger Cory Bent, whom he immediately fouled, giving the referee an easy penalty decision to call. 

Despite some Pacific protests, it would rightfully stand, allowing marquee Wanderers signing, Joao Morelli, to step up, and slot home cooly, giving Halifax an early lead. 

“You can only get penalties if you attack,” Hart said after the game. “ And we certainly had those moments where that little final pass would get picked off or the ball was cleared off the line, the ball hit the post, I mean it’s the nature of the game.”

Soon after, Pacific would get their best chance of the first half, as Victor Blasco made a great run down the left flank, setting up 2019 CPL Golden Boot runner-up Terran Campbell inside the box, but the big striker sent his strike over the bar, much to the chagrin of Pacific’s bench. 

Aside from that, however, that would be all that the first half had to offer offensively, as aside from some marauding Blasco runs that led to some wayward shots, and a nice Bent set-piece from out wide that nearly tested Wirth, both teams found themselves stuck in a defensive match. 

Halifax was content to sit back, conceding 63% possession to Pacific, who had been unable to break down the Wanderer’s staunch defensive posture. Heading into the second half, they needed to find a way to get more involved offensively, especially in the final third, allowing them to turn their lofty possession numbers into chances.

To start the second off, however, the chances started coming in fast and furious from both sides, as Halifax and Pacific seemed rejuvenated after the short break. 

Bent first came close in the 55th minute, as his volley sailed over the goal, before he played provider in the 58th minute, with his low ball into the box finding second-half substiute Akeem Garcia, who would be denied by Wirth. 

At the other end, Pacific found a few chances of their own, as Blasco snuck in behind the defence in the 60th minute, but his chipped effort over an onrushing Beaulieu slipped just past the post and wide, before Mathew Baldisimo would sting the goalkeeper’s hands with an effort from distance less than a minute later. 

That would pave the way for an equalizer, however, as Pacific’s offensive push down the left-hand side was rewarded, with Blasco and Campbell’s chemistry down that side the instigator. 

After Blasco played in Campbell, he elected to try and chip the onrushing Beaulieu

from just outside of the box, and he was successful in doing so, but he was denied by the crossbar. 

Luckily for Pacific, that ball would then bounce to substitute Zach Verhoven, one of the breakout stars of the 2019 season, who calmly set himself up on his right foot to shoot, and slotted the ball home into the low corner, giving Pacific the equalizer in the 69th minute. 

“Every man in the roster is going to be important, and for me, Zach was the perfect example of how that works,” Bustos said of Verhoven after the game. “Guy gets the chance to play, whether it’s 30 minutes, 20 minutes, 5 minutes to come on and make a difference, and obviously today, all of our subs came in and made a difference with their energy.”

Soon after, Pacific would find the lead, after Josh Heard went on a nice run down the left flank before squaring the ball into the middle. After a few passes, it found its way to Verhoven at the edge of the box, and instead of shooting, he sort of pushed the ball into the box, finding Marco Bustos in a pocket of space, just onside. 

From there, Pacific’s marquee signing made no mistake, as it was on his boot and off of it in a hurry, slotting into the top corner of the goal, giving Pacific a 75th-minute lead. 

Even though it may have looked offside at first glance, it was most definitely not, but at the same time, the thought did cross his mind after scoring. 

“Yeah, actually, in the water break I thought for sure I was offside,” Bustos said with a laugh after the game. “When I watched the goal again, I wasn’t though, so I was able to put in the net and that’s all that matters.”

As has been customary with this ‘Island Games’, however, Pacific couldn’t sit on the lead, however, as Halifax pushed forward. After coming close with a few chances inside the box, Garcia would be fouled by Lukas MacNaughton inside the Pacific box, leading the referee to point to the spot, giving the Wanderers a spot-kick. 

From there, Ibrahima Sanoh would make no mistake, as he sent the ball high into the left-hand corner of the goal, tying the game up at 2, which was huge for Halifax considering that they looked all-but out during Pacific’s second-half surge. 

And despite a late push from Pacific, which included a dipping Marcel De Jong free kick that stung Beaulieu’s hands, the game would end that way, making it the third ‘Island Games’ clash to finish all square at 2. 

Considering the balance of the game, it was a fair result, but Pacific will certainly feel hard done by, not by the penalty, but more so about their struggles to close out the game, especially after doing so well to crawl right back into the thick of things. 

On Halifax’s end, it was a resilient result, as they did well to make sure their heads didn’t dip when Pacific reversed the lead, instead finding a way to finish strong and make sure that the spoils would be split between both sides. 

As a first game back to action, it wasn’t the worst result for both teams in the balance of things, as Halifax’s Louis Beland-Goyette made sure to point out at the end of the game. 

“It was hard and unfortunately we didn’t get a preseason game together to get the rust off and everything, but I think for the first game, and we get a point out of it, it’s really good,” Beland-Goyette said after the match. “It’s a good start. And it’s great for our confidence to go into this tournament thing, and get a point out of a game like this.”

So now, for both teams, a chance to regroup, use this game as a launching board, and push forward into the rest of the tournament. 

It’s still early, and with the rash of early draws, they’re all still very much in the mix of things, so now it’ll be about using this game as a learning moment and moving forward. 

In the Mixer: 

-There’s been some early penalty fever in the CPL, with 4 penalties called across the first 3 games, all of which have been converted. While 3 of the 4 have been stone-cold penalties, leaving little debate into whether they should’ve been called or not, it certainly shows how rusty the defenders have been. Good on them for playing aggressively, at least from a neutral perspective, but you have to think that if this trend continues, coaches are going to start to get real frustrated with their charges. 

– Also, credit to teams for not sitting back when down a goal. Each game has featured lead changes, as no team has been able to successfully sit on a lead (hence the three 2-2 draws). For fans of teams, that’s exactly what you’d want to see, as you know that even if you’re team goes down, they’re far from being out of the match. 

-Will be interesting to monitor Forge vs Edmonton and Cavalry vs Valour on Sunday. Intensity wise, Forge vs Cavalry was the best game by a country mile, as York vs Ottawa and Pacific vs Halifax both struggled to match a similar rhythm to the one set by the two 2019 finalists. Tactically and talent-wise, these teams should be able to stick with Forge and Cavalry, but if they can’t match the intensity, a Forge vs Cavalry final seems to be destiny. 

-So in their next game, against York, keep an eye on Pacific’s intensity. With Kah in charge, you know that Pacific will want to step their game up from an intensity standpoint, as they did in the second half of this game, after a slow start. Against York, which is going to be a battle of the two biggest CPL offseason darlings according to most pundits, they’ll want to show that they can step up their game and control the occasion, as they did for periods here. They showed that they can control the ball, now they just need to show that they can be more dangerous with it, and truly push teams into submission. 

-On the flip side, hat tip for Halifax for disrupting Pacific’s possession play with their stout defensive block. If they keep defending like that, and just avoid that 10-minute blip in which Pacific found a way to break in behind their lines, they will not be an easy out for any team at this tournament. 

Looking Forward:

So stay tuned for both of these teams next games, which later this week. Pacific will take on York this Tuesday, while Halifax has a date with the defending champions, Forge, on Wednesday, which should also be a tantalizing fixture. 

As both teams showed in this one, there were flashes, but there’s a lot more to come, as everyone works their way back to full fitness, while subsequently shaking off the rust. 

If each team can find a way to take what they did well today, and propagate that over 90 minutes, they can definitely stake a claim to make the 4-team final round, alongside what is expected to be Forge and Cavalry. 

But until we see them against other teams, it’s too early to say where they stand, but after one game, there is certainly a lot to keep an eye on. 

Especially in Pacific’s case, as they look to build off of Kah’s project as a head coach, they showed a lot of positive moments today, so if they can just clean up their game, no doubt that they can make a lot of noise at this ‘Island Games’, especially with the talent that they have at their disposal. 

Up Next: Pacific FC vs York 9 FC, Tuesday, August 18th, 2020, 10:00 AM PST/13:00 EST

Cover photo via: Canadian Premier League / Chant Photography

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