HALIFAX – The first ever game between a CPL and USL team features three players who know a thing or two about both Halifax and Ottawa.
After all, when HFX Wanderers FC hosts the Ottawa Fury in the opening leg of the third round of the Canadian Championship, the home side will feature three players who grew up in the nation’s capital: Defenders Zachary Sukunda and Ndzemdzela “Zoom” Langwa, and midfielder Elliot Simmons feature regularly in the Wanderers lineup, with the latter tow first getting to know each other while playing together in the Fury youth academy.
“It’s a bit bizarre that we’re coming back to play for meaningful points and obviously a very competitive competition,” Simmons told CanPL.ca after training at the Wanderers Grounds.
Simmons moved to Ottawa from England and played in the Fury academy before moving back to England to play in the MK Dons youth system. While he doesn’t have many connections with current players on the Fury, his family has kept in touch with some of the backroom staff.
“It was surprising. When I first moved here I heard that Simmons was signing and I was overjoyed really,” Langwa said. “It’s definitely a big game for both us because we both grew up in the Ottawa Fury system. We’re just looking forward to it, we want to have a good game and really perform and show what Ottawa gave, show the level of talent Ottawa has.
Langwa took to social media on Monday, writing an open letter to fans to show up and fill the Wanderers Grounds on Wednesday night. The defender said a win against Ottawa would mean hosting Toronto FC in the biggest game in HFX’s short history.
“I woke up yesterday morning, I just had a feeling that (Wednesday), this could be history for the club. This is a great moment, every club wants to have big games in a stadium like this,” said Langwa.
But really, this game against Ottawa could already be the biggest game — if not the most intriguing match — for the franchise. It’ll serve as a barometer of the difference between not only the two teams, but the leagues they represent.
“I think the biggest motivation is the fact that a lot of players and a lot of teams in the USL think very highly of the USL whereas if you play in the CPL, they might sort of underrate it a bit,” says defender-turned-winger Sukunda, who is also from Ottawa, and also played in the USL with the now disbanded FC Montreal.
“I think for me the main thing is if we can get a result and play well, that’s going to really sort of put the CPL more on the map than it already is and maybe people will sort of stop talking about how great the USL is. So it would be nice for the CPL to get a result here. For me it’s not just the HFX Wanderers playing, it’s kind of the whole league in this game. It’s a big team. Especially because Fury’s doing very well in the league this year and they have a good team, a good coach.”
As for who lines up for the Wanderers a trio of veterans had two more full training sessions this week, building on the progress from last week. Midfielder Juan Diego Gutierrez, striker Luis Alberto Perea and defender Chakib Hocine could all featured, while striker Tomasz Skublak is not expected to return.
“We have to ease them into the games, we have to be very careful because we’ve had no time to have a couple exhibition games to sort of bring them up to speed. We have to measure this very carefully,” said Wanderers coach Stephen Hart.
Hart also recognizes the importance of starting this part of the tournament at home in front of the Kitchen.
“You’re in a situation where you’re at home first, it should take some of the anxiety away from the players because it’s an environment where they are comfortable so hopefully we can use it to our advantage,” Hart said.