2021 at a glanceHalifax will roll out a very similar squad in 2021 to the one which reached the Island Games final last season — nine players from Stephen Hart’s starting XI against Forge FC in the 2020 decider are back with the Wanderers once again. 14 members in total from last campaign’s team are back, headlined by keeper Christian Oxner, defender Peter Schaale, midfielder Andrew Rampersad and attackers Akeem Garcia and João Morelli. The combo of Garcia and Morelli combined for 10 of the Wanderers' 15 goals in PEI with the former tallying six to take home leading scorer honours at the Island Games. Finishing second after the first stage and runners-up in the knockout round of last year’s condensed format could be viewed only as a very strong sophomore season for Hart and Halifax — particularly after dropping to dead last in the 2019 Fall Season table at season's end. With plenty of personnel retention, expectations for the Wanderers should be to build on the progress they made on last year’s trip to PEI. This time around in Winnipeg, the goal is a strong start to the season rather than silverware as they look to head back East in July with as many points as possible.
- 2020 CPL record (W-D-L): 5-4-2 (2nd overall); 1-1-1 in group stage (2nd)
- Goals scored: 15
- Goals against: 16
- Goal difference: -1
- Top scorer: Akeem Garcia (6)
What happened in 2020?Expectations weren’t sky high for Hart’s group after a lacklustre 2019 season. Working in their favour was the ability to bring back some familiar faces while strategically adding pieces through the CPL-U SPORTS Draft amid the COVID-impacted transfer market. Halifax wasn’t the home team but as the only Atlantic Canadian side they looked quite comfortable in 2020 at the Island Games. Starting against the trio of teams that eventually joined them in the final four, the Wanderers opened with a pair of draws, first a 2-2 against Pacific FC before a statement 1-1 result against reigning champions Forge. A tight 2-1 loss to Cavalry was their lone defeat of the first round. Following a challenging run of fixtures, HFX found their feet against the rest of the league as they won three and drew one from the next four games, settling for a single point versus a stingy York9 team thanks to a last-gasp equalizer from substitute Omar Kreim to make it 1-1. Halifax would carry that momentum into the group stage as they salvaged a point against Forge once again, before getting their revenge against Cavalry with a 2-1 win which booked their place in the final — a match which Forge would go on to win 2-0 to claim their second straight CPL title. While the pressure to win in 2020 may have been mild to begin the season, hopes for a strong start to 2021 will be genuine after the Wanderers came oh so close to completing the underdog story back in September.
How have they changed?PLAYERS IN: Kieran Baskett, Kareem Sow, Morey Doner, Eriks Santos (signed for 2020; missed out due to travel restrictions), Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, Pierre Lamothe, Marcello Polisi, Stefan Karajovanovic, Samuel Salter, PLAYERS OUT: Jason Beaulieu, Daniel Kinumbe, Alex De Carolis, Luke Green, Chrisnovic N’sa, Louis Béland-Goyette, Aboubacar Sissoko, Ibrahima Sanoh At first glance, HFX has undergone plenty of change across the offseason but the key for Hart is the majority of his first-choice guys are back in 2021. The two starters from last year’s final against Forge that have since departed are midfielder Aboubacar Sissoko and fullback Chrisnovic N’sa — N’sa heading to York United while Sissoko went south to join the USL’s Indy Eleven in January. Replacing the pair will likely be done by committee as Morey Doner comes in from York to help eat up some minutes on the flanks while incoming midfielders Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Marcello Polisi should help fill the void in the middle of the park left by Sissoko moving on. Louis Béland-Goyette is the third big subtraction from last year’s squad with only Rampersad and Sissoko playing more minutes in the middle for Hart. Losing Jason Beaulieu, Daniel Kinumbe, Alex De Carolis, Luke Green and Ibrahima Sanoh should be compensated through the depth they’ve acquired between now and then. Eriks Santos was already a Wanderers player before the 2020 season but missed out on the Island Games due to ongoing travel restrictions. His presence at the back will be welcome with open arms —particularly with Jems Geffrard expected to miss some time while on international duty with Haiti. Providing depth across all positions are more newcomers in Kieran Baskett, Kareem Sow, Pierre Lamothe, Stefan Karajovanovic and Samuel Salter. Known for their youth and ability to pluck talent through the CPL-U SPORTS Draft, the Wanderers stick to their roots in bringing Sow and Karajovanovic directly into the group through the 2021 draft.
Projected Starting XIChristian Oxner; Mateo Restrepo, Jems Geffrard, Peter Schaale, Morey Doner; Andre Rampersad, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé, Joao Morelli; Alessandro Riggi, Akeem Garcia, Alex Marshall After missing the opening four matches last season, Christian Oxner regained the starting role he carried for the majority of 2019 and finished as a finalist for the Golden Glove. Another local lad in Kieran Baskett will serve as the backup with Jason Beaulieu now gone, but it remains Oxner’s job to lose assuming he’s fit. No big changes on the backline either as Schaale, Restrepo and Geffrard all return with Morey Doner slotting in for N’Sa who played most of the minutes at right back at the Island Games. Santos might also finally get his chance to suit up for Halifax and could be leaned on heavily if/when Geffrard is called up by Haiti. Jake Ruby gave Hart plenty of life on the flanks last year and provides depth to wide defensive areas alongside U SPORTS draft pick Kareem Sow. Two-thirds of the Wanderers midfield unit is back with captain Restrepo and dynamic attacker Joao Morelli returning to the middle of the park in 2021. To try and soften the blow of Sissoko’s departure, Gagnon-Laparé is the early favourite to slide as a deep-lying presence for Hart, although former Simon Fraser University standout Marcello Polisi just might have a say in that matter. While the group has added some exciting firepower up front in Salter and Karajovanovic, Hart has the option to field the same front three that started against their Forge in the 2020 final. Given the success some continuity between seasons brought HFX last year, it would serve as no surprise if they fielded the same trio of Marshall, Garcia and Riggi to open this campaign.
Coach’s profile: Stephen HartStephen Hart is one of the CPL’s most experienced managers based on his international career alone. Having served at the helm for both Canada and his native Trinidad and Tobago, Hart has over 30 years of managerial experience and showed his worth as the Wanderers' leader at the Island Games — taking home 2020 Coach of the Year honours for his efforts. Earning seven caps for the ‘Soca Warriors’ national team as a player in the 1980s, the now-61-year-old made the move to Halifax to pursue an education at St. Mary’s University back in 1981 where he was an AUS all-star midfielder while suiting up for the Huskies. As a long time youth national team coach for Canada, Hart has an abundance of experience in working with young players — it should come as no shock that Halifax have made more use of the U SPORTS draft than any other CPL side with Hart steering the wheel for the Wanderers since the beginning.
What they’re saying"Really and truly we were going to approach it almost as if it is a tournament, in the sense that we’re going to take the same sort of steps that we took for the Island Games in entering the matches. The adjustment is just about trying to get points rather than a place in the playoffs." -- Stephen Hart, HFX Wanderers FC coach.