Note: An older version of this appeared after last weekend’s pre-season friendly vs. Electric City. This is an updated and re-written version of that with details from the Atletico Ottawa game. The 64 of you who read it in the 20 minutes before it was taken down last week will recognize some parts of it, but not all. Apologies!
1. Fantastique Lorenzo
You bastard. You tiny, beautiful, Parisian bastard. Just as I began to get over the heartbreak of losing one international genius from the Halifax Wanderers squad, in you strut, full of peacock-feathered charm, technical security, and sumptuously sprayed passes.
The moment I fell for Lorenzo Callegari was the same moment you fell for Lorenzo Callegari. You know the one: pinned either side by Ottawa midfielders, he received the ball surrounded and under pressure, yet somehow managed to fashion a Cruyff turn through the press to set Wanderers away on a break.
I loved just about everything about his performance on Saturday. He sat at the base of Halifax’s midfield and moved the ball debonairly around the pitch. Sideways strokes, punchy line-breakers, daisy-cutters to the wing, drilled diagonals, lofted through balls…. there isn’t a golf club he doesn’t have in his bag.
There was a statistic posted on CanPL.ca which claimed Lorenzo Callegari played 113(!) passes on Saturday. A number which feels... wrong? I mean, he did play an awful lot of passes but bear this in mind: Sergio Busquets, the passiest passer who ever passed averages around 70 passes per-game. Ditto Oleksandr Zinchenko. Rodri is slightly higher at around 85-90. And only Xavi, the greatest passer of all time in my opinion, had a season or two when he averaged 100 passes per-game. A number so head-turning at the time that there were whole articles written about it. So if that Lorenzo statistic is genuine then wow, quite frankly.
Which isn't to neglect what he did off the ball. So often he was the player to step out of his hole and engage the press. He’s a snappy tackler, Lorenzo. One I fully expect to be sent off at some point this season, but hey – if you can't love him at his worst etc.
Final thought: I’m intrigued to see what Ottawa do on Wednesday after their video analysts have reviewed this match. My hunch is they’ll note the influence he had and react by sitting one of their two strikers on him. If they do, then tough shit, because we happen to have another player capable of controlling the centre of the pitch...
2. The Life of Riley
There’s a famous video experiment involving six people, two basketballs, and a man in a gorilla suit that you’re probably familiar with. It’s designed to demonstrate the unreliability of eye-witness testimony by having participants count the number of times the basketballs are thrown between a group of people.
At the end of the experiment, after diligently counting the throws, the participants are asked if they saw the man in the gorilla suit. Most watch on incredulously as the tape is played back and right there, in the middle of the throw-fest, a gorilla-suited man appears on screen and waves at the camera.
After watching Halifax Wanderers vs. Atletico Ottawa on Saturday afternoon, I’m convinced that Riley Ferrazzo is our man in the gorilla suit. He was everywhere on the day, Ferrazzo, but everywhere in a manner that allowed him to fly completely under the radar of the opposition throughout.
Starting the game at right-back – the first surprise, given we all had him down as a left-back – he shuffled and scurried across the turf for ninety excellent minutes. By positioning himself as a nominal right-back, he was able to invert into central areas, creating angles that worked for him as a left-footer (albeit a very two-footed left-footer).
It wasn’t as simple as the 23-year-old just dropping in alongside Lorenzo Calegarri to form a double pivot, mind you. Instead, Ferrazzo would basically just move to wherever he was needed at any given moment.
The left half-space? Not a problem. Central midfield? You got it. False 9? You rascal! Why the fuck not.
So much of the way we watch football is anchored to what a player does with the ball, but just as important is what a player does without it. For Ferrazzo, this means being two steps ahead of anyone else on the pitch. He doesn’t just anticipate the next pass, he anticipates the next 30 seconds of play, and drifts into whichever nook or cranny of the field he needs to be in to help his team out when it arrives. As a result, Riley Ferrazzo’s role in this Halifax Wanderers team is to always, always be the spare man.
3. Daniel Nimick +1
A player such as Riley Ferrazzo can only thrive in his role as an inverted, roaming right-back if he’s playing next to an incredibly smart, incredibly switched on right centre-back. And on Saturday, he was.
After posting my recent 2023 squad review, a few privately raised eyebrows slid into my DMs over the fact that I’d included Daniel Nimick in the projected starting XI over Cristian Campagna. Truth be told, I’d originally included Campagna alongside Mo Omar, but after having a few chats with people during pre-season, I started to realise just how big of an impression Nimick had made on people.
He’s a real player, Nimick. He’s aggressive, proactive, and athletic. Defensively, he engages attackers high up the pitch (a nice contrast with Omar who prefers to take a step back and sweep) and is touch-tight in his marking. On the ball, he’s a punchy, crisp passer, as well as being someone who is clearly going to score goals for us from set-pieces.
Perhaps most impressive after watching Nimick covering the spaces Ferrazzo had left, is his ability to read the game and understand when he needs to move 5 yards to his right to plug a hole. Every team in the league this season is going to note in their scouting report of Halifax that there is often space behind the full-back to attack. It’s no secret now, so it certainly won’t be a secret after another round of games. This doesn’t have to be an area of weakness, though. Having central defenders like Daniel Nimick with the intelligence to know when to cover that space will prevent this becoming an issue. There’s a brain between those ears.
All of which leads me to believe that our first-choice partnership in central defence this season will more often than not be Daniel Nimick +1. Both Omar and Campagna will dovetail nicely with the 22-year-old (as well as with each other – and Cale Loughrey - let’s not forget), so whoever it is should leave us sleeping soundly the night before games.
4. The Left Pod
I thought Aidan Daniels was very, very good for the first half on Saturday, and not just because of his assist (even though that was the quintessential Aidan Daniels assist – driving from the left half-space and disrupting the opposition shape as a result).
I’ve written and spoken a lot about this player, and how good I think – or perhaps hope – he could be. This isn’t going to be a rehash of that, but instead a word on the “pod” he seems to have formed on the left side of the pitch.
Daniels played this game as a left-sided attacking midfielder. He roamed around the left-half space, dropped into pockets, and aggressively drove forward with the ball on both the exterior and interior. That he was able to do this so effectively had a lot to do with his left-sided brethren, Ryan James and Massimo Ferrin.
I shit you not, I could cry watching Ryan James in a Halifax Wanderers shirt. A left-back! An actual, honest-to-god, not complete-fucking-train-wreck left-back! My word, ladies and gentleman. My word. Someone fetch me a stool to rest on before I do myself a mischief.
It really is wonderful seeing someone so defensively solid on the left side of our attack though. James was very good on Saturday, without ever really breaking sweat. Further ahead of him, Massimo Ferrin was also very good. Ferrin is a tidy, probing, jink-y type. He’s clearly been drilled to hold the width of the pitch before driving into central areas to find one-twos with teammates. And find them he did, with James and Daniels.
As a three – as a left-sided pod - they worked very well with one another. Despite both players liking to drift into the left half-space, Daniels and Ferrin appear to have already developed a good understanding of who plays on the inside and who plays on the outside at any given time. All the while, they know that Ryan James – the adult in the room - is behind them and ready to sniff out any danger that may occur.
5. Let’s just try to enjoy ourselves, okay?
A question that came up amongst the group of people I watched last Saturday’s pre-season friendly with was the following: what constitutes success this season?
The general consensus seemed to be 5th – or somewhere around that. In terms of a raw number, I tend to agree. Success from a league table perspective, given the amount of turnover and new faces, is probably anything above last season’s finish. Only the most dreamy-eyed Wanderers fan is expecting us to seriously challenge for the championship this season, but I do think it’s reasonable to hope that we’re at least in the conversation for that final play-off position.
In truth though – and I don’t mean to make this discussion unnecessarily abstract or philosophical - a successful season for me will come from how this team makes me feel.
Last season was pretty miserable, wasn’t it? We had a coach who most of us greatly, greatly respected in charge of a team that just wasn’t working. It felt like the last, desperate death throws of Halifax Wanderers 1.0. An ugly thing, by the end. And one I’m sure we’re all delighted to have come out the other side of.
That’s why I’m so keen on just having fun this season. Early signs suggest a head-coach in Patrice Gheisar who also has this as his MO. For all the talk of tactics, systems and juego de posición, Patrice Gheisar is – at heart - an incredibly vibes-y coach. He gets that a team doesn’t only exist on the field, it also exists in the stands, and this why the players are being set up in a way for maximum entertainment value. On Saturday, I really, really enjoyed watching us play. I can't remember the last time I said that.
I think we need to be realistic about this though. This way of playing – this mad-scientist-Patrice-Ball way of playing - this two 10s, two wide forwards, one roaming full-back way of playing - will leave us with a bloody nose on occasion this season (expect a 3-0 or 4-0 defeat along the way) but it’s part of the learning curve when you ask a team to be as proactive as we’re expecting.
In the long run though, this will be to all of our benefits. Part of the reason patience ran out with the previous regime was that the heavier defeats weren’t balanced out with entertaining wins. Rather, when the wins came they tended to be clunky 1-0s off the back of a fortuitous penalty or a set-piece.
Supporter patience will be a lot more robust if they see a team that’s trying its best to play exciting, attacking football. The early signs at least suggest that this will be the case.
Gary is an Arsenal supporting, Halifax-based Brit who moved to Canada in 2016 unaware that he was about to fall in love with another football team. He can be found on on Twitter at @FromAwaysHFX. He also guests on the Down the Pub Podcast - a CPL/Halifax Wanderers-focused podcast - alongside Anthony Abbott.