Hart On CPL Quality: ‘Sometimes It Even Catches Me By Surprise’
Halifax Wanderers head coach and general manager Stephen Hart is a man who is up front about the facts: when the Wanderers were thrashed 6-2 by York9 FC last week, he admitted he got it wrong. So, when he says the quality of the league has not only surpassed his expectations – but that of several Canadian internationals he’s previously coached – it’s worth taking notice.
Though the young league has shown off just over three months of action so far, the 59-year-old revealed that the Canadian Premier League is currently at a level of play that many thought it would take a few years to reach:
I had a couple of the players that played for me, with Canada, they called me after the first ten games. They said: ‘boss, you know, we thought it would take 2-3 years to reach a certain standard, but there are some very good games being played here.’Stephen Hart
This sentiment was recently echoed by a current member of the national team in Samuel Piette, who said that the quality of the CPL was high after his side MLS side drew 2-2 with York9 FC. With the likes of Tristan Borges, Nico Pasquotti, and Ryan Telfer taking the league by storm (and keepers like Marco Carducci and Nathan Ingham impressing at the other end of the pitch), it’s no small wonder that there has been a handful of transfer rumours as the fall season progresses.
Hart has seen a lot through his coaching career: after starting at the grassroots level in Halifax, he spent several years coaching various levels of the Canadian national youth system before tackling the senior side. After a few years with Les Rouges, he spent three years as head coach of Trinidad and Tobago.
He’s seen leagues come and go, and he was around to witness the start of Major League Soccer. In his eyes, the level of play in the inaugural Canadian Premier League season is comparable to that of the inaugural MLS season from 1996. In fact, he says the CPL occasionally rises even higher in terms of quality:
I think sometimes the standard of play even catches me by surprise. I look at Cavalry, I look at Forge, I look at Valour, and I see parts of the game – okay, you know, football is made up of just small parts that you remember that excites you, but some of the quality is exceptionally good. I would say some of those games are better than when MLS first started, because I remember when MLS first started.Stephen Hart
To that end, Hart doesn’t shy away from saying that the league isn’t without it’s problems. In a coast-to-coast league with seven teams, a congested fixture schedule with plenty of travel makes things difficult for both players and the administrative staff tasked with keeping them fit.
Because of the travel, there’s going to be tired players. I know we will have to travel the most of everybody. There’s going to be tired games, and it’s very, very difficult to keep players healthy because the squads are so small, but I do honestly believe that the quality has been better than I anticipated.Stephen Hart
As Halifax Wanderers prepares for its fifth away game in a row, it’s fair to say that the squad hasn’t enjoyed its time on the road: The Wanderers have lost four consecutive away games, including one where the club was edged out in the Canadian Championship quarter-finals via a 5-4 aggregate thriller against the Ottawa Fury.
Ahead of tonight’s match against FC Edmonton, Hart revealed that a few players who have accompanied the squad on its prolonged run of away games have been sent home to rest:
Suffice to say, Hart is excited for a return home after the club’s midweek match against FC Edmonton. With Wanderers Grounds featuring an average of over 6,000 fans, the boisterous atmosphere is where the team has found most of its success. Perhaps there, Hart can see some of those segments of exceptionally good quality that he’s been pleased to see league-wide.
The Wanderers’ next home game is a rare Monday match on August 5 against Winnipeg-based Valour FC – the only club underneath Halifax on the league table, with the caveat that Rob Gale’s club has two games-in-hand. Still, in a league with plenty of parity, no game can be taken for granted: if they’re fit, expect Hart to field the strongest eleven he can.