The Wanderers Recap: The Job’s Not Finished
Going into Friday’s match at IG field in Winnipeg, the Wanderers knew that they needed to win, and the bigger the margin, the better. Almost as if scripted perfectly, the final weekend in the Canadian Premier League had teams placed second through fourth, all able to finish in any of those positions based on their final matches of the season.
The Wanderers, who entered the weekend in fourth, knew that their chances of finishing in second were highly unlikely, as they needed to reverse a two-goal goal-differential on Forge, as well as have Pacific FC. Before we dive into those results, let’s touch on what happened in Winnipeg!
The Wanderers entered the game against Valour with two clear directives. The first, reach the required threshold of U-21 Canadian minutes played. They needed 195 minutes, or 65 each, for the three eligible players who started the match for the club (Tomas Giraldo, Tiago Coimbra, and Armaan Wilson). If they didn’t reach this threshold, they would not be eligible for the playoff spot they worked so hard to secure in the first 27 games of the season. The second objective was to win the game and by a lot. The Canadian Premier League has a series of tiebreakers for the playoffs, and goal differential was the only tiebreaker that could go the Wanderers’ way if they won by two or more goals.
With this predicament, the Wanderers needed to start three of their youngest players, which doesn’t necessarily mean their weakest line-up, but there was clearly a drop-off in experience in the midfield with the inclusion of Armaan Wilson (who has grown immensely throughout the season, but isn’t quite the same level of Rampersad or Omar at this present moment). In the first 20 to 30 minutes, Valour looked to expose this, but as they have all season, they just couldn’t finish the excellent chances that they created. If Pacifique Nyongabire were on a team with more consistent finishing, I believe would be up for league MVP, and that is without any hyperbole.
Then, near the 30th minute, disaster seemed to strike for the HFX Wanderers, as one of their U-21 players, Tomas Giraldo, went down injured, putting the minutes threshold in danger. With no other choice, Patrice Gheisar turned to highly-touted but inexperienced debutant, Camilo Vasconcelos. To his credit, he came on and performed with courage, a great work-rate, and did not look out of place on a Canadian Premier League pitch.
As the first half neared its close, Valour continued to press, hitting the post and having a goal called off. This is, once again, an encapsulation of Valour’s season. The Wanderers, did not panic, playing their game of quick passing in midfield, long switches of play, and waiting for opportunities to strike at goal. Half-time came and went: objective one neared completion, but the team needed to win, and it was clear as the team started to press harder, stretching the game on Valour’s massive turf field.
Then, in the 54th minute, as we have said so many times this season, Dan Nimick and Massimo Ferrin took control of the game and created a moment of magic. Nimick made an incisive ball that broke the Valour lines before Ferrin, who has impressed this season with his ability to score from outside the box, calmly thrashed the ball into the top corner.
The Wanderers had firmly taken the drivers seat. They needed another goal but could theoretically also earn second place with a one-goal win. So, do they play it safe? Or press on and risk having no chance at second place with Forge set to play later in the weekend? Well, the answer seemed to be somewhere in the middle for the Halifax club. While I have no evidence to support this, it felt like the team was divided, with players like Yann Fillion and Cale Loughrey wanting to bunker in and secure the clean sheet, whereas Tiago Coimbra seemed to come alive and press even harder than before the Wanderers gained the lead.
Alas, the final whistle blew, closing out the regular season for the Wanderers – 42 points, 11 wins, and, with all things considered, massively overachieving expectations.
With the final whistles blowing in Calgary and Hamilton, the HFX Wanderers know exactly what they will need to do in order to lift the North Star Cup (the trophy for the Canadian Premier League Playoffs) and, in the process, qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. Forge lost but won the away goal differential tiebreaker to barely win them the second-place spot. Pacific lost, which means that the HFX Wanderers placed in third, their highest-ever regular season finish (and by a considerable margin).
Now, the Wanderers await the winners of Pacific versus York United. The winner of this match will, of course, be playing on short rest, as well as having to travel across the country with the game being played in Langford.
Should the Wanderers beat the eventual winners of this match, they will face off with the loser of the Cavalry versus Forge match to decide who earns the final spot in the North Star Cup final.
If all that feels complicated, take a look at this equally complicated graphic that the Canadian Premier League posted on their X account.
It has been an incredible regular season with a lot of great milestones. So, let’s touch on the big ones for the Wanderers!
Yann Fillion played every regular season game, and has set the new record for minutes played in a season (and counting) with 2,610 before the playoffs.
Daniel Nimick tied a Canadian Premier League record for goal contributions in a season, tying Diyaddine Abzi with nine (Nimick had six goals and three assists).
Lorenzo Callegari set the Wanderers’ single-season record for assists with six.
Andre Rampersad became the first Wanderers player to reach 100 appearances for the club (he’s currently at 117).
Joao Morelli broke the club record for most goals in a Wanderers shirt and now sits at 24, 15 ahead of the next active Wanderers player (Massimo Ferrin).