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HFX Wanderers tie Pacific FC in home finale


HALIFAX, N.S. —

It was farewell night at the Wanderers Grounds on Wednesday.

Nova Scotia's professional soccer team, HFX Wanderers FC, played its final home game of the inaugural Canadian Premier League season in front of a nearly full house. Unfortunately for the Wanderers they couldn't pull off the win, settling for a 1-1 draw with Pacific FC.

"Draws are all right and at this point in the season we're really focused on performance," said Halifax defender Matthew Arnone. "Obviously we haven't been in contention here for a while now and we're looking ahead to next year. We want to build a good core, a good group of guys and that starts with an identity.

"At home you have to seal out games and get your three points where you can. I think we deserved three points today but we'll take the point and move forward. I think it was a performance to be proud of and I hope we put on a good show for the fans."

Coming into the game on a nine-game winless streak, the script called for a victory but it looked bleak early when Pacific got the first goal. Lukas MacNaughton headed in a long cross after being left unmarked at the back post in the 13th minute.

But a nice give and go between Kodai Iida and Luis Alberto Perea in the 27th minute led to a foul on Iida inside the box and an authoritative finish from Perea on the ensuing penalty kick.

"We went down early and that kind of took the sting out of the crowd but credit to them, they never give up here," Arnone said. "They're a resilient group and I think we are too. We battled back and, in a way, the goal almost settled us down. I think we got our legs under us after that and started putting the ball on the deck and playing. We got rewarded with a penalty and definitely had some quality chances to win the game as well."

As debuts go, there was far more good than bad for the Wanderers in their opening CPL campaign. The fans came to the refurbished downtown pitch in huge numbers and bonded with the team instantaneously. There is every reason to believe pro soccer is not only here to stay, but will thrive.

About the only downer was the team's inability to win more games down the stretch. The Wanderers' last victory was on Aug. 5 and they have gone 0-2-8 since, which at least featured way more ties than losses. 

"If you focus on performance rather than results, we did well," Arnone said. "And the results weren't horrible. We had seven ties in a row and four or five of them could've been wins. We take not being beaten in a while with pride, with the exception of the game against Cavalry. We'll move forward with good performances and hopefully build a good group for 2020."

After a solid 3-5-2 showing in the Spring Competition, Halifax is in last place in the Fall Competition at 2-7-8.

"Credit to the guys," Arnone said. "We battled hard all season and, to be honest, a couple of bounces in the opposite direction and perhaps we're battling for second place or even first place in the Fall season. That's just the way the season goes and credit to the lads for continuing to fight."

Privateers 1882 president James Covey made a presentation to Arnone on behalf of the fan support group prior to the opening kickoff. Arnone was awarded the Fans' Choice trophy for the season.

"This is a smashing success here in Halifax," Arnone said as he signed autographs. "This is the benchmark for the league. These fans are unbelievable and supported us so well. I've played on teams in Europe where the fans would tell you to hit the showers if you blew a lead. These fans are unconditionally supportive and that's something the league needs. 

"When the CPL is looking to expand or looking at franchises in general to see what the fanbases should be, this is what they should look at. This is top of the league and now we just need to get the product on the field to match the fan support."

The Wanderers wrap up their season on Oct. 19 on the road against York9 FC.

"We played for the win tonight and I think we did well," said Halifax defender Chakib Hocine. "We all love the city and the fans here so we wanted to give them the victory. A draw is still OK and now we just have to finish with a victory in our last game and then we will take time to think about next season."
 

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