Match Analysis: HFX Wanderers FC 0-0 Pacific FC
Canadian Premier League

Final Score: HFX Wanderers FC 0-0 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: None
Game of the 2021 season: 20
CPL match: 155

Match in a minute or less

Despite both teams creating a couple of very high danger chances, HFX and Pacific had to settle for a single point in a 0-0 draw on Tuesday evening. The Tridents failed to register a shot on target in the opening 45′ before testing Christian Oxner three times in a 15 minute span in the second half — a test which Oxner passed in style. Stefan Karajovanovic had the Wanderers two best looks of the contest but was denied on both occasions, first by Callum Irving followed then by the Pacific crossbar. Overall, it was an evenly contested game in almost all statistical categories as the stalemate felt a fair result for both teams at the final whistle.

Three Observations

Halifax keep Bustos quiet by committee

No Pacific player had fewer touches at halftime than Marco Bustos, with much talk of his matchup with Cory Bent ahead of kickoff with the natural winger playing out of position at left-back for the Wanderers. In the opening 45′, Bent’s efforts against Bustos were immense in keeping the dynamic Tridents attacker quiet to start but unfortunately for Halifax, Bent was forced off at the interval with what looked to be a groin injury. Eriks Santos returned from injury and slotted in at centre-back, pushing 20-year-old Kareem Sow out to the left to carry the torch in the second half, holding Bustos to just one shot on target as he finished the game with just 47 touches and 20 passes completed — both of which ranked last among Pacific players who played the full match.

In the opinion of goalkeeper Christian Oxner, HFX isn’t a team set up to work around the strengths of their opponents but rather the quiet night Bustos had boiled down to the individual efforts of Sow and Bent: “Cory (Bent) has come into that position and done such a great job and then second half we had to shift Kareem (Sow) there because Cory picked up a knock but Kareem played so well there… I don’t think we’re a team that’s really going to prepare for teams like that, we’re gonna go out there and try and play our style of football and go at teams.”

Mesut Mert added it was Sow’s natural left foot and his pace to stay step for step with Bustos that led to him sliding out to fullback while Santos would be better served in the middle coming back from an injury and Mateo Restrepo’s showing at centre back made putting him back in his typical left back place impossible: “I didn’t want to disturb too many players out of their positions and we already have enough injuries to deal with to have players coming in trying to do a job they might not be comfortable with.”

Samake serving Pacific well in TMG’s absence

Thomas Meilleur-Giguère is one of the top defenders across the entire league and yet with him out of the lineup through injury Pacific has kept three consecutive clean sheets. Callum Irving, Kadin Chung and Lukas MacNaughton are three mainstays in that Tridents defensive unit and the continuity and understanding have been a big part of their recent success but the man filling TMG’s spot in the middle, Abdoulaye Samake, has done so with comfort.

Samake had a game high four clearances against Halifax on Tuesday and led his team in passes, both attempted (73) and completed (65). With a partner like MacNaughton who likes to get involved in the play by stepping off the line or searching for the long diagonal pass in transition, the solidity of Samake gives Pacific that freedom to push his partner forward while having the trust in their replacement centre back.

While Meilleur-Giguère will surely be welcomed back into the team with open arms once fit and available for selection, depth options need to provide that support if Pacific is to be in contention come seasons end and Samake is a strong example of exactly that in the eyes of his centre back partner: “When you have injuries and a team, a championship team which we want to be, has not only 11 guys that play well,” MacNaughton told media after the match. “Abdou’s come in, he’s played fantastic, I enjoy playing with him and he’s done real well so only props to him.”

Individual moment of brilliance doesn’t come

At this stage of The Kickoff, legs have begun to grow a touch heavy around the league at times given the congested fixture list and in matches where there’s little to separate the two, the outcome has often been decided by one or more moments of individual quality. On Sunday we saw Austin Ricci earn his Valour team a 1-0 victory seemingly out of nowhere with a devastating strike from outside the box and Pacific’s Bustos has already provided several similar displays so far this season.

On Tuesday night neither side could find that game breaking play as Halifax made sure Bustos didn’t add to his growing highlight reel while also wasting their few strong chances at the other end, arguably their best two coming through Karajovanovic.

Scoring struggles have hindered HFX through five matches as only João Morelli has found the back of the net in 2021 (twice in fact) and Akeem Garcia looks to still be getting his fitness back to where it was in last year’s Island Games. For Pacific, the need for a backup plan when Bustos is kept at bay will be important to ensuring goalscoring is sustainable if their talisman is marked out of the match.

The case could be made that Oxner provided that match winning — or rather point preserving — play with his save on Bassett (more on that in a moment), but in the end none of the outfield players could fulfill the role of hero in this coastal clash. Player of the Match

Christian Oxner, HFX Wanderers

Although many of his Halifax put in strong performances on Tuesday to earn the draw, their efforts would have wasted if not for Oxner’s three key saves in the early portion of the second half — none more important than the sprawling breakaway stop to keep substitute Ollie Bassett from scoring the only goal on the night in the 67th minute. He made four stops in total on the night and was a major reason his team earned a point in this one.

What’s next?

Both sides are back at IG Field on Saturday as HFX Wanderers take on Cavalry for the second time at The Kickoff (7 pm ET/6 pm CT) before Pacific take on Forge FC looking to get their revenge over the champions in the nightcap (10 pm ET/9 pm CT). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.