Representation matters, in soccer as everywhere else.
When the Canadian Premier League teams kickoff the inaugural season in just one week’s time, a generation of young soccer fans will have plenty of new, hometown heroes to cheer for. Every club has made that one of the priorities when building their squads.
Christian Oxner, as one of the few Halifax natives on HFX Wanderers FC, set to play their first match next Sunday against Pacific FC, understands the awesome responsibility that comes with the role.
“It’s something you take a lot of pride in,” said Oxner. “Kids there are going to be like you when you were younger. They’re going to be able to come to the stadium to watch the games, have people now that are 50 feet away from them that they can look up to. Back in the day, all we had to do was watch on TV. They’re going to be able to see [us] in front of them live. It means the world.
“It’s going to be so much to those kids. It already is. You see them when they come out for autograph sessions, a sparkle in their eye, they love it. It means so much to see such a great response from young kids in the community.”
It wasn’t so long ago the 22-year-old goalkeeper was one of those youngsters himself, getting his start in the game in the nearby suburb of Clayton Park.
“I started playing at six years old, just Timbit soccer: go out there and kick a ball around for an hour twice a week,” Oxner recalled. “From there, I kept playing. It was under-10 that I finally got in goal – somebody needed a goalie. I tried to play goalie in hockey, but everyone wanted to be the goalie [there], so I’ll try it in soccer.
“I kept going through the ranks, ended up playing senior men’s in Nova Scotia [with Western Halifax FC], won the national championship with them. Then I did my years at [Saint Mary’s University].”
There he studied Commerce, unsure of where the game would take him. But come November, Oxner was selected by Stephen Hart in the USPORTS Draft and then signed with his hometown club in February. Oxner sees his example as one that will enliven the local scene.
“When you have local players, when others are coming through, they say, ‘Hey, I do have this opportunity to come and make this squad’,” explained Oxner. “Down the line, there are going to be a lot more local players integrated into the squad. There is some good talent in Halifax; there has been for years.
“There was just nowhere’s to go. The only thing you could do was trial at MLS teams or go to Europe. Trials go 50/50, you never know. It’s definitely going to help the development around here.”
Canadian national team member legend Ante Jazic hails from Halifax, while Toronto FC added Jacob Shaffelburg, a native of Port Williams, NS, to their USL League One side in November.
Oxner is joined on the Wanderers by Scott Firth, a 17-year-old fellow Nova Scotian who signed his first pro contract with the Wanderers in Janurary, months before he’s set to graduate high school.
Already, Oxner sees the sports landscape changing.
“It was hockey hockey hockey, but nowadays it’s hockey and soccer. A lot of kids come the age of 14 have to make a decision like I had to too,” explained Oxner. “I see more and more kids picking soccer these days because [there are] more elite programs around for their development.”
“They’ll get to see a lot more of the culture in the summertime when it’s nice out. Now it’s just snow and rain, and the guys don’t want to go out in that,” laughed Oxner, anticipating a warmer response from his teammates come July 31. “I’d have to take them down to the boardwalk when the buskers are in town.
“That’s a really great time, let’s them experience the culture the most.”
With Privateers 1882 eagerly awaiting their home opener on Saturday, May 4 when Forge FC comes to the Wanderers Ground, Oxner is expecting a boisterous reception.
“It’s awesome. I never expected to get this much support,” said the goalkeeper. “I see the season ticket numbers and it blows me away.
“It shows how big of a soccer following there is here. I can’t believe it.”
Being an ambassador, both for your teammates and the community could be a big responsibility to shoulder. Not so for Oxner.
“No, no extra pressure,” he dismissed. “You’re having so much fun you don’t even think about it.”