HALIFAX – Following a hectic summer schedule, HFX Wanderers FC have a rare commodity on its hands: time.
The team has been off since Aug. 10, getting an extended vacation after a game versus Forge FC was postponed due to a CONCACAF League fixture for the Hamilton side. This allowed coach Stephen Hart to give his players some time off before getting back to hard work ahead of Wednesday’s road contest against Valour FC.
“We started back training very seriously, high intensity. It’s been so long since we had a chance to work,” Stephen Hart said.
“We did a fair amount of fitness work to try and get our levels back up to what they should be because a number of players had injuries and of course your fitness levels drop a bit once the season is on.”
With some extra time on their hands, HFX players took full advantage.
“It’s been fun, spending some time with some of the players and their fiancés and girlfriends,” striker Tomasz Skublak told CanPL.ca
“It’s just good to keep a relationship outside of soccer as well. We’ve been relaxing, eating good and honestly just enjoying all the beaches and the nice nature places here in Halifax.”
Skublak and his teammates haven’t been completely off, though. Along with practices, the Wanderers played a pair of exhibition games behind closed doors to keep fresh and give players some game-like minutes.
The time off also provided an opportunity to get new defender Duran Lee acclimated since signing with the team after Peter Schaale’s return to university.
“We have a new defender in. We’ve worked with him in the lineup, into what we do,” Hart said of his new recruit, highlighting Lee’s “fantastic attitude” and the high level of intensity he brings.
During July and early August, the Wanderers had games practically every Wednesday and Saturday, between the Canadian Championship and CPL. The schedule didn’t give the Wanderers much time in between, as the team would have a recovery session before it was onto the next match. This break in August presented a time to put in the work in practice.
“In July, like if there was something the coach would see in one of the games, we couldn’t really work on it,” midfielder Zachary Sukunda explained.
“We could talk about it and we could watch video on it, but we couldn’t be on the field working on it because we played nine or ten games in that month.”
When the Wanderers travel to Winnipeg to take on Valour, it’ll be the sixth match between the two teams across all competitions this season. While Valour won the first meeting in May, the Wanderers have won the last four. After an extended winless streak, Valour has picked up the three points in two of the last four games.
“I’m not one of those who believes that one game or two games have a reflection on the next game,” Hart of said of his upcoming opponent.
“We played Valour, all the games were very, very tight. They’re a clean sort of team. They move the ball very well. They’re nice in the attacking third and we know that. They have quality pieces that can hurt you if you’re not fully concentrating.”
While it’s easy to look at the Wanderers’ success against Valour on one hand, on the other hand the team has yet to earn a CPL win away from the Wanderers Grounds. Out of nine road games, a 0-0 draw against York9 on June 22 is the only time the team has picked up any points on their travels.
“We know each other quite well and it’s just a matter of us executing and being aware we are away from home and do what we are supposed to do and try to focus on getting those important results on the road. I think that’s where we really need to strengthen our whole sort of mentality,” Hart explained.
When asked what Hart wants to see at the end of 90 minutes on Wednesday, the coach pointed out that the team can do better when in possession.
“We’ve worked very, very, very hard on that and we will see how it transfers onto the pitch. It certainly has looked much, much better in training. But the real test is always going to be under the stress of a game where you have to get the three points,” Hart offered.