L1O MVP Massimo Ferrin looking to translate Vaughan success to CPL with Wanderers

When Massimo Ferrin returned to League1 Ontario in 2022 after a stint in the USL Championship, he was hoping to make an impact. What he didn’t anticipate, though, was just how much of an impact he would make.

The recent Halifax Wanderers signing stepped back into the Vaughan Azzurri side at 23 years old, after two years away, and utterly dominated. Though he eased his way back into the squad after an injury, Ferrin went on to score a staggering 23 goals in League1 last season — in just 1,094 minutes over 15 games.

Despite missing six games, Ferrin led the league in scoring en route to an undefeated season and a championship for Vaughan. This past week, he picked up the League1 Ontario MVP award — alongside Halifax manager (and last year’s Vaughan gaffer) Patrice Gheisar, named Coach of the Year.

Now, Ferrin has chosen to follow Gheisar into the Canadian Premier League. After the pair enjoyed such success at Vaughan, they’ll be taking on a new challenge together with the new-look Wanderers in 2023.

Ferrin is not the first League1 star to jump to the CPL — indeed, many of the league’s most top contributors first cut their teeth at that level, from Max Ferrari to Tristan Borges. With his abilities, though, he could well be the next CPL star to emerge from the semi-pro level.

Gheisar, unsurprisingly, speaks glowingly of his championship team’s crown jewel, and it’s no coincidence Ferrin was one of the first newcomers to Halifax since Gheisar’s appointment in November. Fans in Nova Scotia can likely expect the former Vaughan dynamo to be a huge piece in their team’s attack in 2023 — which, if Gheisar is to be believed, will make trips to the Wanderers Grounds a little more fun.

“Every coach when they get appointed tries to bring some guys they have familiarity with, to help form the culture that they want to have,” Gheisar told “Mass is a really strong part of that; he’s really grown as an individual. He used to be very quiet, but now he’s a quiet leader, and he leads by example.

“I think it’s just really enjoyable to watch him because he’s really fun on the eyes — at training he comes and he brings a spark, not just his energy but his actions, trying to go for nutmegs, doing back flicks, doing fun stuff. You really see that he loves the game. For me that’s the most joyous thing.”

Ferrin is known for his technical skill on the dribble and his finishing ability, but he may also be Halifax’s secret weapon from set-pieces. Gheisar pointed out that Ferrin scored seven of his goals this past year from free kicks 25 yards out or further — a skill that should translate to the CPL quite well, perhaps even more than his open-play qualities.

For Ferrin, it was ultimately a pretty easy choice to rejoin Gheisar in Halifax. He told this week that he had several options for a return to the professional level — both within the CPL and in Europe — but ultimately he decided to stick with what he knows.

“Patrice is a big part of what made the decision somewhat easy of heading out there to Halifax this year; I didn’t know exactly which direction I was going to go,” Ferrin said. “Playing environment is a big deal… there’s no better way than to go to a club that’s taking your coaching staff that you’ve learned from, and they’ve learned about you and know so much about you, taking them there to kind of lead that program.”

The quality of professional players with whom Ferrin will now be playing may be a step up from League1 Ontario, but he’s certainly shared a pitch with talented players before. At Vaughan, he was a teammate of now national team and Celtic FC star Alistair Johnston (a fellow member of the 1998 age group) for many years; during his time in college at Syracuse University, Ferrin played with other Canadian national team regulars like Tajon Buchanan and Kamal Miller.

Now, seeing where those players and some of Ferrin’s other former teammates have taken their careers, Ferrin has found himself inspired, knowing just how quickly a player can ascend.

“There’s an inspiration factor from them, there’s a motivation part as well knowing that you’ve played with them at that level, at that quality, and it gives you the belief in yourself that there’s no reason why in the right environment you can’t also get there one day,” Ferrin said.

“It’s amazing to see those guys and know them as people and know that they deserve what they’ve earned. … It definitely gives you motivation to know, playing on those same teams and being at that level with them, that a good season showing what you can do as a player can also allow you to kind of get to where they are.”

Upon arriving in Halifax, Gheisar suggested that plenty of the top stars in League1 could make the jump to the CPL, including many at Vaughan. Ferrin will, therefore, be the latest test for that theory, hopefully inspiring more young players to follow that pathway, and just as Ferrin has been inspired by his own former teammates.

“I think the level will be something that’s a step up, and having a bit of experience playing in the USL I think it’s somewhat comparable,” he said. “There’s always an adjustment period, hopefully that’s something that happens in training camp, getting up to speed.”

He added: “I think many players ideally hope to use League1 as that stepping stone, and I think League1 is encouraging players to do that. I don’t think anybody at League1 is hoping that they keep these guys when they do well; they want them to move on, they want them to go to the CPL, go to Europe, or whatever it may be, and I think they’ve done a very good job of setting up that system.”

The Wanderers Grounds will, of course, be entirely new territory for Ferrin, who has yet to visit the Nova Scotian capital — although, ironically, he nearly played there four years ago. When Vaughan Azzurri played the Wanderers in the 2019 Canadian Championship, Ferrin was initially supposed to travel to play, but a bout of flu kept him homebound.

Now, though, he’ll finally get to see Halifax — and this time, in Wanderers blue, as he, Gheisar, and a strong cast of both returning and new faces hope to build the Maritime club into a CPL powerhouse.