Coach Hart: HFX Wanderers enjoying ‘honeymoon period’

TORONTO — It’s all coming together in Halifax. That is, according to everyone in Halifax.

HFX Wanderers FC has wrapped its first week of training camp ahead of the start of the 2019 Canadian Premier League season.

“It’s the honeymoon period, so the mood in the camp is very good,” said head coach Stephen Hart by phone. “Players are helping each other out, especially off the field, helping to adjust. It’s been very good.”

In addition to the 17 players he’s already signed, Hart added a host of trialists to the mix to compete for the final few spots on HFX’s inaugural roster. Then, it’s about entering the unknown: How will the Maritime outfit fare against CPL sides from coast-to-coast?

“Players seem to be blending well, getting along well. We’re having team activities outside of soccer,” added defender Zachary Sukunda, the first player signed in the club’s short history. “For the first four days, everything has been going very smoothly.”

But while players with York9 FC, Forge FC, Cavalry FC and FC Edmonton are, perhaps, reacquainting themselves with teammates from the recent past, the Wanderers were, in many cases, coming together for the first time.

“We have a good squad,” the 23-year-old Sukunda reiterated, adding some factions of the team have chemistry. “The coach has done very well, starting completely from scratch. I know quite a few of the players from before. He’s built the team a lot on players who already know each other; played with each other.”

“It shows now in training: I know how some already play; the four Trinidad guys have all played together before,” explained Sukunda.

HFX Wanderers Airport
HFX Wanderers’ Ndzemdzela Langwa (L) and Zach Sukunda arrive in Halifax. (CPL)

Without the luxury of an established pool of players in place — such as in Ontario and Alberta — Hart was forced to piece together his side using a wider range of contacts.

Broadly speaking, the side can be broken down into four categories of players, allowing for some overlap between the groupings: Canadian and local talent; internationals; players formerly on the books at Montreal Impact and the quartet from Trinidad and Tobago.

“The whole idea of going after those groups in that manner is that it will allow for easier integration,” stressed Hart. “Already it is working that way.”

Sukunda, of the Montreal group alongside Chakib Hocine, Chrisnovic N’sa, and Vincent Lamy, has seen that first hand.

“Everything is blending very well,” he said. “I can see a bunch of little groups becoming one.”

Wanderers Grounds. (Handout)
Wanderers Grounds. (Handout)

It has helped that all of the players from outside of Halifax are staying in the same part of town.

“We’ve been able to watch some Champions League together, cooking a lot together,” said Sukunda. “It’s been nice to do stuff off the field.”

The Trinidadian group of Jan-Michael Williams, Elton John, Akeem Garcia, and Andre Rampersad, has been “great,” according to Sukunda.

“They’re taking everything in well: the snow, the apartment, the climate. They’ve been super fun, coming around to our apartment, hanging out and we’ve had the local boys come,” explained Sukunda, who has found himself in the middle of it having stepped out of the shadow of that black hoodie at the end of November.

“I’m a pretty social guy, easy to get along with, I guess it helps,” laughed Sukunda. “Me being the first signing, people know who I am.”

Asked to reveal how he wants his side to play, Hart stayed clear of putting anything in stone.

HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart. (Canada Soccer)
HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart. (Canada Soccer)

“With me, formation is just a box that you put players in,” reminded Hart. “What I would like, eventually, is to have a team that is comfortable playing in a dynamic fashion. That as players move out of position, others know to fill in and have a good understanding of their roles and responsibilities so we are interchangeable.

“We will have a way,” offered Hart. “How we approach games. That is the important part: that the players know how to manage and approach the game depending on the scoreline.”

Just a week in, Sukunda could already put his finger on the character with which the group will attack the season: “It’s a very serious group. We all have something to prove here.

“A squad that has come from nothing,” he finished.

A squad that might have the most to do 50 days before HFX opens its season on Vancouver Island.