Final Score: HFX Wanderers 1-0 York United Goalscorers: Garcia 71' Game of the 2022 season: 33 CPL match: 284​

Match in a minute or less

In a 2022 CPL opening day rematch, the HFX Wanderers played host to York United at Wanderers Ground on Saturday, kicking off a fun weekend of league play. And much like in their first meeting of the season, it’d be hard to split the pair of them in this second encounter, too, as they battled for every inch of grass on the day, making for a tightly-contested game right through to the final whistle. Despite that, however, the Wanderers would manage to give their fans something to cheer about late on, as an Akeem Garcia penalty would be all they needed to grab all three points, snapping a three-game winless run for them in the process.

Three Observations

Wanderers use return to defensive stability to refind home form:

Typically one of the best teams in the CPL when it comes to winning at home, that hadn’t really been the case so far this year for the Wanderers, who heading into this game, had only managed to pick up four out of a possible nine league points at Wanderers Ground this season. Not only that, but they hadn’t looked like the typically solid team that they tend to be at home, either, conceding a whopping seven goals across those three games, failing to keep a clean sheet at home this season. You add in a 2-1 loss to Toronto FC in the Canadian Championship, too, and things hadn’t looked ideal for the Wanderers so far this season, who were looking a lot sloppier at home than usual. In this game, however, that changed, in a big way. Not only did they keep a clean sheet, their first at home and third overall, but did so in dominant fashion, too, allowing just 0.55 Expected Goals on 11 shots, including none on target. Yet, that’s just reflective of the sort of defensive commitment that they had on the afternoon. Starting with the duo of Andre Rampersad and Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé in midfield, who were their usual reliable selves defensively, shielding the solid back four of Zachary Fernandez, Mateo Restrepo, Eriks Santos and Colin Gander, it left little space for York to operate in the final third. Through that, they were really able to shut York out of the dangerous areas for most of the game, especially in their box, where York just hardly got a chance to get settled across the 90 minutes. You add in the commitment that the Wanderers showed in their duels, getting stuck into all sorts of tackles and not shying away from any aerial battles, it really left York to have to fight for every inch of territory on the pitch. As a result, it’s not that surprising to see that the Wanderers managed to win almost 60% of their duels in this game, including 65% of their aerial battles, which just shows the sort of defensive commitment that they had on the day. And that’s key. Part of the reason why the Wanderers have typically always been tough to beat at home has been due to their defensive effort, but that just wasn’t there this season, for the most part. So it’s no coincidence that in the game that they returned to that framework, they were able to grab such a victory, even if the performance wasn’t one that they were particularly happy with. “Yeah, a clean sheet for our defence is always good, but the most important is the three points,” Santos said afterwards. “Doesn’t matter if it’s 2-1, 3-2. (To be fair), this clean sheet is better for the defenders and the keeper, but the important thing is the three points.” Because of that, it shows why they’ll need to maintain this going forward. When you’re committed defensively, it’s not fun to play against, making it hard for opponents to have to go to Wanderers Ground and deal with that for 90 minutes. Through that, it gives them a buffer, knowing that even if they aren’t at their best offensively, they’ll be able to rely on their defence, giving them a chance to snatch a result. Then, when they combine their possession-based play into that equation, of which there were flashes of in this game, then things will really start to be fun for the Wanderers, allowing them to make these sorts of home results a common occurrence once again. “I'm glad that we not only had a clean sheet, but that we held on for the result,” Wanderers head coach, Stephen Hart, admitted afterwards.

Rotated York defence maintains solidity, but goals remain hard to find:

So far the best defensive team in the CPL this season, leading the league in goals against and xG against, York hasn’t been a fun team for attackers to play in 2022, both home and away. With a solid cast of defenders, and a strong team commitment to working hard off the ball, it’s led to a formula that has worked quite well for them, as evidenced by their numbers. But despite that, there was some worry that those numbers could take a hit in this game, as suspension saw three key pieces in that system, defenders Diyaeddine Abzi and Chrisnovic N’Sa, and midfielder Isiah Johnston, all miss out on this game. You add in the continued absence of defender, Roger Thompson, who remains out injured, and that just further shows how tough things were for York in terms of missing key pieces defensively ahead of this game, demonstrating why many felt like they could stand to leak some goals on Saturday. As a result, it left York to go for a makeshift back four of Mateo Hernández, Dominick Zator, Jordan Wilson and Eduardo Jesus to start, with Hernández and Wilson dropping in from midfield, and Jesus making one of his first appearances, making for quite the experimental unit. To everyone’s surprise, however, that wouldn’t cost York on the afternoon, as despite that, they looked like a unit who had played together for years. From the pair of Wilson and Zator, which to be fair, has been one that York has seen a lot of this season, to the surprising cohesion of Hernández and Jesus, they just rolled through the game without much worry, putting up a solid performance. So although they’ll be frustrated about the goal that they conceded, which came after Wilson gave away a late penalty, there was otherwise a lot to like with their performance as a group. For example, despite conceding 1.62 xG, nearly half of that came from that penalty, meaning that the Wanderers otherwise had around 0.8 xG on 11 shots, with just one of those being on target, reflecting an otherwise solid performance from York. Not only that, but they limited the Wanderers to just 21 touches inside the box and zero big chances, too, further highlighting their strong defensive play. Especially on a day where they lost so many duels in midfield, that’s impressive, given that they were also under more pressure due to that fact. Yet, that just shows the sort of strong defensive team that York has become under head coach Martin Nash, who has really given the team a strong identity in that area. “I think right now, tactically, we're set up very well defensively,” Zator said afterwards. “And I think it's tough for teams to break us down (because of that).” Now, they just need to find a way to do the same at the other end of the pitch, too, as while they’ll be happy with the defensive performance, their offence continued to struggle, marking the fourth league game in a row in which they were shut out. It’s not as if the personnel isn’t there, as a lot of York’s attacking pieces are available, for the most part, but the offence just isn’t clicking right now, other than flashes and spots here and there. So while the defence remains in a very good spot, as this game did a great job of showing, the next step is to find that offence, a quest which remains ongoing for this York team. “The back four did really good,” Nash said. “They haven't played together, so to come in and put that kind of effort and be that solid was really good. Now, we just need to find ways to score, so we can take pressure off our backline.”

HFX, York, combine for yet another tight-fought battle:

For whatever reason, whenever these two teams meet, it’s hard-fought, it’s cagey, and it’s always close. And the numbers back that idea up, too, as in their 12 meetings all-time heading into this game, 10 had been decided by one goal or less. So in a sense, it was only fitting that both teams combined for yet another one-goal game on Saturday, making it 11 out of 13, as that’s just what they seem to do whenever they play each other. But that just shows how these two teams match up, especially defensively. On one side, you’ve got the Wanderers, who as mentioned above, typically like to defend well, not giving up an inch off the ball, while on the other, you’ve got York, who tries to employ a similar mindset. As a result, that can lead to a game like this one, one where not only the score was close, but most facets of the game, especially in midfield, which was a heavily-contested area of the field. And that was reflected in the fact that there were 106 contested duels, 40 combined tackles (20 from each side) and 27 fouls (15-12 for York), showing how hard-fought things really were. Because of that, it led to a game that was tittering on a knives-edge, waiting for just a moment to tip it to one side or the other. That ended up being the penalty, much like when these teams met on opening day, where a penalty also ended up making the difference in a 1-0 Wanderers win, but on other days, it can be something else. Yet, that just is an example of the sort of concentration that these tough battles tend to require, as it tends to be moments that define these cagey games, and in this game, the Wanderers got the best of the right moment, allowing them to grab the huge victory. “It was a direct game,” Hart noted. “This was a battle between two very good teams,” Nash added. Player of the Match

Andre Rampersad, HFX Wanderers As he usually tends to do, Rampersad was a big force in midfield for the Wanderers in this game, really helping them win the battle in that area of the field. Through his play with the ball, to his work off of it, he was seemingly everywhere in this game, allowing the Wanderers to gain key territory on their guests in important areas. Because of that, he finished with an impressive 46/56 passes completed (82%), one chance created, three clearances, one interception and nine out of 13 duels won (69%) on the afternoon, marking a well-rounded performance at both ends of the pitch for him in this one.

What’s next?

Following this game, the Wanderers will head out on the road, as a clash with Cavalry FC awaits them at Spruce Meadows on Saturday, June 11th (12:30 p.m. MT/3:30 p.m. AT). Meanwhile, York will return to Ontario, but not home, as they’ll do battle with Atlético Ottawa on Tuesday, June 14th at TD Place (7:00 p.m. ET). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.

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