AGR's High Press: Massimo Ferrin proving value of L1C–to–Halifax pathway
It all comes down to the final day now.
After a weekend where the playoff picture really could’ve taken shape, nothing ended up changing, other than the fact that the Halifax Wanderers are officially heading to the playoffs (and now hosting a game!) after a big home win.
Along with losses from both Forge and Pacific to keep the top two race open, to York’s big win to stay alive in the race, it ensured that there is still everything to play for in this final weekend of CPL action.
With one playoff spot still up for grabs between York and Ottawa, as well as spots #2 to #4 for Pacific, Forge and Halifax, there is a lot at stake this weekend in each game, which should make for a dramatic finish.
Yet, that’s exactly what one would’ve wanted heading into the final weekday, which should be a belter, especially based on how the penultimate matchday went down.
Speaking of that final matchday, however, here’s a look at what stood out from that in this week’s ‘High Press’, as well as what lies ahead this week now.
Massimo Ferrin showing value of L1 pathway for Halifax
When looking at the top of the CPL Golden Boot race, there are a lot of familiar faces for those who may have followed the league for a few years.
From former MVP Ollie Bassett and his league-leading 11 goals to the all-time CPL leading scorer in Terran Campbell, the prolific Woobens Pacius and the dangerous Myer Bevan all tied on 10 goals, there is a litany of names that many would’ve expected to see near the top of that list.
In fifth, however, lies a new face, and that’s the Halifax Wanderers Massimo Ferrin, who cracked the top five in the Golden Boot race after scoring in a crucial Wanderers win against Forge, one that booked his team’s spot in the playoffs for the first time in a 28-game season.
GOAL🌊— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 30, 2023
Massimo Ferrin opens the scoring for @HFXWanderersFC as they take an early 1-0 lead over @ForgeFCHamilton in #CanPL action!🍁⚽️#TogetherFromAways | #ForgeFC
TUNE IN | 🔴https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/tcapbb8pyG
While Ferrin’s presence may seem insignificant at first glance, it’s quite remarkable when reflecting on it, as Ferrin is just in his first year in the league, having come to the CPL with just 21 games of professional experience under his belt, and no goal contributions to his name.
So for him to now sit with seven league goals to go along with three assists, as well as another goal in the Canadian Championship, is quite remarkable from him.
But for those who have followed the 24-year-old Ferrin, they won’t be surprised, especially based on what he showed last season. There, he was a standout on League 1 Ontario’s Vaughan Azzurri, who did the league and playoffs double, with Ferrin scoring an astounding 23 goals in 15 regular season games, to go along with one in the playoffs, winning the league’s Golden Boot and MVP trophy for his efforts along the way.
As a result, when his coach, Patrice Gheisar, was hired as the Halifax Wanderers’ new head coach this offseason, Gheisar made sure to poach him as he looked for pillars who could help his tactical identity take shape, while also knowing that Ferrin’s exploits were going to make him a valued commodity across the league regardless.
Despite it being a jump from League 1 to CPL, Gheisar put faith in him, and he’s certainly rewarded him with his performances.
Yet, that just shows the value of that League 1 Canada to CPL pipeline, one that teams could be wise to take more advantage of going forward. As seen between the success of players this season like Ferrin, Riley Ferrazzo, Max Ferrari, and more, to the TSS Rovers' upset of Valour in a matchup of League 1 BC and CPL, that shows that there is talent to be mined in these leagues, especially in that 21-27 age group, one that can often be forgotten.
Teams just have to be willing to take that risk to go after players in that age bracket, as Gheisar did by going after his former players in Ferrin and Ferrazzo, leading more to follow suit as the talent pool grows across League 1 Canada.
The CPL is aware of the value that the league provides, as shown through agreements such as the one that now allows teams to send youngsters to get minutes in the league, but hopefully they can use the success of players like Ferrin to show that there should be more upward movement, and for those who aren’t just teenagers.
Especially as more and more League 1 alumni grace the biggest stage, such as Alistair Johnston, Cyle Larin, Dayne St.Clair, Kamal Miller and many more, that push will only continue to occur, too, as a big talent pool starts to take form.
Halifax is taking advantage of it, and now it’ll be intriguing to see if other teams follow suit this offseason.
York responds to pressure once again
Just when it seemed like they were done and dusted, they found a way.
Somehow, York United are now on the verge of booking their ticket back to the CPL playoffs, as they picked up a huge 1-0 win over Atlético Ottawa this past weekend thanks to a late winner from Kévin dos Santos.
Despite knowing that a loss would eliminate them from playoff contention, York did well to get the job when they needed to, completely turning around their fortunes.
Now, their destiny is in their hands, as they can clinch outright this weekend with a win, or if Ottawa drops any sort of points away to Forge.
Given that York was reeling just a week ago, frustrated after having lost three straight crucial home games, it was a huge performance for them right at the perfect time, too.
Yet, credit has to be given to them, especially in terms of how they were able to fashion this performance. From how their defence stepped up, allowing just 0.51 xG and eight shots, to the outstanding play of Niko Giantsopoulos, who stood tall to all six of those shots that reached his net, as well as the continued persistence of the attack, everyone worked for this win.
That’s crucial, as seen over York’s last few games, where they’d looked disjointed, frustrated and unorganized, it was hard to imagine them turning it around as quickly as they were able to.
But that just shows why if they’re able to get things over the line and are able to make the playoffs, they could be a team worth watching.
As seen throughout this season, when they’re on their game, they can be tough to beat. They’ve shown that with wins over Forge and Cavalry, a pair of away wins in Halifax, a three win and one draw sweep of Ottawa, and more.
Unfortunately, consistency has been hard to find for them, as well - their pair of home losses to a Valour team with only three road wins is one example, as is handing Vancouver FC their first-ever win, along with a few winless slumps along the way.
Especially given that consistency is going to be key for them in the playoffs, as their road to a hypothetical title would see them have to win away to Halifax, Pacific, Cavalry and Forge, four of the best home teams in the league, they’ll need to be at their best across those games.
But at the same time, this York team could relish that challenge. There’s a reason why they’re one of the best road teams in the CPL (they’d be guaranteed to at least tie for the league lead in road points with a win at Vancouver this weekend), as they can be frustrating on their day.
Because of that, look for them to build off this win and try and find some magic for the playoffs, provided they make it, knowing that not many teams will want to face them if they’re at their best.
This win over Ottawa proved that, and they’ll now need to use that as a momentum booster as they use the get-out-of-jail card this win provided as wisely as possible.
Cavalry flirts with CPL history
There’s no doubt that this Cavalry team is quite good. When you’re able to win the league with weeks to spare, and have won seven of your last eight games, it’s hard to say that you’re anything but successful.
Quietly, however, their recent run of form has pushed them into some pretty impressive company.
First, it’s worth noting that with their most recent win, they’ve now pushed up to 52 points, which is actually already the third-best season in league history, only behind Cavalry (62 points) and Forge’s (56 points) dominant 2019 campaigns, where they were clearly the best teams in the league by a good margin.
Given that the league is far more competitive now than it was then, it makes Cavalry’s recent success look quite impressive, as it’s become much harder to rack up points (no one has had more than 50 points since that first season).
Secondly, if they don’t lose this weekend, they’ll tie Atlético Ottawa’s 2022 season as the campaign with the second-fewest losses with five, with Cavalry’s 2019 campaign (four losses) currently serving as the benchmark there.
Lastly, a win in this game, their 14th and final home game of the season, would also give them the second-best home record in a season, as their 33 home points would only be bested by the 35 they put up in 2019.
While that all shows how strong Cavalry were in 2019, that they’re even in the same realm as that team in all of these categories shows how dominant this Cavs team has been as of late.
Especially given how they started the year, winning just one of their first eight games of the season, that makes these numbers especially impressive.
Of course, they weren’t losing many of those games during that “slump” (in fact, they lost just one), showing that they were on the cusp of being a very good team, but many would not have seen this sort of form coming from them.
Now, they’ll need to build off this, as they chase more playoff history, such as becoming the first team to complete a regular season and playoff double, as well as the first team to win a final on home soil, that they’ve already flirted with history is a good start.
In fact, given how close they’ve been to this 2019 team in a lot of categories, if they now go and get the job done in the playoffs, it could even be argued that this might be the best campaign of any team in the CPL, yet.
They must now get the job done, to be fair, but that just shows what’s at stake for them in these playoffs, which has flown under the radar despite their success.
GOAL🏇🏇— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) September 30, 2023
Gareth Smith-Doyle opens his professional account with an early second half goal, giving @CPLCavalryFC a 2-1 lead over @ValourFootball in #CanPL action!🍁⚽️#CavsFC | #ForValour
TUNE IN | 🔴https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/kNe6vZdsE0
Player of the Week: Callum Irving
It was a weekend for goalkeepers in the CPL, and Irving shone the brightest, as he made six saves, including several big ones, as Vancouver picked up a big road win over their rivals.
As a result, he claims this award for a second straight week, showing why he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the CPL, as he’s played a big role in Vancouver’s surge as of late.
Goal of the Week: Kévin dos Santos
Late winners are rarely pretty. Usually fuelled by the desperation of needing to score a goal, they’ll come after a scramble, or on a deflection, say.
Because of that, it shows why Kévin dos Santos’s late winner for York this weekend was so special, as it was quite the beauty.
From his nutmeg to his cool finish, there’s a lot to like about this goal, one York fans won’t soon forget given its importance to their season.
GOAL👑— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) October 1, 2023
Kevin Santos buries a goal in the dying minutes of the match and gives @yorkutdfc a 1-0 lead over @atletiOttawa in #CanPL action!🔥#UnitedByYou | #ForOttawa
TUNE IN | 🔴https://t.co/7JFAUhgjL6 pic.twitter.com/vWtH6oU2HC
You Gotta See This: Wanderers book home playoff game
Given how loyal they’ve been to the Wanderers through ups and downs, it’s long been felt that the city of Halifax was deserving of a chance to one day watch some big games at Wanderers Grounds.
They showed that when Toronto FC came to town last year in the Canadian Championship, and they’ve continued to show that with their support of the Wanderers as they’ve pushed for a playoff spot this year.
Because of that, it’s exciting to see that for the first time ever, playoff soccer will now be making its way to Halifax, as they get set to host at least one game over the next few weeks.
And safe to say, given that it’s already sold out despite not knowing the date or the opponent, Halifax is ready for that occasion, which should be one to remember for the city.
Only 300 left so maybe I should have said this will be sold out by Thursday!— Derek Martin (@WandererDerek) October 4, 2023
Oh and yes for anyone wondering we don't know the date, time or opponent yet...that is just how @HFXWanderersFC fans roll https://t.co/XVrq7De0Bq
What I’m watching this week: Forge vs Atlético Ottawa
A hard choice this week, given that every game means something, it’s too hard to ignore what’s at stake in Hamilton on Saturday.
Of course, it could mean nothing for Ottawa by the time the game kicks off if York wins against Vancouver the day prior, but it’ll certainly mean something for Forge, who will want to push into second place with a win.
If not, their loss could make things very interesting with Pacific playing at the same time, especially if Halifax wins the day before, as that could lead to all sorts of movement from spots #2 to #4 throughout these two games, especially if there are lead changes within those matches.
You add in the fact that Ottawa could be battling for their playoff lives? It could make for quite the thrilling end to the regular season, setting the table nicely for what’s to come in the postseason.