It was a party in the stands at the Wanderers Grounds all season even if the HFX Wanderers FC’s final place in the standings wasn’t as cheery.
Somebody had to finish last in the inaugural season and it’s no surprise the team that only won once on the road found themselves at the bottom of the league.
While the road woes stick out, it was the opposite tale for the Wanderers at home where Cavalry FC were the only team that managed to leave Nova Scotia with all three points, a feat they managed on two of three visits to Halifax.
It’s easy to point to the road performances as the reason why HFX finished last. The results leave a lot of “what ifs” and moments that maybe could have resulted in a favourable table position.
What if big, veteran defender Chakib Hocine stayed healthy and managed to play in more than six games?
What if fan-favourite backline anchor Peter Schaale didn’t return to university in August?
All questions, and more, that will be answered next season. For now? Let’s take a look at HFX Wanderers FC’s Year in Review,shall we?
The home debut at Wanderers Grounds was the first indication that something special was brewing in the Kitchen. Akeem Garcia scored the first goal in team history. Forge’s Kadell Thomas evened the score in the second half but then Luis Alberto Perea made it a day to remember with a winner in the 82nd minute.
In the first round of the Canadian Championship, the Wanderers took on League1 Ontario side Vaughan Azzurri SC and it was looking like a cakewalk with League1 alumnus Tomasz Skublak opening the scoring two minutes in. But Vaughn erased a 2-0 lead and it took a Mo Kourouma penalty in extra time to give the Wanderers what turned out to be an important road win. Vaughn came to Wanderers Grounds a week later and won 1-0 leaving Stephen Hart’s side frustrated over sneaking into the second round on the away goal tie-breaker.
Knocking out Valour FC in the second round of the Canadian Championship set up a visit from Ottawa Fury on July 10. It was arguably the biggest game at Wanderers Grounds all season, with a CPL team going up against a USL side and a date against Toronto FC at stake.
A Wanderers player from Ottawa, ‘Zoom’ Langwa, wrote an open letter challenging fans to come out and support the team. Perhaps inspired by the fact attendance wasn’t that great in the second round against Valour, the Wanderers faithful responded with a sellout and the stadium was loud on a Wednesday evening, well before the 7pm kickoff. It may have been a 3-2 loss, but the effort showed CPL teams were pretty close to the USL in terms of talent.
The lowest point of the year came on July 27 when York9 FC demolished the Wanderers 6-2 at York Lions Stadium, a major blow in an exhausting road trip that all but ended their hopes of contending for the Fall title.
In August, fan-favourite defender Peter Schaale announced his return to Cape Breton University to finish his degree. He played his last game of the year on Aug. 10 as the Wanderers slowed down a white-hot Cavalry FC in a 0-0 draw. That game also saw local boy Christian Oxner come up huge with a penalty save against Dominique Malonga. It cemented ‘Ox’ as a vital piece of the team and not just because he’s a Haligonian.
The Wanderers went on to draw six games in a row from Sept. 2 to Oct. 2. The “draw streak” saw the HFX suffer its two most heart-breaking moments of the season: Blowing a 2-0 lead against Forge in Hamilton, and then throwing away a 1-0 advantage at home against the eventual champs a few days later.
It may have turned out to be too little too late, but the Wanderers finally earned that elusive CPL road win on the last day of the season with a 2-0 decision against York9.
HFX Wanderers FC’s Top 5 goals from 2019
End-of-season stat sheet
The Wanderers finished last in 2019, a reality they’ll hope to fix in 2020. Here’s how the 2019 season looks for HFX, by the numbers:
Record (W-D-L): 6-10-12 (CPL), 9-11-14 (all comps.)
Goals scored: 21 (CPL), 32 (all comps.)
Goals against: 35 (CPL), 44 (all comps.)
Goal Difference: -14 (CPL), -12 (all comps.)
Top scorer: Akeem Garcia (8, all comps.)
Assist leader: Mohamed Kourouma (3)
Home wins: 5 of 14 (CPL), 6 of 17 (all comps.)
“That’s always on my mind, just trying to score, be the leader in the scoring list. One game, one goal, so I have to keep that up,” – Luis Alberto Perea after scoring the late winner in home opener in May.
“I knew it was Peter (Schaale)’s last game for us and it was his final sendoff. He’s my roommate on the road so if I let that in he wouldn’t let me live it down, so I had to make that save for him,” – Christian Oxner after drawing a foul in the box then making a save in a 0-0 draw on August 10 in Schaale’s last game.
“Groundhog day,” – Two words uttered from Stephen Hart before answering questions from the media after a 5th-straight draw on Sept. 29.
Most memorable moment
The goal from Luis Alberto Perea to open the season at Wanderers Grounds with a win showed the Kitchen faithful that their experience in the stands would be a special one. No matter what happened afterward on the road, this home win set the standard for the kind of day out fans in Halifax could have at Wanderers Grounds.
CCL! Final Thoughts: HFX Wanderers FC’s 2019 Season
Centre Circle LIVE! is joined by Jonathan Briggins from Halifax to talk HFX Wanderers FC’s 2019 campaign.