HFX Wanderers nearing CPL Finals berth: ‘There wasn’t a lot of talk about us’

HFX Wanderers FC is one result away from reaching the 2020 CPL Finals. Yes, you read that correctly.

HFX sits on four points at The Island Games going into their group stage finale against Pacific FC on Tuesday (8pm ET/9pm AT, OneSoccer) which could be a dead-rubber match.

If Forge FC draws or beats Cavalry FC earlier in the day, the Wanderers will clinch a spot in the CPL Finals. A win or draw against Pacific would also be enough for HFX to secure a championship berth, regardless of the Cavalry-Forge result.

It’s an incredible turnaround, regardless if the Wanderers make the CPL Finals. After his team finished last in 2019, coach Stephen Hart revamped his roster by keeping only seven players from last season. While Akeem Garcia and João Morelli duke it out for Golden Boot honours, and Andre Rampersad and Abou Sissoko are legitimate MVP candidates, it’s easy to forget this side wasn’t rated by many pundits outside of Halifax coming into this season.

“There’s been a lot of talk about every team in this league – there wasn’t a lot of talk about us,” Hart said. “It didn’t give us much hope coming into the tournament, and that’s fine with us. It’s understandable, we weren’t the best last year…. We’re just a group that just wants to go about enjoying ourselves in what we do and what we’re sort of happy with the way things are at the moment.”

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Focusing on mental toughness and resilience will surely be top of Hart’s mind vs. Pacific. His team was up a man for nearly 80 minutes against Cavalry, but Hart admits they let the Cavs side back into the game, partially due to passive tactics.

“It was a lapse in mental concentration,” Hart explained. “We stopped doing the things that we were supposed to be doing and all of a sudden you’re on the back foot. When you’re telling yourself, ‘we got to pick it up,’ it’s very very difficult to do.

“We weren’t as composed as we should have been.”

Sissoko is a question mark for Tuesday’s contest after leaving the Cavalry match with an injury.

“We have a couple of players that are in… situations,” Hart admitted. “Obviously, tightness here, a little uncomfortable in certain scenarios, so we’ll see how that goes.”

If squad rotation happens, don’t expect to see any changes to the Wanderers’ centre back partnership. Jems Geffrard and Peter Schaale have played every single minute together in the heart of defence, creating a solid defensive base from which the Wanderers can build their attack.

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“They’ve created a nice little understanding – it gives you a little more confidence to venture further forward,” Hart said of fullbacks such as Jake Ruby, Chrisnovic N’sa, and Mateo Restrepo. “There’s still a lot of work to be done, among them in terms of being demanding and communicating better, but yeah, I’m pleased with the pairing.”

Pacific was eliminated from contention with a 2-0 loss to Forge FC in Saturday, but Hart still sees quality in The Tridents.

“I think they’re going to come out and play one of their best games,” Hart said. “There’s nothing to lose. They’re completely relaxed now and they’re playing for pride.

“They’ve played some beautiful football in the tournament so they have the potential and they’re gonna come to prove a point.”

If the Wanderers advance, they’ll play in the CPL Finals on Saturday (2pm ET/3pm AT, OneSoccer/CBC).

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