Hart Reflects On Big Halifax Wanderers Transformation
When the Halifax Wanderers finished dead last in the Canadian Premier League fall campaign last year, head coach Stephen Hart found himself in the midst of the league’s biggest rebuild: he parted ways with no less than sixteen players, with the club promising concerned fans that a higher pedigree of talent would bring better results to the Wanderers come 2020.
With the east coast side now just one match away from securing a first-ever CPL Final berth, that’s a promise that has rung true all throughout The Island Games: the reformed Wanderers feature the least goals conceded of the remaining clubs (nine from just as many games), the second best attacking record (fifteen goals), and a robust mix of midfielders who have proven more than capable of both creating great chances from open play and stiffling opportunities for their opponents.
In a recent OneSoccer segment, the 60-year-old head coach revealed that he had hoped to retain some of the sixteen players released by the club, though it’s fair to say that he did a great job in findings the right types of players to bring in as their replacements:
There were some players that we were interested in keeping, but negotiations didn’t work out. Once that started to happen, we had to fill those positions first and then try to find the type of quality of the players that I wanted for other positions that we had.Stephen Hart
While Hart didn’t name anyone on specific, it’s easy to imagine that he could be referring to the likes of Matthew Arnone, who made 24 appearances for the Wanderers last season but ultimately signed with York9 FC to move closer to home, and Andre Bona (who clocked in some 2,547 minutes last year before ultimately ending up without a club come 2020).
Still, a centre-back pairing of Peter Schaale and Haitian international Jems Geffrard has proven to be one of the standout duos of the league, with the iron men playing every single possible minute in a defense that has also brought forth dangerous runs from Chrisnovic N’sa (who it’s easy to forget is just 21) and solid performances from both veteran Alex De Carolis and youngster Mateo Restrepo on the left side.
While Akeem Garcia had always impressed up top for the Halifax Wanderers, this year sees the Trinidad and Tobago international poised to win the golden boot with some wonderful runs and finishes working in tandem with increased midfield service from the likes of Brazilian standout Joao Morelli, Jamaican international Alex Marshall, and team captain Andre Rampersad, who have all linked up well with the striker.
We needed to just have a different type of player. I think we had too many similar players in the squad last year, and when we were making substitutions or changes it wouldn’t give us a different look. It was just sort of a like-for-like type of player.Stephen Hart
The versatility brought in by the likes of former Montreal Impact players like Louis Beland-Goyette and Daniel Kinumbe have seen the Wanderers through a successful campaign, with Alessandro Riggi returning from a long-term injury to provide another creative outlet on the flank, too.
While Hart lamented the demise of the Ottawa Fury, he says that an exodus of Fury players to the CPL combined with the quick rebirth of professional football in Ottawa brought many Canadian eyes from the USL to the domestic league, with an implication that this may have been a factor in Riggi’s capture.
Last year, the Wanderers gaffer revealed that he had tried to bring in big-name Trinidad and Tobago signing Kenwyne Jones for the club’s inaugural campaign, though Garcia has proven to be a fantastic alternative to the former Sunderland man. At just 24 years of age, there’s a lot of growth that can still take place for Akeem, who has six goals in nine appearances for the side this year.
Hart also made multiple smart acquisitions involving former U-SPORTS athletes, with top draft pick Cory Bent, former UPEI Panthers man Ibrahima Sanoh, and former Montreal Carabins standouts Omar Kreim and Aboubacar Sissoko all impressing throughout the tournament. To former Cape Breton man Peter Schaale, their positive input at the Island Games came as no surprise:
I think especially here right now in our team as well the U-SPORTS players can really help us because once you go in to play with U-SPORTS you play a lot of knockout matches where you have to win or you go home, and I think now in this tournament it’s like a similar situation. Every game matters and you have to go in with that same mentality, and I think that’s something that U-SPORTS players bring in to the team automatically.Peter Schaale
With Christian Oxner providing big saves between the sticks for Hart (which is something he did last year, and likely why he the local Haligonian was the first player re-signed by the club gaffer this year), it’s fair to say that the Halifax Wanderers have been the most improved Canadian Premier League side of 2020.
While the shortlist for the 2020 CPL Awards have yet to be revealed (there’s still two matchdays left, after all), it’s clear that Stephen Hart ought to be in the running for coach of the year: the former Canada national team gaffer has rebuilt a Wanderers side and taken them straight from the bottom to the top, instilling a club culture and a sense of unity that one spots immediately on the pitch.
The club will also be bolstered by the delayed arrival of Eriks Santos next year, who was unable to attend The Island Games this year due to the pandemic situation. With a strong core and plenty of quality depth to build from, it’ll be exciting to see how the Wanderers continue to grow – though right now the squad will be solely focused on securing its first-ever potential appearance in the CPL Final. Winning that would also grant the squad a spot against MLS competition in the Canadian Championship final and a place in the 2021 Concacaf League, too.
Quote Source: OneSoccer (via YouTube)
Header Image Photo Credit: Canadian Premier League / Chant Photography