Not many people expected the HFX Wanderers to play in the final of the second Canadian Premier League season. After all, this is a team that finished in last place this year but have ascended to the top at the Island Games. It wouldn’t be possible without the support of Wanderers fans, cheering on from home with their families, at pubs and bars and as a special treat, the Wanderers Grounds last weekend for a watch party during the 2-1 win over Cavalry FC.
We talked to some of the biggest supporters of the team ahead of the match on Saturday against defending CPL Champions, Forge FC, in a battle for the North Star Shield. While fans and players may be away from each other, they’re together in the quest for the CPL’s top prize.
Missy “Mama” Searl
Missy Searl — better known as “Mama” to players, staff and her Wanderers friends — hasn’t missed any of the action from the Island Games. She’s watched the games from home, at partner pubs Niche and Durty Nelly’s and most excitingly, at the Wanderers Grounds watch party.
“The excitement around it, we were going into the grounds like a bunch of kids,” said Searl.
“But these guys have been isolated and away from their families and friends for so, so long. I really want it more for them than for me, a fan,” Searl said of the excitement of having the team in the final.
“We really, really deserve it. Akeem Garcia definitely deserves it. He’s played his butt off,” said Searl.
Favourite moment at the Island Games: Alex De Carolis giving a kiss to João Morelli after one of two goals against FC Edmonton in a 3-1 win.
“When Alex kissed him, I lost it. It was like another goal.”
Favourite player at the Island Games: Chrisnovic N’Sa, a family favourite of the Searl family.
Underrated Wanderers player: Alessandro Riggi, playing his first games in two years after an ACL injury.
“Riggi has shocked the you-know-what out of me, especially hearing his story.”
In the inaugural season, 12-year-old Jack Murray was busy on the sidelines as a ball boy. Now he’s working even harder with his website and video podcast CPL Fever. He’s in on all the Wanderers pre- and post-match press conferences asking insightful questions about the team and league. Jack watches all the matches with his family, decked out in Wanderers gear and with snacks. He lives and breathes the game and is quite the up-and-coming soccer player himself, inspired by the Golden Generation of Spain’s national team.
“I’m filled with so much pride. It’s so great they’re in the finals,” said Murray.
“I know how hard it is to get into the final because all the teams are so evenly matched. I was so proud of the resilience. We showed that in the York9 game when Omar Kreim put that free kick in the back of the net.”
Favourite moment at the Island Games: João Morelli’s second goal against FC Edmonton.
Favourite player at the Island Games: Alex De Carolis, Peter Schaale and Morelli.
“I talk to all of them on social media. João, I just love to see how creative he is, I love how he gets into those areas that are so dangerous. Him and Akeem have been working so well together,” said Murray.
Underrated Wanderers player: Abou Sissoko and Mateo Restrepo.
“Mateo has had a great tournament, he’s just been flying. In his first game he was making slide tackles galore and he wasn’t missing a beat and he’s continued that all tournament. For Abou, he’s just been such a good player in the midfield,” said the 12-year-old.
A season ticket holder who fell in love with the Wanderers and the beautiful game during their first season, Shannon Landovskis has watched the games with her family. Everyone wears their jerseys while her niece and nephew sport blue.
“My niece has legitimately gotten into it. She will watch entire games,” Landovskis said of her three-year-old niece.
“She’s learning players’ names, she’s also learning how you recognize a keeper as opposed to any of the other players and trying to learn the rules of the game. It’s super fun. It’s something we love doing together,” said Landovskis.
Favourite moment at the Island Games: Any time the team celebrates a Morelli goal.
Favourite player at the Island Games: Peter Schaale.
“I think he’s amazing.Through social media I’m getting a lot more excited and attached to a lot of the players,” said Landovskis.
Underrated Wanderers player: Jake Ruby.
Chris Tamasi and his friends, better known as Ultras 108, give it their all when supporting the team. Singing, cheering loudly and waving flags, custom banners and sometimes their shirts has made the group impossible to miss. He’s one of four people who started the supporters group and has continued watching the Island Games with his pals from the Kitchen, except for one person: Luke Green. Green is now a member of the Wanderers and the 17-year-old defender had his professional debut against Pacific in the final game of the group stage.
“I almost felt like a proud father,” said Tamasi.
“It was amazing, it was almost like seeing your child out there playing. It was incredible and I think he did a great job too. Him and Scott Firth, I think they knocked it out of the park.”
Favourite moment at the Island Games: Christian Oxner’s penalty save against FC Edmonton.
“That pretty much secured our fourth place spot at the time when we played Edmonton. That was incredible. I think that was a huge turning point,” said Tamasi.
Favourite player at the Island Games: Akeem Garcia.
“The guy’s unstoppable. He really is. And he’s so modest, he’s so humble, he just blows my mind,” said Tamasi.
Underrated Wanderers player: Chrisnovic N’sa.
“N’Sa has really come out this year. I hope he’s getting the recognition he deserves. The guy’s amazing, he’s really turned it on this year,” said the Ultra.
If you’ve ever seen a government sanctioned pirate, also known as a privateer, dressed in blue from head to toe at the Wanderers Grounds, then you’ve seen Denton Froese. He got to wave his giant Wanderers flag at his usual stomping grounds over the weekend a couple times when the team beat Cavalry 2-1.
“It was like seeing an old friend, going out there and putting your hand down on the grass, just feeling like you’re a part of it. I cannot wait to be back for that,” said Froese.
The privateer said reaching the final is validation of the rebuild process that included recruiting players who can play in different positions, formations and have complete trust in each other.
“As it turned out, that (process) was one of our secrets to success, that we’ve been able to handle the format of the Island Games,” said Froese.
Favourite moment at the Island Games: Akeem Garcia’s goal against Forge in the first round.
“It was a draw against Forge, which is a great team, and we were the ones that managed to come back from a losing situation and take control. When that happened, it felt like a turning point. It felt like the window had just opened and we could see the new path the Wanderers were taking,” said Froese.
Favourite player at the Island Games: While he wanted to pick 22, he settled on Chrisnovic N’Sa.
“N’Sa has been just astounding me by just how much he has improved between 2019 and 2020. He’s just getting better and better. He’s becoming a more and more vital part of our team. It’s so great to watch him develop with us,” Froese said.