As the HFX Wanderers players flew into Halifax for the start of training camp, they were greeted by a face they’ll see plenty of over the next little while.
On multiple occasions, Wanderers head coach Stephan Hart made the drive to the Halifax Stanfield International Airport – located about 30 minutes away from downtown – over the weekend as the players touched down in their new city for the first time.
“Everybody who flew in, I got to meet,” Stephan Hart chuckled to CanPL.ca on Wednesday after leading a practice session. “Some players drove in though, I couldn’t be in two places at once.
“I felt it was important for me to go and meet the players that I’m going to be working with and sort of welcome them to the city of Halifax.”
For Hart, it was a tangible moment juxtaposing months of player signings and preparations.
“It was good because it began to feel more real. Everything became something you could touch now, it became real,” he added.
The team’s training camp began this week with signed players training at the Soccer Nova Scotia facilities alongside 15 trialists who received invitations. Signed players were used sparingly so the trial players could demonstrate their skills and abilities in the short window.
“What we intend to do is to go over the videos and then make a decision,” Hart said of his trialists. “Which ones we’d like to invite back, (we’ll) take a longer look at them and be a little more prepared.
“It was a little bit difficult because I don’t know (everything) about all the players, so my eyes were really on the trialists more than anything else.”
Hart also said the players competing for spots would be in and out over the course of the week, though not in quite as large a number as was the case from the initial two days.
“The trialists, they’ve come in to make the team so the games are really fast. It was really competitive. It was a good two days,” said attacking forward Akeem Garcia, one of the club’s initial international signings from Trinidad and Tobago.
There were a few players of note among the 15 trialists: A pair of Halifax-born 16-year-olds in Luke Green, who plays centre-back or centre-mid for Suburban FC in Halifax, and Suliman Elromani, a winger playing for Halifax Dunbrack.
Hart’s preference is for HFX’s young players to be as local as possible. As such, the invitations of Green and Elromani also serve as the start of the process of establishing a local base.
“I think, let’s be honest (about) the local calibre of soccer here – the players have not been given a lot of opportunity,” Hart lamented.
The HFX coach also recognized the difficulty some trialists may have had in coming into a competitive environment, especially after not being in a situation like this for a while.
“It’s going to take time to build more of a local base but we will continue to invite local players and have them involved. It’s up to them to prove themselves,” Hart affirmed.
It presents an alternative to the usual local trend of senior-level players leaving Halifax to play soccer in other parts of Canada at a professional level. For the rest of the HFX Wanderers, the team has a particular curriculum from the coaching staff to follow over the next couple weeks, though Hart was impressed with the condition his team arrived in.
“They are at a high physical level, it’s just a matter of just raising that a little bit,” Hart offered. “I’m happy because I can move onto the more technical and sort of tactical teamwork, I think sooner than I anticipated.”
He gave a clear indication of what players would be battling for before the season begins, too.
“The coach made it quite clear to us this morning – he showed us a blank piece of paper and with that he said this is the starting team, so all positions are up for grabs,” said veteran goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, one of two ‘keepers on the roster along with Christian Oxner.
“Each of us have to work, have to compete with each other to try to gain the starting positions and then we have to just turn around and play with each other. So, I think the competition will be good. It will be welcomed, each player will learn from each other and improve off of each other and we’ll grow and develop along as the pre-season goes on.”