Here are the key talking points from the week that was February 16 - 22...
On Friday, without even promoting it as an *insert your hyperbolic adjective of choice* announcement, the league decided to reveal the home openers for each club, and by extension the first two rounds of fixtures.
And with that bombshell, what was once little more than a vague, abstract concept of a league started to slowly crystalize into something a little more fully-formed.
For Wanderers, it’s an away-day in Langford to kick things off. Pacific FC and their triumvirate of shiny big-name players await, and from the general reaction to the fixture, not many are giving Wanderers a prayer. Which is nonsense, really.
Because it’s hard to believe that once Haber, de Jong and Fisk’s collective salaries come out of the company coffer, there’ll be too much left over for the rest of the Pacific squad. In fact, I fully expect them to line up on the opening day with Michael Silberbauer’s niece at left-back, Marcel de Jong’s hairdresser as a holding midfielder, and a local dentist in a free-role up top. Blind optimism, perhaps, but I can’t see beyond a 0-1 smash-and-grab victory for Wanderers.
Following on from our 4,500km trip out west, we welcome that motley lot from Forge FC to the Wanderers Grounds on May 4th for HFX Wanderers FC’s first ever home game.
A huge amount of credit should go to every single member of the community that has worked tirelessly to make this happen. When I moved to Canada in 2016, I didn’t believe for a second that I’d get the chance to watch professional football in Halifax. To now have the chance to do that on my doorstep means a huge debt is owed to a lot of people. Thanks to them all.
So, to set the scene: it’s a late-Spring afternoon, Argyle Street is humming, the beer is flowing and before too long, here we are, walking up Sackville St. on the way to the lovingly adorned Wanderers Grounds to watch the first professional football game in Nova Scotia for over thirty-years.
I can’t wait.
In a week full of news, HFX Wanderers staked their own claim to the headlines by announcing four new signings. On Tuesday it was announced that Christian Oxner and Alex De Carolis had both been recruited by the club, followed by the additions of Kouame Ouatarra and Kodai Iida on Friday morning, bringing the squad size up to 15.
The signing of Oxner is one of the feel-good stories of this fledgling Wanderers team. He’s local, he’s earned this opportunity with hard-work and dedication, and he’s yet further evidence of there being opportunities for young Canadian talent now. As a goalkeeper, he’ll also have the chance to spend the season under the guidance of an 80-cap international in the form of big Jan-Michael Williams. As far as learning curves go, this is just about as good as it gets.
Joining Oxner in Tuesday’s announcement was Alex De Carolis, the 55th left-back the club has signed to date. De Carolis was most recently plying his trade in Sweden for Umea FC. He describes himself as a left-back, first and foremost, but he’s equally comfortable playing as a center back. At 6’1, he’s tall enough to perform both roles, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him lining up on the left side of a back-three once the season kicks off. He's got a wand of a left foot on him, too.
Kouame Ouatarra and Kodai Iida are another two feel-good stories for the club. Ouatarra, 27, had resigned himself to the fact that a professional football career had passed him by. He’d spent time with Levante as a young player but, after the move to Canada, it seemed that football as a vocation wasn’t going to happen. After impressing at the open trials in Halifax (and being coined The Beast in the process), Ouatarra was offered a contract by the club. So, I guess that means there’s hope for us all. I’ll fetch my boots.
Finally, filling the fifth international spot for Wanderers, is Kodai Iida. The young Japanese player is a tricky attacker who can play on either wing or as a no.10, just behind the striker. He brings a creative dynamism to the Wanderers attack. Slippery, is the word I believe Stephen Hart used to describe him. Having tricky, probing players like this who can affect games in the final-third will be important in the coming season, particularly against teams that defend deeply against us.
The word is that there’ll be two more signings announced next week who may fill the last two international spots. Don’t be surprised if they’re also from Stephen Hart’s regions of choice in Central and South America…
I’m only going to touch on the Mediapro deal briefly because two articles, with significantly more well-informed opinions, have been posted this week. But, to sum up, I think it’s fantastic for the league. To have the guarantee of a 10-year partnership goes a long way to preserving the league well into the future. And that’s what we all want, at the end of the day. We want a league we can still be following 20-25 years down the line.
My fellow From Aways podcaster Alex Sheppard wrote this excellent fan’s primer for the blog on Thursday. He breaks the deal down into easily digestible pieces to really help those without a lick of business acumen (I’m looking at myself here) to understand exactly what it’s all about.
Alternatively, you can read the equally-brilliant Merchant Sailor’s piece on the deal here. In it he plays devil’s advocate and questions the long-term benefits of the deal. While you’re there, read his other stuff about Wanderers and the league in general, too. His knowledge of local AUS players is second to none.
And that will be that. I’ll be posting a piece I’ve written about Stephen Hart, Michael Hunter and Derek King early next week. We should also have a new podcast episode up shortly, where we take an in-depth look at the squad so far.