CPL·Preview

HFX Wanderers building a legacy on and off the pitch

The HFX Wanderers don’t have a prayer of qualifying for the CPL Championship. The best they can hope for is to avoid finishing at the bottom of the Fall season standings. As Nigel Reed writes, they may not be winning, but they are building a new soccer culture in Atlantic Canada - one that will be on display on Saturday when they take on Valour FC (1 p.m. ET, CBC, CBCSports.ca).

CPL team are constructing a new soccer culture in Atlantic Canada

HFX Wanderers FC head coach Stephen Hart, shown in this July 2019 file photo, has guided his new club through their first season in the CPL. One success from 2019 would be Hart's addition wing Mo Kourouma, who was spotted by Hart at open trials and is now a regular starter. (File/USA TODAY Sports)

It has been a tough season down East.

There haven't been enough goals, so there haven't been enough wins. 

HFX Wanderers don't have a prayer of qualifying for the CPL Championship. The best they can hope for is to avoid the ignominy of finishing bottom of the Fall season standings.

They aren't winning, but they are building. They are constructing a new soccer culture in Atlantic Canada.

There's always been an appetite for the game in that part of the country. It has something to do with geographical history. Halifax – the point of entry for generations of Canadian immigrants – has long embraced soccer as a game worth playing and following.

The Wanderers are building a legacy on and off the pitch. The fans have bought in. Despite a lack of success in the inaugural Canadian Premier League season, the supporters have stuck with it. Only Hamilton-based Forge draws larger average crowds.

The players, too, are finding their way. Slowly but surely, they are proving their worth. In a league specifically designed to showcase Canadian talent, a growing number of homegrown players have caught the eye.

Nomads and local heroes

Mo Kourouma may finally have found a permanent home. A left winger with flair and pace, the Montreal native has been something of a soccer nomad. He has played in France, Belgium, Guinea – the country of his birth, and down in the U.S. ​​​​

HFX coach Stephen Hart liked what he saw after spotting Kourouma at the open trials in Montreal. Hart's instinct has paid dividends and the 29-year-old is a regular starter, tormenting full backs and supplying the ammunition for top scorer Akeem Garcia.

Christian Oxner has become a true local hero. The 23-year-old Halifax native is not the best goalkeeper in the CPL. Most would point to Cavalry's Marco Carducci, whose stellar performances led to a call up to the Canadian national team.

Oxner had to bide his time for a chance with his hometown club. Veteran Jan-Michael Williams was Hart's preferred choice to kick off the season, but Oxner grabbed his opportunity after Williams and the Wanderers suffered a six-goal drubbing against the York9.

Oxner, who has gone on to register four clean sheets, will likely be between the posts again on Saturday when Valour come to town (Saturday, 1 p.m. ET on CBC, CBCSports.ca).

Valour rounding into form

Like HFX, the Winnipeg-based team has endured its fair share of setbacks in year one.

Few will forget Valour's record breaking 8-0 capitulation at the hands of a rampant Cavalry, but Rob Gale's team has shown a response. Only last weekend, Valour showed that it, too, can score goals on the road, with a dominant 4-2 win at York9.

Gale is focused on building a team that Canadian players can call home. And a fair amount of it comes straight from the Prairies.

Marco Bustos is a little livewire, capable of changing a game in the blink of any eye. At 23, his best years are ahead of him and playing for his hometown club has reignited his career. The Whitecaps loss is certainly Valour's gain.    

Tyler Attardo is a boy in a man's uniform. The lanky forward has just turned 18 but is already making an impression in the professional ranks. His six goals make him Valour's joint leading scorer alongside the more experienced Michael Petrasso.

With just a month of the season remaining it's a busy weekend in the CPL.

FC Edmonton and York9 are essentially playing for pride. Both have fallen too far behind the leaders to make a run with only six games to go. On Sunday, Cavalry has the chance to tie Forge for top spot with home advantage over Pacific. 

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