Final Score: HFX Wanderers FC 1-2 Toronto FC Goalscorers: Salter 69'; Bradley 55', Osorio 86' 2022 Canadian Championship Quarterfinal
Match in a minute or lessToronto FC are through to the Canadian Championship semifinal, as they needed until the 86th minute to get past CPL side HFX Wanderers FC on a boisterous night at Wanderers Grounds. After an intense first half, the tempo picked up in the second frame and TFC found the net first; Michael Bradley headed one into the net in the 55th minute with a header from a corner kick to make it 1-0, but the Wanderers made the stadium explode not long after as Samuel Salter scored an equalizer with a curling left-footed strike. Just minutes before the match would've gone to a penalty shootout, though, TFC found their winner: Halifax native Jacob Shaffelburg came in from the left side and played it into the centre of the box, where Canadian international Jonathan Osorio was waiting to make a late run and put it in off a Wanderers defender and win the game for Toronto.
Halifax (club and city) does Canadian soccer proud in intense cup tieAlthough the result, ultimately, did not fall for the Wanderers, Tuesday was undoubtedly an exceptional night for the city and club in Halifax. The atmosphere at Wanderers Grounds is typically boisterous, but this particular match had an undeniable uptick in passion and noise on a night that delivered a proper big-match feeling. The 6,500 fans packed into the stadium arrived early and the noise began well before kickoff, and it only grew in magnitude after the home side conceded a goal. Certainly, there was a moment after Perruzza's opening goal where renewed applause rang out around the stadium as the Wanderers Grounds stood in unison to will their team goalward. To a man, the Wanderers were undoubtedly up for the match and had serious designs on slaying the giant; they won 54% of the duels against an MLS team and outshot them 14 to 7. They were far more successful with their dribbles (59.3% to 37.5% from Toronto), and the hosts also made more tackles than their guests. "The performance of the players, almost every one of them, was fantastic," Hard proclaimed postmatch. "Excellent first half, very balanced, very composed, and except for a few minutes in the opening of the second half we brought ourselves right back into the game after being scored on. "I'm proud of them, of course, but at the end of the day we've been playing good games -- good game against Valour, good game against Pacific -- good games and not getting results. But they showed a lot of character after what happened Friday night. A lot of character." To their credit, the visiting TFC were likewise impressed by the performance of both the players and citizens of Halifax. Bob Bradley pointed out postmatch how the fans and team were in synergy, and Jonathan Osorio -- one of the most passionate and important people in Canadian soccer -- understood the importance of a night like Tuesday to the game in his country. "I think these matches are important for our country and the growth of our sport," Osorio told reporters. "Honestly, it was a great experience coming over here and seeing the atmosphere, I imagine it's one of the better ones in the CPL. "It was great to see their fans come out and support them and push their team, give their team belief, so that's pretty great, I think, for our country, for the CPL, Canadian soccer." Of course, a special mention is owed to Jacob Shaffelburg, a native of Kentville, Nova Scotia, who entered the match late -- after missing a long time with injury -- and went on to help create the winning goal with his touch in the box and cross over toward Osorio (by way of a touch from Ayo Akinola). Bob Bradley spoke glowingly of the youngster, who had played at this venue in Wanderers colours back in 2018 for the Atlantic Selects youth team in a friendly. Ultimately, though, it's undeniable that Tuesday was an important moment for the club and the sport in Halifax; it was an evolution from last year's match with CF Montréal, and a clear sign of the progress the club continues to make in its community.
Both sides up the tempo in second half after changesThe three substitutions TFC coach Bob Bradley made at halftime were very clearly a statement of intent from the MLS side, who apparently weren't satisfied with their speed of play in the first half. Experienced stars Jonathan Osorio, Jesus Jimenez and Ayo Akinola all took to the pitch off the bench and immediately found their footing in the match, and the pace seemed to increase significantly from there. In the immediate proceedings of the second frame TFC's quality began to shine, as they pressed further and further up the pitch and some of the highest-level players began taking on more one-on-one duels hoping to create greater pockets of space with individual ability. The midfield battle (more on this later) between Osorio and Andre Rampersad heated up significantly, as the Wanderers' captain -- who previously dominated the central area by preventing opposing midfielders from running forward and forcing them sideways -- suddenly found himself receiving similar treatment, with Osorio pressing him to cut off forward progress. Bob Bradley explained postmatch that he'd certainly felt his side was too slow in the first 45 minutes, and so he turned to a few major difference-makers off the bench. "That was a cup tie, it was a hard match," he said. "Halifax was obviously well prepared, they were really motivated and the crowd was great. I thought in the first half, our tempo was too slow; I think too many guys were getting stuck with the ball. There were too many times where the extra touches were getting us into trouble. "We're fortunate that in that situation, we've got guys that football-wise can help us, so that made a big difference. Still, it goes to the end. Credit to Halifax, Stephen does a good job and they have a good group of players, and you could tell they were ready." Osorio, as he is so adept at doing, changed the game massively after coming on with his footballing intelligence. Bob Bradley added postmatch that, without Osorio on the pitch, opposing teams are able to isolate Michael Bradley by giving him more of their attention, which the side managed to change by deploying the Canadian stalwart. It wasn't long before TFC found their reward from a set-piece, having spent about 10 minutes pushing forward. After that, though, it was actually the Wanderers who upped the tempo even further, trying to play more direct and push the ball vertically along the touchlines. Stephen Hart pointed out postmatch that, for the most part, his side's intensity was the better of the two, aside from the 10 minutes at the beginning of the second half. Their energy only improved after Samuel Salter's 69th-minute goal; Zachary Fernandez and Salter combined well with quick touches and runs up the right side -- Fernandez found Salter with eight passes, and the latter played in his fullback five times as well. Over on the left, fullback Colin Gander and midfielder Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé combined on 18 occasions (more than any other pair on the team), again with quick passes to waste no time getting into the final third. Unfortunately for the Wanderers, they weren't able to get players into the box at the far post to finish off the crosses coming from either side.
Midfield battle gives Wanderers strength; Rampersad, Gagnon-Laparé losses change rhythmMuch of the discussion heading into this match centred around the midfield battle that we might see, and the game did not disappoint. Andre Rampersad, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, and Marcello Polisi played in a synchronized midfield three, generally playing quite close together trying to plug up space and slow down a TFC side looking to play quickly. All three players impressed with their very intelligent body placement, drifting off the shoulder of opposing midfielders trying to run directly forwards and instead forcing them to go sideways or play backwards. Rampersad won a staggering 11 (out of 15 attempted) duels, going 7-for-11 in dribbles. He and Polisi both won the ball 10 times, and Gagnon-Laparé had eight, on a night where the home side were first to every ball far more often than not, and stronger in challenges. On the heatmap for the Wanderers' midfield three, mark the distance covered between the trio -- certainly, it felt like each of them ran double-digit kilometres over the course of the match, with how hard they worked to close space. "(Rampersad) was in control of the midfield," Stephen Hart told media postgame. "He was in control of the midfield, he moved the ball from side to side, he was splitting lines with his passes and he was playing behind. Defensively, he was coming up with the ball. He reads the game very, very well." Hart added, on Gagnon-Laparé: "Jérémy has a high workrate, even if injured, and he doesn't panic under pressure. Again, he moved the ball very well tonight. Very, very well. And he was joining in supporting the attack, Unfortunately for the Wanderers, they weren't able to maintain that superiority in midfield through the 90 minutes, and not just because of the change in tempo when Osorio entered. Rampersad, with just over 20 minutes to go, ultimately paid a price for the intensity of the match, being unable to continue due to injury -- and that forced Hart to drop Aidan Daniels into midfield from his false nine role, putting Akeem Garcia in up top. About 15 minutes later, Gagnon-Laparé had no choice but to end his night as well; Hart admitted the midfielder knew he had a knock at halftime but tried to play through it, until at last he could go no more. Still, the fact that the Wanderers were able to dominate against an MLS-quality midfield -- one that included the likes of Michael Bradley all game -- for so long will be incredibly encouraging for Hart and his staff.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchJonathan Osorio, Toronto FC The match changed entirely when the Canadian international came on the pitch, so it seemed fitting, perhaps, that he was ultimately the man who won the game for Toronto. His intelligence on and off the ball allowed the visitors to play quicker, and they were rewarded for it twice in the second half.
What’s next?With the win, Toronto now move on to the Canadian Championship semifinals, where they'll play the winner of CF Montréal versus Forge FC. HFX, meanwhile, will turn their focus back to the CPL -- they host York United on Saturday, June 4 (3 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.