Welcome to CPL5x5. As we say farewell to 2023, we’ll be looking back one more time at the Canadian Premier League’s milestone fifth season, and how each of the eight clubs fared this year.
In this series, we’ll break down the full story of each team’s year within five sections: Five stats, five key players, five big moments, five quotes, and five questions for 2024.
To read the 5×5 year in review for every other CPL club, click here.
This past year was undoubtedly something special in Halifax. Under new head coach Patrice Gheisar, and with a heavily changed roster from 2022, the Wanderers broke just about every club record, setting highs in points (42), goals for (39) and the fewest goals conceded (32).
After finishing third in the table, behind second-place Forge on the fourth tiebreaker, they hosted a playoff match at the Wanderers Grounds for the first time in club history. Unfortunately, that is where their fairytale 2023 ended, at the hands of Pacific FC in a 1-0 loss. It was a year, however, that brings plenty of hope on the East Coast that the Wanderers can compete with the league’s top teams going forward.
Story of 2023
2023 CPL regular season record (W-D-L): 11-9-8
Finish: 3rd (lost to Pacific FC in playoffs)
Goals scored: 39
Goals against: 32
Goal difference: +7
Top scorer: Massimo Ferrin (8 goals)
Canadian Championship: Lost to Atlético Ottawa 3-1 in preliminary round
Halifax especially found success at home at the Wanderers Grounds, where they reignited their fanbase by winning nine of the 14 regular season matches they played in Nova Scotia. The Wanderers did so while playing an exciting brand of football, tying CPL Shield winners Cavalry for most goals scored at home, with 25.
One of the key goals for the Wanderers this past season was to reestablish the fortress at the Wanderers Grounds. They unquestionably accomplished that, with a club record 28 points home this past season. Only CPL Shield winners Cavalry were better at home.
39 goals scored
The most in Wanderers history by a significant margin (11 goals). It was the first time in club history that they had scored over a goal per game during a 28-game season.
830 successful long passes
Halifax led the league in terms of successful long passes this season, with 830. Defender Daniel Nimick (174), and midfielder Lorenzo Callegari (148) were among the league leaders in this category. This showed their ability and quality in terms of quickly breaking opposing lines.
Two wins on the road
Halifax managed just two wins in the 14 matches they played away from home (15 in all competitions) the fewest of any team in the CPL this past season. Eight of those matches ended in draws, however.
18 points dropped from winning positions
Arguably, this season could have gone even better for this young Wanderers team if they had been a little bit better at closing out games. The vast majority of the 18 points they dropped from winning positions this past season, 13, came away from home.
5 Key Players
The veteran Halifax goalkeeper came in from Europe and provided stability at a position where the Wanderers have struggled in recent years, playing every minute of the 2023 season. Fillion finished tied for third in the league in clean sheets, with seven, and finished third in saves made, with 72.
In his second year in the CPL, Fernandez proved to be one of the league’s best right fullbacks. The 22-year-old scored three goals and added two assists while being among the league leaders in duels won.
In an outstanding first professional season, Nimick scored six goals and added three assists as a central defender. Excellent from the penalty spot and in the air, and with an elite passing range Nimick was central to Halifax’s ability to build out of the back. He finished the season as a nominee for Defender of the Year.
With a resumé that included time spent at PSG, Callegari instantly transformed the Halifax team. The heavily influential midfielder finished as the league leader in recoveries (226) and successful passes (1,703) while picking up six assists. He finished as a nominee for the league’s Player of the Year award, and fourth in voting for the Players’ Player of the Year.
It was an outstanding first season in the CPL for the 2022 League1 Ontario Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner. Ferrin finished the year with a team-leading eight goals, five of which came from outside the box, and three assists. Ferrin finished tenth in voting for the Players’ Player of the Year.
Massimo Ferrin gives @HFXWanderersFC the lead with a perfectly-placed shot into the top right corner 🎯
For a season that ultimately was an undeniable success, things did not get off to the brightest start for the Wanderers. They failed to win in their first eight CPL matches of the season, drawing six of those. That’s what made their first win of the campaign, at home against Valour FC, so critical to igniting their belief and success. A Callum Watson brace sealed the victory for Halifax.
June 30, 2023 – Halifax Wanderers 2-1 Forge FC
For the first time in club history, the Halifax Wanderers went undefeated against four-time CPL champions Forge FC this season. Perhaps the most memorable of those wins came during the Canada Day long weekend at the Wanderers Grounds. After Massimo Ferrin opened the scoring, Forge captain Kyle Bekker equalized with a lovely effort in the 88th minute. In the tenth minute of stoppage time, however, Halifax won a penalty and Daniel Nimick stepped up to score and send the Wanderers grounds into rapturous celebration.
July 30, 2023 – York United 0-2 Halifax Wanderers
At long last, Halifax picked up their first victory of the year away from home on July 30 at York Lions Stadium. After Zach Fernandez had opened the scoring with an absolute screamer, João Morelli, making his return from an injury that kept him out of most of the 2022 season, scored a second. It was a moment where Halifax truly started to believe that something special was happening.
September 18, 2023 – Halifax Wanderers 3-2 Atlético Ottawa
In a critical match between two sides chasing the CPL playoffs, the Wanderers pulled out a dramatic 3-2 win over Atlético Ottawa in mid-September. Former Wanderer Sam Salter looked to have won the visitors what would have been a crucial point with a stoppage-time equalizer, but just a minute later Zachary Fernandez found Tomas Giraldo with a lovely pass and the young midfielder scored the winner.
October 14, 2023 – Halifax Wanderers 0-1 Pacific FC (CPL Quarter-final)
Halifax’s season came to a tough ending in their first-ever home playoff match as they were stunned 1-0 by Pacific FC, who were coming off short rest after having played on the opposite side of the country just a few days prior. The lone goal of the match and despite 14 shot attempts, and hitting the crossbar, Halifax were not able to beat Emil Gazdov in the Pacific net.
“I think we have to project a higher number next year as we continue to grow and make [The Wanderers Grounds] a fortress. It was certainly one of the number one things I talked about, gaining a massive amount of points at home, and we achieved it.”— Halifax Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar
“We are going to look back on this game, wherever guys are, playing at a different level next year, later on in life, guys are going to look back on this game and this moment and what we created in Halifax very fondly. We are going to look back at it and be proud of everything we accomplished” — Former Halifax Wanderers midfielder Mo Omar on the playoff loss to Pacific
“I want to thank everyone. My time in Halifax was amazing. All the fans were really nice and always supported us through the good and the bad. I will cheer for Halifax forever. Halifax will be a place that I’ll take my son to again and maybe watch a game in the new stadium. It’s a special place in my life and where I felt the happiest in my career, so I will remember that time forever.” — Former Halifax Wanderers attacker João Morelli after announcing his retirement
“As a team, we can be we can be happy with the performances we put together. It was a very new group coming in, both with the staff and with the players, so it took a little bit for us to gel and really understand each other on the field, but I think you’re starting to see it come together now. We’re right up there at the top of the league with the points, so looking back we can be happy.” — Halifax Wanderers defender Dan Nimick
“The fact of having such a new team, that’s not easy no matter who you are as a coach to come in and have to deal with 16-17 new guys and a preseason that only gives you a couple of months to try to completely rebrand what you are doing.” — Halifax Wanderers attacker Massimo Ferrin
5 Questions for 2024
How do the Wanderers build on a historic season?
It is safe to say that after a season where they tied for the second most points in the Canadian Premier League, the Halifax Wanderers aren’t going to catch anyone by surprise in 2024. The next step will be building on that success and making sure this year wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
The underlying numbers suggest that they were full value for where they finished this season, however, as they actually underperformed their expected goals (42.56 which was second best in the league, scoring 39), and had the third-fewest expected goals against.
Can key Halifax players avoid a sophomore slump?
Much like with the team as a whole, many top Halifax players are looking to build on their inaugural seasons in the CPL after taking the league by storm last season. First-year players like Yann Fillion, Massimo Ferrin, Lorenzo Callegari, Callum Watson and Dan Nimick were all essential to the Wanderer’s success in 2023.
Now that there is plenty of game tape and experience from other clubs about playing against them, how will they adjust to teams who perhaps have a more informed game plan against them in 2024.
Can the Wanderers find ways to win outside of Nova Scotia?
Between the Canadian Championship and the CPL regular season, the Halifax Wanderers won just two of the 15 matches they played outside of Nova Scotia in 2023.
To be fair to Patrice Gheisar and his young team, they also only lost four matches, tied for the fewest in the league away from home, but they left a lot of points on the board away from the Wanderers Grounds.
The immense travel in the CPL was an adjustment for just about everyone in Halifax from Gheisar and his staff to the number of first-year CPL players so now that they are a little bit more experienced in that regard expect a better return in 2024. There are also signs of improvement in the fact that they collected both of their wins and suffered only one loss, in their final five road matches of the season.
With a number of departures, what is the solution at the number nine position?
No position has seen more departures this off-season in Halifax than the number nine. Jordan Perruzza has returned to Toronto FC on loan, João Morelli announced his retirement and the player who literally wore the number nine last season, Théo Collomb has also departed the club.
That essentially leaves Massimo Ferrin and Tiago Coimbra as the club’s two number nine options, something they will certainly want to address in terms of depth before the end of the offseason. Coimbra, when healthy, was solid scoring three goals and adding an assist in his debut season and could well lead the line in 2024. But Ferrin is perhaps better used out wide and having options and depth is always important.
Is a goalkeeping battle on the horizon?
This past season, Yann Fillion was one of just two keepers, Cavalry’s Marco Carducci being the other one, to play every minute of the 2023 season. Considering Fillion was backed up by 20-year-old U SPORTS Draft pick Aidan Rushenas, there wasn’t much competition for that starting spot.
That could change this year, as Rushenas, with a year of pro training under his belt, has seen his rights retained while Halifax took highly-touted goalkeeper, Daniel Clarke, hailing from U SPORTS national champions Cape Breton University, with the fifth overall pick in this year’s draft. Clarke is a highly touted collegiate keeper, and will come in with all the confidence that he can challenge Fillion in preseason for the number one spot.