Final Score: HFX Wanderers FC 2-1 AS Blainville Goalscorers: Bent (10'), Morelli (72'); Essome (52') 2021 Canadian Championship Preliminary Round
Match in a minute or lessHFX Wanderers got the job done Tuesday, narrowly eliminating AS Blainville 2-1 and advancing in Canadian Championship preliminary round play to face CF Montreal in the quarterfinal. Cory Bent’s early marker dashed early nerves, though those came back in a big way when Blainville earned and converted a penalty in the second half. Joao Morelli’s answer-back spot kick was all the home team needed, though, as they earn a trip to their first date with an MLS side in club history.
Blainville nearly earn CanChamp cupsetAs mentioned, the Quebec winners put up quite a fight Tuesday. The side looked poised for a rare CanChamp "cupset" – something that’s only happened once or twice ever, depending on definition. "We had the confidence and we knew they would start to doubt," Blainville captain Nafi Dicko-Raynauld said. "They wouldn’t want to go straight to penalties (after 90 minutes)... But we battled to the end and we can’t fault anyone for that." Blainville, four-time consecutive winners of PLSQ, have advanced just once in CanChamp play when they beat Oakville Blue Devils of League1 Ontario in 2018. "It's just unfortunate that even every time that we're playing against a pro team, we never managed to pass that round," Dicko-Raynauld added.
Wanderers stand on front foot, fail to generateThe Wanderers did manage two goals – one via penalty kick – on their only two shots on target. Stephen Hart’s side was handed nearly 70 per cent possession over 90 minutes as Blainville was placed in a bulky back-five without possession. It was an interesting look for the Wanderers, who rarely see that much of the ball in CanPL play in 2021. "With the five and a three man-screen in front of it, we had to be patient and a little bit precise," Hart said after the match. Breakthroughs were found, with Morey Doner’s late near post run into the box and Joao Morelli’s tricky second-half free-kick. Still, more chances would have been expected against a PLSQ side that, as Hart pointed out, saw a game plan go exactly to plan. "They were very patient, waiting for that one moment where they could break on a set play or a counter-attack. They did well with their gameplan, clearly."
Next generation of CanPL talent?Not to put undue pressure on this Blainville side but the club has produced some top-tier CanPL talent in the past, including Cavalry FC's Mo Farsi, York United's Diyaeddine Abzi, and Wanderers players Omar Kreim, Stefan Karajovanovic, Pierre Lamothe, and Samuel Salter. "Knowing Blainville I knew they were a hard team to compete against and they have top players – it's a physical team," said Wanderers midfielder Lamothe. "We expected a hard game and it was that – we're just happy to come out with a win." Whether any potential CanPL players showed themselves in the shop window is yet to be seen, but wide player Zachary Fernandez shined in particular. The young CF Montreal youth product helped stifle attacks down the team’s right side and gave a couple of fleeting attacking moments of note – especially as he lined up behind team talisman Papouche Mayard in the second half. A couple of late crosses were a touch or move away from a clear-cut chance.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchMorey Doner, HFX Wanderers FC In the toss-up between Doner, Pierre Lamothe, and defender Mateo Restrepo, only the wingback Doner offered what the Wanderers needed so often Tuesday: attacking breakthroughs, pace, and a cunning whit to break lines. The 27-year-old was uncatchable in an advanced wide role, delivering several decent chances and nearly converting one himself.
What’s next?Next up for HFX Wanderers is a CanPL tilt against Forge FC on Sunday in Hamilton (1pm ET/2pm AT). They’re set to play CF Montreal in the quarter-final sometime next month. Watch all CanPL and CanChamp matches live on OneSoccer.