All season long, CanPL.ca reviewed key performers from each Canadian Premier League match, giving due credit to a trio of players who impressed over 90 minutes. Now, we offer this one last look at standout performers for HFX Wanderers FC to bring a close to an exciting inaugural CPL campaign.
The magic of Wanderers Grounds was not lost on HFX Wanderers FC this season.
A strong homestead coupled with a handful of miraculous moments made for a memorable debut season for Stephen Hart’s side, spurred on by a home opening day win over Forge FC in dramatic fashion, and concluding with a first and only away win via a 2-0 result over York9 FC.
Yes, a last-placed finish won’t be seen as good enough by anyone at the club; but, as a first step for professional soccer in the city – hell, professional sports in the city – the Wanderers can still be proud of their 2019 campaign, especially in the stands, where the Wanderers faithful rank among the most passionate and charming in the country.
So, with all that being said, here are three players who stood out over the course of the entire 2019 CPL season (team highs reflect only players who featured in at least half of their team’s matches).
3 Key Performers for 2019
1. Akeem Garcia
Position: Left winger/centre forward/right winger
Appearances (starts): 24 (23)
Minutes played: 2,082
Goals: 7 (team high)
Shots on target: 23 (team high)
Min/Goal: 297.43 (team best)
Pass accuracy: 79.35%
There’s a reason HFX Wanderers FC made sure to snap up Akeem Garcia for 2020 as soon as they possibly could; the 23-year-old Trinidad and Tobago international was the club’s top performer in a number of areas, including goals, shots on target, and minutes between goals. And, while he didn’t rank among the elite in any of these categories league-wide, Garcia did pass the eye test on a number of occasions, causing problems for opposing defenders as he was deployed in multiple positions throughout 2019.
His ability to step into the striker role in the absence of Tomasz Skublak and Luis Alberto Perea is worthy of note, as was his penchant for a tricky run ending with a shot on target.
But, more than that, Garcia’s presence in HFX’s forward line added much-needed dynamism and an element of surprise, which was absent in predictable run-and-gunner Mohamed Kourouma or big-bodied centre-forward Skublak. For his efforts, Garcia was an instant fan-favourite at Wanderers Grounds, and returns in 2020 looking to build on his catalogue of work with more, more, more.
What they said: “He made significant contributions and I’m happy he decided to return. Akeem’s willingness to run the channels and score goals is extremely important to us,” – Stephen Hart.
2. Andre Rampersad
Position: Defensive midfielder/central midfielder
Appearances (starts): 25 (22)
Minutes played: 2,003
Duel success: 59%
Possession won: 168 (team high)
Pass accuracy: 84.96% (team best)
Dribbling success: 72.92% (team high)
Quiet. Unassuming. But beware his presence in midfield. Andre Rampersad didn’t make headlines in Halifax, but his work rate and clean play is worthy of merit – and of note, right here. The 24-year-old from Trinidad and Tobago led his team in a number of important categories, though they’re not the flashiest places to shine; we’re talking a team-leading 168 regained possessions, a team-best 84.96 per cent passing accuracy, and dribbling effectiveness that made him a huge asset in Hart’s midfield.
More than that, Rampersad served as a crucial link-up piece between a defensive line that didn’t really feature much on the front foot apart from Zela Langwa at times, and a forward line that loves to go forward and stay there. His teammate Garcia, for example, averages well below the median for attacking players tracking back, perhaps to HFX’s detriment, though, with Rampersad in support, that number wasn’t quite as jarring.
What they said: “He showed promise every time he played but as the season went on and he started to become more comfortable, he showed the freedom to bring his qualities to the games,” – Stephen Hart.
3. Christian Oxner
Appearances (starts): 18 (16)
Minutes played: 1,489
Saves: 42 (team high)
Save %: 71.43% (team high)
Penalties saved: 2 of 3 total (team high)
Clean sheets: 6 (team high/joint-3rd most in league)
Very few young goalkeepers can step into a starting role and command the box with as much confidence and poise as Christian Oxner did for HFX in 2019.
Facing the reality that Jan-Michael Williams wasn’t going to cut it, Halifax-local Oxner, 23, filled in admirably, featuring in 18 league appearances after a 6-2 drubbing to York9 saw Williams relegated to the bench for the rest of the season. That faith was rewarded with a number of game-changing performances, including a pair of penalty saves that kept HFX alive and breathing through a series of draws down the Fall stretch.
Perhaps the biggest testament to Oxner is that he never looked his age. Was he shaky at times? Perhaps, but no more than his older peers across the league. Oxner stepped into the No. 1 role with no fuss, and kept it with solid showings week after week. His ceiling remains high heading into 2020, but he’ll need to start surpassing those peers in key categories if he wants to take it up another level; because, ultimately, Oxner helped ensure that last-placed HFX didn’t finish bottom of the goals against category, and in the world of soccer silver linings, perhaps there are none finer for him.
What they said: “He showed his composure and made some big saves and commanded the box very well and I was impressed with his competitive nature,” – Stephen Hart.