There was a moment midway through the first half when, in a wild two-minute spell, possession was conceded, regained, and then conceded again at an almost comical rate from both sides. The pitch became a pinball machine. Nobody wanted to lose the ball, but nobody really wanted to keep it either.
It was that kind of a game. On a balmy spring afternoon in Langford, B.C, under the nose of a garish sea of purple, a scrappy and frantic 90 minutes of football took place.
It was an odd match, really. Maybe it was the camera angle, maybe it was the difficulty locating the ball amidst the coruscating haze of the turf, or maybe it was simply the emotion of the occasion, but on some subliminal level it took a long time for it to really register as a game of football.
Regardless, by the time the dust had settled on the opening weekend of professional football in Canada, Pacific FC had earned a 1-0 victory, and as a result the first win in CanPL history.
The only goal of the game arrived after 23 minutes. Rushing to meet Noah Verhoeven’s corner was Pacific's Hendrik Starostzik, a player who seemed just as surprised as anyone to find himself with a free header from 6-yards out.
There will be questions asked of the defending here. In fact, it will probably be the first roll of tape the coaches play when they sit down to analyse the game on Tuesday morning. Irrespective of how well you’re playing, it’s important to get the basics right first; and denying the opposition free headers in your 18-yard box is very much a basic.
It was reflective of the first-half Wanderers performance. There was a nervous edge to them. A tentativeness in attack.
After the goal, Pacific grew into the game. Attacks started to come in waves.
Under mounting pressure, HFX retreated, and the gap between the five midfielders and Tomasz Skublack became too wide. Defenders were forced to play lofted balls on to his chest; some of them stuck, many of them didn’t. But even when they did it was difficult for anyone to make up the ground in time to offer support.
Pacific’s midfield started to control the game. The guile and craft of Ben Fisk and Victor Blasco was difficult to manage. Matthew Baldisimo was a combative ball of energy, snapping at the heels of John, Rampersad and Gutierrez whenever they found themselves in possession.
Up front Marcus Haber did what Marcus Haber does. The Canadian is a big, robust, battering ram of a player; all flailing arms and focused force.
He is, let’s be honest, an absolute bastard of a striker. Not that Pacific will mind too much. After all, he’s their bastard.
Under the cosh, Wanderers' midfield began to operate as a flat five with the defenders squeezed in tightly behind them.
This rigidity allowed Pacific to get in behind on the flanks a number of times. HFX needed half-time.
The second half was better. There was more conviction to Wanderers' play. The spaces between players became shorter, and the introduction of Kodai Iida brought a frenetic, much-needed energy to the Wanderers midfield.
And then, in the 72nd minute, Pacific FC were reduced to ten men. Even the most ardent of fans on the West Coast would be hard pressed to argue that it wasn’t the right decision. As Iida raced through, Lukas McNaughton hacked out a reckless leg that sent the Japanese attacker sprawling. A second yellow card was issued.
Wanderers pressed and pressed. Mohammed Kourouma hit the bar with a fantastic free-kick, and Chrisnovic N’sa was desperately unlucky not to score from a goalmouth scramble. But Pacific held out.
HFX Wanderers began life is a professional club with a 1-0 defeat.
There were bright sparks though. Juan Diego Gutierrez was a busy, pervasive presence. A lot of what he attempted didn’t come off, but he was one of those brave enough to try.
Akeem Garcia, too, was a threat down the right. The Trinidadian has a wriggly quality that allows him to back in to his marker, before spinning them and getting a cross away. Those crosses didn’t quite hit the mark yesterday, but should he have more options to aim for in future, you’d expect him to collect his share of assists this season.
A word or two must go to the back-line, too. Chrisnovic N’sa and Peter Schaale did phenomenally well to contain Marcus Haber throughout the game. N’sa, only 20-years-old, and Schaale, who has played the majority of his football at university level, barely gave the 12-year veteran a sniff.
In the full-back positions, Ndzemdzela Langwa and Zachary Sukunda also put in good, solid performances. Langwa, in particular, was excellent in recovery. Sukunda barely put a foot wrong.
Stephen Hart, speaking afterwards, claimed that ‘nobody wanted to accept the responsibility to play football’, and while there are elements of truth in this assessment, he’s perhaps being a little harsh. Pacific FC simply didn’t allow Wanderers the chance to play football for much of the opening half.
A lot of work will be done at the training ground this week to right a few of those wrongs, but to over-saturate the post-match discussion with matters such as these, after an occasion such as this, seems to the miss the point somewhat. For this game at least.
Because Halifax, Nova Scotia has a professional football team. And Canada has a football league. And that’s the only thing anyone should care about today.
When the butterflies started around noon, it felt like the reappearance of an old friend. Their presence was surprising, but also welcome. During the buildup to the season I knew that I cared, but I didn’t know that I cared this much.
We’re locked in now, all of us. This is our team.
In sickness and in health.
Up the Wanderers.
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 in the following places: @FromAwaysHFX @GaryG86