The Streets’ critically-hailed concept album, A Grand Don’t Come For Free, starts with a seven-word lament that sounds like the diaries of the downtrodden: “It was supposed to be so easy.” Those seven words, one imagines, will ring in the Halifax Wanderers’ heads long after Monday afternoon’s Labour Day loss to York United FC. The 2-1 home defeat not only ended the Wanderers’ two-game undefeated streak at Wanderers Grounds (a place, prior to Monday, where Halifax had only lost twice all season), but leaves Halifax on the outside of the Canadian Premier League playoff picture and looking in. Halifax’s loss to York means the club is now sixth in CPL standings. Only six games remain to climb back into the playoff picture—and the Wanderers will have to go through Pacific FC, Cavalry FC, Atlético Ottawa and Forge FC to get there.
The Wanderers were favoured to win going into Monday’s clash. The Halifax side hadn’t lost a game in nearly a month and had handled York United with ease the last time the two clubs met—a 2-0 road victory at York Lions Stadium on July 20. Not so this time, even if things looked headed in Halifax’s favour from the opening minutes. Instead, the Wanderers found themselves chasing the game for much of the second half, bearing little resemblance to the free-flowing, possession-loving side that seemed destined to climb the league rankings into the CPL’s top three just days ago.
The scoring chances came early and often for Halifax. Midfielder Callum Watson nearly lifted the Wanderers Grounds crowd of 6,100 to its feet in the ninth minute, after he was sprung free on goal by a picture-perfect touch from teammate Mo Omar; instead, York United goalkeeper (and former Wanderers reserve keeper) Adisa De Rosario made a tidy save to keep his old club off the scoresheet.
Two minutes later, Halifax centre-back Dan Nimick found himself completely unmarked in front of goal on a Wanderers corner kick, only for the play to be whistled dead by referee Marie-Soleil Beaudoin. Yet another two minutes later, Wanderers full-back Zach Fernandez kick-started a beautiful scoring opportunity for Halifax, chesting a high ball to teammate João Morelli and launching a give-and-go sequence that ended up with forward Jordan Perruzza only needing a tap-in to give the Wanderers an early 1-0 lead; once again, De Rosario thwarted the Wanderers’ attack.
Perruzza wouldn’t be kept off the scoresheet for long, however. In the 31st minute, the Toronto FC loanee was sent in on goal by a lovely header from Massimo Ferrin. The 22-year-old Perruzza managed a deft touch with his left foot to send the ball through De Rosario’s legs and into York’s goal, drawing first blood.
It seemed all but certain that Halifax would double their lead eight minutes later, when Watson lobbed a beautiful ball for Morelli in behind York’s back line. Unmarked, Morelli needed just a touch to beat De Rosario—a feat the Brazilian forward has been rather good at in Halifax—but it wasn’t to be: York’s keeper managed to get a foot in front of Morelli’s shot and deflect it out of bounds.
Instead, it was York United forward Austin Ricci who would find the back of the goal next, drawing the two sides level in the first minute of stoppage time after the 45th minute when Wanderers defender Doneil Henry mistimed a clearing header, leaving Ricci unmarked. The 27-year-old striker, formerly of Winnipeg’s Valour FC, headed the ball past Wanderers goalkeeper Yann Fillion’s fingertips and inside the right post. As The Streets said in his song “Empty Cans,” this is where it all started to get a bit out of hand.
🚨GOAL🦝@yorkutdfc have made it 1-1 right before half time, as an in-form Austin Ricci catches Halifax's defence by surprise with a great run and header— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 4, 2023
York defender Roger Thompson tilted the scales 2-1 in the Nine Stripes’ favour in the 63rd minute. Midfielder Mo Babouli curled in a free kick from around 30 yards out past the Wanderers’ defense to Thompson, who was unmarked at Halifax’s back post. The play was sparked by a Henry slide-tackle that drew a late foul call and seemed to ruffle the Wanderers; the side looked distracted as they gathered for the set piece.
Halifax would try to level the score, but the same offense that had fired on all cylinders through the first 45 minutes appeared largely stagnant through the second half—“Blinded By the Lights,” as The Streets might’ve said. The frustration was visible on the Wanderers’ faces on several occasions, as York did everything in their power to kill the clock (normally a Halifax specialty)—either dragging their heels on substitutions or nudging dead balls out of position. In the end, a late Wanderers push on goal wasn’t enough; Patrice Gheisar’s side simply couldn’t find a second goal.
Tight playoff race continues for Wanderers
The dominoes could have fallen more easily for Halifax. Entering the Labour Day weekend, the Wanderers were in the thick of a four-way tie for second place in the Canadian Premier League—at least on points, if not on tiebreakers—and a mere two points behind first-place Cavalry FC. A couple of favourable results across the league—a Valour win over Pacific FC, a Cavalry-Ottawa draw—and the Wanderers could have been playing for sole possession of second place on Monday. No dice. Both Pacific and Cavalry nabbed late-game clinchers to seal their wins and keep just ahead of the Wanderers in a playoff race more crowded than The Dome on a Saturday night. (Seven points separate first-place Cavalry FC and sixth-place HFX Wanderers FC.)
With Monday’s loss dropping the Wanderers out of playoff seeding, the club will look to rebound on Friday with a road match against second-place Pacific FC. Monday’s match was the start of a heavily congested schedule for the Wanderers, with four games in 13 days. After Friday’s road match against Pacific FC, the Wanderers return to host Cavalry FC on Sept. 12 and Atlético Ottawa on Sept. 16.