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New-look Wanderers make season debut vs. Pacific on Saturday

The Halifax Wanderers practise in Charlottetown leading up to their season debut on Saturday. (CONTRIBUTED/Canadian Premier League)
The Halifax Wanderers practise in Charlottetown leading up to their season debut on Saturday. (CONTRIBUTED/Canadian Premier League)

The wait is finally over for HFX Wanderers FC.

The Canadian Premier League team sees its first real action of 2020 in a Saturday afternoon meeting with Pacific FC in Charlottetown. The game will be televised on the league’s broadcasting partner OneSoccer as well as the CBC.

“We all came in for the pre-season fit in March, expecting our season to start in April,” Wanderers defender Alex De Carolis said. “We all had that in mind but then I think two weeks into it we got shut down so it’s been four months of trying to make it work. Guys had to do their own thing for a while like the rest of the world, so we all had to distance and find creative ways to get our workouts. But once we were allowed to start practice (in Halifax) that really boosted morale. 

“Every few weeks we would move into a new phase so by a certain point we were in phase 3, which was the final phase we needed to get to for us to be able to play. So now that we’re here, everyone’s excited. We’re finally entering our new season after about six months or so. The guys are really excited for our first game.”

Anyone who followed the team and the league in the inaugural campaign last year will certainly be curious to see a few of the different elements of the Island Games. For one, what will it all look like in what is exclusively a television presentation? 

There won’t be any fans in the UPEI stadium so the league has promised digital wrinkles to the broadcast to enhance the experience for anyone who tunes in. It’s just one more futuristic oddity in what is certainly a surreal lifestyle and operation inside the Charlottetown bubble.

“The only weird thing is all eight teams are in the same hotel so we’re walking by other guys we play against all the time,” De Carolis said. “I think that’s going to be a weird dynamic once the games get going. If a game gets heated and then you bump into the other team in the hotel that night, who knows how everyone will react. And in this tournament every game is like a final; that’s the way we’re treating it. If you lose two or three in a seven-game season your chances are almost done right there so the intensity will be pretty high. 

“In terms of the bubble itself, things are really good. The people who are in charge of the health and safety have done a really good job. There’s security everywhere and there’s no going in or out of the hotel when you’re not supposed to. And the timing of everything is precise so when we have practice, we have to be on and off the field in exactly 90 minutes and we have a special bus taking us there and back. Everything is super health-conscious and detailed. For a person like me, I enjoy that kind of lifestyle so it’s been easy to adjust for me. We’ve only been here a few days so once the season gets going, we’ll see how it goes for some guys after two or three weeks. But there’s certainly no complaints.

“If a guy is getting down, we’ll be able to say ‘Would you rather be stuck in your apartment doing zoom workouts or are you going to be able to suck this up?’ Everyone definitely understands that we’re lucky they were able to pull this together.”

From a strictly Wanderers perspective, the main question is: What will their new roster look like? There are only seven players back from 2019 when they finished 6-12-10.

There are key newcomers like keeper Jason Beaulieu from the Montreal Impact of the MLS, midfielder Louis Beland-Goyette from Valour FC and Jems Geffrard, who has played internationally for Haiti. There are also college and university standouts like 2019 U SPORTS player of the year Abou Sissoko, his Montreal Carabins teammate Omar Kreim, Ibra Sanoh from Holland College down the road and Cory Bent of the Cape Breton Capers.

“I think the big thing that comes to mind is maturity,” De Carolis said. “We’re a younger team in age but we’re an older team in game experience and maturity. Last year we had a lot of guys that were in their first or second year of playing professionally so they didn’t really know the ins and outs of how a long season goes. This year I think everyone except a couple of guys have played pro so guys know how things work and how you’re supposed to act on and off the field. It’s been refreshing this year, to be honest. 

“Last year in the second half of the season I think we tied seven games in a row and we were up in four of those and we gave up the tying goal. If we would’ve won three or four of those seven that we should’ve, we would’ve been right at the top. Last year we were that close to making the push to being a final two team but I think the reason it didn’t work out is because we weren’t mature enough to be see out our performances in games. Whether it was our scoring or guys not working for full minutes, this year I think we improved at every position. Our starting 11 got better and our backups got better.”

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