Pacific FC vs. Halifax Wanderers FC – Tactical Preview

Just two weeks into the Canadian Premier League’s fourth season, one thing is clear. The talent on the football pitch, from both a playing, and tactical perspective is extraordinarily high. So much so, that much of the punditry and commentary surrounding second-place Atletico Ottawa has continuously failed to truly nail down Gonzalez’s complex team shape in and out of possession. So much so, that Pacific FC are pulling off attacking rotations that most teams wouldn’t dare to try. As the league now heads into its third set of matches, optimism and attention over the league has never been higher. So with that, we take a tactical glance at each and every match in week three. Next up it’s first place Pacific taking on third place HFX. Here is our analysis!

pacific fc vs. halifax wanderers fc

No team in the Canadian Premier League has enjoyed a stronger start to the season than Pacific FC. James Merriman’s team have been a well-oiled machine through and through, with a front four firing on all cylinders, and a cast and crew working behind the scenes to best support their fluidity up front. Not only have Pacific had a successful start from a team perspective, but as individuals working to serve one another within Merriman’s 4-1-4-1. In fact, all four of that aforementioned attacking quartet feature inside our top ten players at the start of this season.

CANPL Player Ratings after Matchday 2

Merriman will be hoping to sure up his defensive structures against Halifax to ensure no further slip ups against Halifax this weekend, after conceding late in both of their previous matches. But with Pacific’s front four in full flow, Halifax will be required to step on the gas pedal in all kinds of new ways. The problem? They’ve scored just a single goal this season, which happened to be from a penalty kick. The scorer of that goal? The unfortunate Joao Morelli, who is set to miss the remainder of the season.

Not only will the loss of Morelli be a major dent in Halifax’s tactical nouse, it will also be a barrier for the remaining players to mentally overcome. The loss of a star player cannot be understated, and others will not only need to step up in his absence, but take their game to completely new heights. Samuel Salter has not enjoyed the best start to the season, struggling to get involved in games and completing only 64% of his passes so far. Cory Bent has been more of a livewire, whilst Alex Marshall showed glimpses of promise in the opening match. But much of HFX’s play funneled toward Morelli, who operated in a ‘False 9‘ role in both matches. Often floating in between the lines or even in front of the opposition’s central midfielders, Morelli endeavored to involve himself in every single move, with the likes of Gagnon-Laparé and Rampersad working to benefit his movement with their passing.

Now that Morelli is out of the picture, Halifax’s wing-backs will become even more imperative in creating chances from out wide. Zachary Fernandez has showcased tremendous attacking promise in his opening two matches for Stephen Hart’s team, and the Wanderers should utilize his pace down the wing as he overlaps and delivers. In Samuel Salter they have a natural focal point to play up front and get on the end of chances, and in Aidan Daniels they have a box to box presence that could arrive late into the box to receive cut-backs or rebounds.

With the likes of Gagnon-Laparé and Mateo Restrepo pulling long passes out of their hats, Fernandez and Obeng Tabi will need to maintain width on the far-side and work to get in behind two physically dominant fullbacks from the other side in Olakunkle Dada-Luke and Nathan Mavila. But the Wanderers may have one other opportunity to exploit the wide areas. As Dada-Luke and Mavila venture forward to join Pacific’s wide overloads, Halifax should look for moments where they can immediately target Bent and Marshall in transition out wide. Jamar Dixon has excellently held down the right-hand-side in Dada-Luke’s stead, with Baldisimo also ocassionally helping cover for the advancing Nathan Mavila. Samuel Salter, if he is the man to play up front, can combat that in two ways. First, the 21-year-old could join HFX’s defensive block, track Baldisimo and defend for his life as Bent and Marshall stay high and wide as outlets in transition. Alternatively, he could push the opposition’s defensive line back, looking to get on the shoulder of Didic and Meilleur-Giguère, opening up space for himself to hold up the play and allow Bent and Marshall more time to sprint up the field. This may be the approach HFX look to take, utilizing Gagnon-Laparé’s excellent range in transition, as the wide men track the movement of Pacific’s fullbacks.

Further down the pitch, the rotations and sheer presence of Pacific’s front-four will be difficult for Halifax to handle. Santos’ physicality could prove to be a decent match-up for Alejandro Diaz’s movement toward Marco Bustos, but the Brazilian defender needs to be careful about tracking too far out of position, where Joshua Heard and Manny Aparicio will exploit those gaps. Rampersad’s ability to anchor the defensive line and break up play will also be vital, particularly as Aparicio sprints forward. If Halifax can hold position and compact the field well enough within their 4-1-4-1 defensive block, Pacific could have a more difficult afternoon. But even when spaces are small, Marco Bustos can always find a way through. Compounding that matter, Alejandro Diaz’s movement around the pitch has been so exceptional, that defenders are constantly attracted out of position. Essentially, Halifax need to make the field as narrow as possible, hold position, and then utilize the pace of Bent and Marshall in transition. If they are able to get a foothold of the match and keep the ball for longer periods of time, stretching the width of the field and utilizing their attack-minded-fullbacks will be crucial to creating chances without Joao Morelli.

From a Pacific perspective, there are far fewer holes to fix. But in both matches so far, they allowed the opposition a late goal off the back of fixable, but silly mistakes. Had it not been for some poor finishing on behalf of Alessandro Hojabrpour, they easily could have tied their opening match.

Slightly skewed having played the possession-heavy Forge FC in their opening fixture, but we’ve also seen two very different sides of Pacific so far – one that completely dominated over Valour, and one that sat a bit deeper and played on the break (to a greater extent) on the opening weekend. Halifax on the other hand have kept more of the ball in both of their matches so far – 51% against York, and 57% against Atletico. So although we’re opting for the defensive approach on behalf of Hart’s team, it could easily be HFX that keep more of the ball in this fixture. But with Pacific growing into the season and Morelli out injured, that just feels unlikely.

If they adequately use their rotations and exceptional long range passing out wide to their advantage, Pacific should be able to gain control of the match and generate plenty of chances to score. Essentially, it’s more of the same for Merriman’s team, but with a greater emphasis on cleaning up some of those key defensive mistakes that cost them late on. Perhaps that means Nathan Mavila holds a marginally more reserved role in dealing with the pace and power of Fernandez and Bent down the right, where Pacific’s slightly slower centre-backs can involve themselves as a last resort. It’s not as though Meilleur-Giguère and Amer Didic can’t handle their own at the back, but Merriman would much rather Dada-Luke and Mavila supervise the speed of Halifax in the wide areas if given the choice. So in his quest to do so, why not plan to be proactive?

Regardless of tactical approach, this game will be full of fire, fury and flames as Pacific look to cement their position at the top of the table, and Halifax do everything in their power to combat that quest without the warrior that is Joao Morelli. We’re predicting Pacific to pull it off and win for a third time, but HFX could easily cause an upset.


So there it is! Our quick-take tactical analysis of the upcoming match between Pacific and HFX Wanderers in the Canadian Premier League. Be sure to check out more of our CPL articles, and don’t forget to check back for the final preview. Also be sure to follow on social media to never miss an update @mastermindsite! Thanks for reading and see you soon!

More previews

-> Forge FC vs. FC Edmonton – Tactical Preview
-> York United vs. Cavalry FC – Tactical Preview

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