On Saturday, Vancouver FC will face their furthest opponents in the league in Halifax Wanderers. Vancouver are coming off a historic first-ever win against York United, and have their home opener just a week away. But VFC will try to not let the past nor the future distract them from what will be a very tough match in Halifax.
“Its Going To Be Like A Chess Match”
Halifax is one of the five teams that has not won a game yet in the league, after a plethora of draws, but still boast one of the most intriguing sides in the league. Nicknamed the “Vaughnderers” after the appointment of Patrick Gheisar from Vaughn Azzurri, and his subsequent raid of their best players, HFX has surprised many so far this season.
With two draws in the league and one defeat in the Canadian Championship, on paper it looks like another underwhelming start. However, when looking at how they have performed on the pitch, the performances have begged to differ. Halifax have looked a team with great tactical discipline, being secure in their pragmatic 4-1-4-1 formation. They are a team that love to keep the tempo of the match, recording the most passes-per-minute in the league so far, and second in passes per 90. Perhaps their greatest asset has been one of the most underrated acquisitions of the off-season in Lorenzo Callegari.
The former PSG Academy product has looked the real deal in just two games. He has the most passes in the league with 174, and is second in the most passes into the final third with 33. He is a through-and-through pace-setter, capable of slowing and accelerating any game just with his passing. He is also proficient at just slipping past challenges, and gliding through the half-spaces. It is then no wonder he has been many HFX fans’ new favourite player.
Ahead of facing such a team, Vancouver FC head coach Afshin Ghotbi admitted that he relishes the challenge of playing a “team that is structured and organized” but he also noted that his team was as well. He believes that tomorrow’s match is going to be like a “chess match” and he hopes all the fans will tune in to watch this tactical battle.
Defensive Structure & Counter-Attack To Glory
While Vancouver had to wait until their third competitive game to score their first ever goal, they have impressed in their defensive resilience. In the league, they have the most defensive duels per 90 (197), the most interceptions (104), and the second most shots blocked (12). A great part of this goes down to VFC’s defensive structure, that is capable of shifting from a 4-3-3 to a 5-2-3 with great ease thanks to Kadin Chung. Another important factor of this is in the personnel they have. They have three big physical defenders in Rocco Romeo, Eugene Pele Martinez, and Ibrahim Bakare. Romeo and Pele are fantastic at reading the game and being able to step in and intercept the ball before it becomes dangerous, hence why they are second and fourth in interceptions in the league, respectively.
Meanwhile, Bakare is another versatile player at Ghotbi’s disposal, being able to play on as a right-sided centre-back or an outright right-back. He has so far shown his excellent ability to challenge players and show bravery in front of them, hence why he is leading in shots blocked in the league so far. But we cannot forget about the club captain in Callum Irving, who leads the league in shots saved with 11, and who has bailed out Vancouver the few times they have been caught out at the back.
But for all their defensive prowess, a team needs to be able to score goals to win matches, something that took over 180 minutes of competitive play to occur. But Ghotbi has a clear plan on how to achieve that while maintaining his sides defensive structure, and that is through counter attacks. Ghotbi mentioned in the press conference before the match that he had trained his team to “be able to counter attack with four or five players” as soon as he saw the fixture list. Playing three games away from home is always tough, so Ghotbi wanted to be able to ensure that Vancouver could still be dangerous in the attack, even when they are pinned back by the home team.
Tomorrow’s match will be a test of patience for Vancouver, as they face a side who are not hurried to overcommit players unless the moment is right. They will then have to make sure that they are clinical enough to take those chances when HFX might slip-up, or else face a very tough afternoon in Halifax.