The Wanderers Halifax-born pair are getting used to life as Canadian Premier League players in their first ever professional preseason training camp.
It’s only a week into the Wanderers training camp but that’s been enough for the two Halifax-born players to go ahead and say this is already the highest level they’ve ever played at.
Goalkeeper Christian Oxner and midfielder Scott Firth have both competed against the best in Nova Scotia until this point in their careers, but this is their first professional training camp.
“The biggest difference is the speed of play,” explained Oxner. “Everything is done a second quicker than I have seen before.”
Just being here at camp is a massive achievement for the two locally signed players who earned their first pro contracts following outstanding spells with their respective club and university teams.
But now they’re rubbing shoulders with some former internationals and seasoned veterans who have played in leagues around the world.
“The touch of the players, the control they have on the ball, the level of that is way higher than anything I’ve seen,” acknowledged Scott Firth.
It’s a big step up but both players and their coach are feeling good about how they’ve equipped themselves in the first week.
“It was always going to be difficult but that’s why they’re here, to raise their standards and push themselves,” said Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart.
Hart has known both young players for years and is encouraged to see them fitting in nicely to his newly assembled group.
They’re fitting in pretty well off the pitch too because being the Haligonians on the team — they’re the ones the rest of the Wanderers new squad are turning to for all the local advice.
Questions like where the closest stores are or where to go for the best donair!
“Being a Halifax boy it’s good, I try to help them if they need to know where things are and a few have asked where to go for haircuts and stuff like that,” 22-year-old Oxner said.
Meanwhile, Firth has been doing his best to pump up his home city and province by trying to persuade his teammates to take in some of the local sights.
He’s thrown out Peggy’s Cove as a place the players should go to see the waves crashing on the rocks, or a walk up to Citadel Hill to take in the views of the harbour.
But it’s on the field where the local boys are trying to really show they’ve got what it takes.
“It’s a big leap from around here,” said Firth. “You need to know what’s happening on the whole field. They don’t accept a lot of mistakes.”
Only 17, it’s already a major deal for Firth to be part of a Canadian Premier League squad and when you consider he’s doing that while still going to high school, it’s hard to believe.
Still in Grade 12 at Lockview High School in Fall River, he races out of Soccer Nova Scotia at the end of training every day to get there for afternoon classes.
“The players tease me a bit about it but mostly they can’t believe I can fit it all in,” he smiled.
The fact the players are having some fun in the dressing room is something Firth is liking being around.
He’s also hit it off with the club’s tricky Japanese player Koda Iida early in camp with the pair sharing what Firth describes as good vibes.
Christian Oxner has got his own friendly rivalry going too with one of the team’s Trinidad and Tobago signings, Akeem Garcia. Those two have a 50 push-up challenge going.
If Garcia scores on Oxner, the keeper gets put through his paces. If Oxner makes the save, it’s Garcia’s turn for the punishment!
But the player Oxner is perhaps most grateful to be around is the vastly experienced 81 cap Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams.
“With Jan-Michael I’m just trying to watch what he does and listen to what he says,” Oxner explained. “I’ve already learned so much.”
Having played around the world, Williams knows a bit about what to look for in young players.
Being a mentor to Oxner is something that’s happening naturally with Williams already noting the young keeper’s potential.
“Christian has made some brilliant saves in training. He has the physical attributes and a good mindset which is what I like in goalkeepers,” Williams said. “With me trying to guide him, I think he will be a good quality player.”
Fighting for places
Pulling on the Wanderers jersey and walking out at the Wanderers Grounds in front of family and friends are what Christian Oxner and Scott Firth are dreaming of in their first season.
But they know for that to happen they’ve got to fight for a place in the team. And as they’re seeing close up, it’s a team with some pretty good professionals.
So for now they’re following Williams main advice.
That’s trying to compete more, grow a little and improve with every training session between now and the team’s first game of the season on April 28.
To make sure you don’t miss out on the action, follow the link to our schedule below, where you can also buy your own season seats for the Wanderers first season in the CPL.
And remember buying season seats guarantees you an authentic home shirt that will be the same as the players will wear this year at a value of $120.