2021 Canadian Championship — Quarterfinal HFX Wanderers vs. CF Montréal September 22, 2021 at 6:00 pm AT/ 5:00 pm ET Wanderers Grounds in Halifax, Nova Scotia Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca // Tickets available here
The bulk of the quarterfinal stage of the Canadian Championship takes place on Wednesday night, with a triple-header of matches to decide which three teams will be joining Forge FC in the semifinals. The action gets underway at Wanderers Grounds, as Canadian Premier League side HFX Wanderers host Major League Soccer's CF Montreal. It's a first-ever meeting between the sides, and a first time HFX will take on an MLS side. In 2019, the club beat Vaughn Azzurri of League 1 Ontario and fellow CPL side Valour FC before being knocked out in the third qualifying round by the USL Championship's Ottawa Fury. This year, they beat Première Ligue de soccer du Québec (PLSQ) side A.S. Blainville 2-1 at Wanderers Grounds to qualify for Wednesday's quarterfinal.
RELATED: Which CPL team is more likely to pull off CanChamp upset vs. MLS opponent? | Beyond the Pitch: HFX Wanderers forward João Morelli
Cory Bent gave HFX the lead 10 minutes in, but Blainville didn't go down without a fight. They equalized a few minutes into the second half, with Guy-Frank Essomé Penda converting a penalty, before Joao Morelli scored a penalty at the other end of the pitch 20 minutes later to send the Wanderers through with a 2-1 victory. CF Montreal had a bye to the quarterfinal this year, skipping the Preliminary Round. They are the reigning champions of this competition, having won the 2019 edition of the tournament -- with the 2020 winner is still to be determined between Toronto FC and Forge FC. This isn't the first time they have played against CPL opposition, as they took on York9 (as York United were then known) and Cavalry FC on their road to the final in 2019. Entering the competition in the third qualifying round, Montreal scored a penalty in stoppage time to cancel out what seemed to be late winner by York's Rodrigo Gattas at York Lions Stadium. The Impact won the second leg at home, with an Ignacio Piatti penalty earning his side a spot in the semifinal. They took on high-flying Cavalry FC in the semifinal, who were coming off a historic win over the Vancouver Whitecaps in the previous round. Two more goals for Piatti in the first leg saw the home side beat the Cavs 2-1 (with Sergio Camargo scoring Cavalry's goal), and Anthony Jackson-Hamel would score the lone goal in the second leg, helping Montreal progress with a 3-1 aggregate win. In the final against Toronto FC, the club -- then known as the Montreal Impact -- won the first leg 1-0 at Stade Saputo, before falling 1-0 in the return leg at BMO Field. Penalties were needed to decide a winner, which Montreal won to secure the Voyageurs Cup for a fourth time.
3 THINGS TO WATCH:
- Motivation not an issue for HFX Wanderers: Several members of the Wanderers squad are former Montreal players, so there is an extra motivation for their players on Wednesday night. As we saw with Pacific FC players in a similar position against the Vancouver Whitecaps, Wanderers players won't have any problems with motivation. The occasion is not lost on head coach Stephen Hart, who said in his pregame press conference that Wednesday is "arguably the biggest night for the club in the sense that it's David and Goliath." Hart added that training sessions have been upbeat ahead of such a big tie, and that everyone wants to take part -- joking that "even I wish I could play in this game." The atmosphere at Wanderers Grounds, and the home side having nothing to lose, setting up another potentially huge Canadian Championship match to begin Wednesday's triple-header. Wanderers midfielder Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé made a handful of appearances for Montreal between 2014 and 2016, and is looking forward to playing his former club. "There's people that I know on this team, whether they're in the coaching staff or in the roster," Gagnon-Laparé said on Tuesday. "A little bit of added motivation there. Most important for us is to remember that it's another game. We've been having success recently, and I feel like the group is coming together. We've got to go out there and express ourselves -- it's 90 minutes, anything can happen."
- Can Joao Morelli continue his good run of form?: Joao Morelli has arguably been the best attacker in the Canadian Premier League this season, and HFX will rely on their star man against Montreal. Morelli has 12 goals on the season -- one in their last Canadian Championship match against A.S. Blainville, and a league-leading 11 in CPL action. Leading the line for HFX, Morelli is a lethal finisher when given a chance in front of goal, and is the Wanderers' main attacking threat. Capable of playing as a striker, or behind a striker as an attacking midfielder, Morelli can create goals himself, or finishing chances created by his teammates. The Brazilian talisman appeared on Beyond the Pitch this week, in conversation with CanPL.ca's Kristian Jack.
- CF Montreal on a good run of form: The visitors head to Wanderers Grounds on Wednesday having lost just once in the past month and a half. Other than a 1-0 loss at home to high-flying Nashville SC, Montreal are unbeaten since August 14, moving themselves into a tight race for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. They've picked up wins over the New York Red Bulls, Toronto FC, Orlando City SC and the Chicago Fire over that span, as well as draws with the Philadelphia Union and FC Cincinnati. "[CF Montreal are] a team that is showing really good quality this season, they're three points out of third place," Wanderers boss Stephen Hart said on Tuesday. "It's not a team that is struggling. It's a big night for us, and I think it's the type of game that I want the players to go out and enjoy because we don't get to play these sort of cup games often. We've placed ourselves in a situation where we are up against our so-called 'pretty close neighbour' in Quebec, and I'm looking forward to it."
First meeting between these teams.
First meeting between these teams.