The Wanderers Recap: Get Out The Record Books
You could easily argue that after the match against Forge FC, the Wanderers clinched their first real playoff spot. You see, the HFX Wanderers’ only other playoff appearance came during the Island Games, a shortened Bubble Season during the COVID pandemic, while in the previous three full-length seasons the Wanderers finished seventh, sixth, and seventh (2019, 2021, 2022).
Now with their 2-1 victory over Forge FC, the Wanderers are guaranteed to finish no lower than 5th place, with the unlikely possibility of finishing in second (they would need to win against Valour, and have Forge and Pacific both lose their remaining games).
With that out of the way, let’s recap how the Wanderers clinched a playoff spot and how emotionally draining this match was for a nervous Wanderers fan.
After a disappointing result against Vancouver FC last week, the night terrors set in for Wanderers fans as it was hard not to give in to the fears that they might slip up in the final stages and forego all their hard work throughout the season.
Forge, historically, has had the better of the Wanderers, with this season being a statistical anomaly as the Wanderers had won one, with the other two matches being draws between the two clubs – so there wasn’t necessarily a lot of optimism around this match for the Wanderers, even though the Wanderers Grounds sold out of tickets before the match.
The first ten minutes made these fears feel quite real as Forge controlled much of the possession and tested Yann Fillion early and often. Yet, in these moments, the Wanderers found some space to press forward on the counter-attack, and they took advantage of this with a nice cross from Jake Ruby that admittedly should have been dealt with by the Forge defenders. Still, Massimo Ferrin took advantage, heading the ball hard into the corner of Tristan Henry’s goal.
As always, Forge pushed on to tie the game quickly. Manjrekar James was all over the field, popping up in the 18-yard box more often than any centre-back I have seen in recent memory. Credit to him, as it generated a goal that was fully deserved after a sustained period of pressure while also absorbing all of the Wanderers counter attacks.
This goal could have been a cut that led to the team bleeding out, but once again, the resilience of this team has blown away any other Wanderers team that has come before them. They refocused and leaned on Lorenzo Callegari and Mo Omar to break up Forge attacks and to create the tempo necessary to pressure Tristan Henry. This manifested in a disallowed goal from Dan Nimick after Cale Loughrey was called for an offside that looked marginal at best. In the balance of a season, calls will go against you, but they will also go for you, and today was no different as just moments after the goal was disallowed, the Wanderers were awarded a fortunate penalty. Personally, I didn’t see any contact on Massimo Ferrin, but I will accept the penalty as retribution for the phantom offside on Nimick earlier.
That goal was Nimick’s sixth of the season, and his calmness at the penalty spot could be crucial in the upcoming postseason.
With the second half about to start, every Wanderers fan knew that a draw was all the team needed to secure a playoff spot, but they also knew that three points would feel like pure euphoria. When the Wanderers emerged from their dressing room and onto the pitch, you knew that the team was fully committed to finishing the job and fighting for every last point. It was a calm yet noticeable confidence, something that typically takes years of continued success to build within a team.
While Yann Fillion has been an upgrade in net, he had yet to solidify in my mind that he was a BIG upgrade until today. He was spectacular, and his consistency in net certainly was crucial to Dan Nimick and Cale Loughrey growing as much as they have this season. Admittedly, I am harsh on goalkeepers, but Yann Fillion deserves his flowers, as this Wanderers team couldn’t have made the playoffs without such a steady hand in net. Whether it be his ability in the ‘dark arts'”‘ of time wasting, shot stopping, or his distribution, he has provided a veteran edge that this team lacks throughout the rest of the field.
Where do y’all think Yann Fillion ranks in terms of starting Canadian Premier League Goalkeepers?
In an odd way, I doubt that many people will remember this game. It wasn’t that the game didn’t mean much; in fact it was the opposite. Moreso that the moment and meaning behind the game overshadowed the result. It wasn’t a 2-1 win over Forge but a 2-1 win over the defending champions to clinch a playoff spot when the team was originally projected to miss the playoffs.
As sports fans, we live for these moments. Years of heartache rewarded with small glimpses of greatness. I’m not ashamed to admit that I couldn’t hold back a few happy tears at the final whistle. We love our team, and they love us back. Isn’t that the most beautiful thing you’ve heard in your life?