Players on Halifax’s professional soccer team hope positivity will lead them to good things on the field when they begin their 2020 Canadian Premiership season.
Hfx Wanderers FC are in Charlottetown, P.E.I., making final preparations before the start of the Island Games, where they will play seven games for the chance to advance to the next round. The last team standing will win the North Star Shield and qualify for the 2021 CONCACAF League, playing teams from around North America in an attempt to advance to the region’s Champions League and then the FIFA Club World Cup.
If it was a typical year, the Wanderers would have already played two-thirds of their regular season. However, COVID-19 forced the team to shelve their training camp in March as the league postponed the start of their season.
Midfielder Andre Rampersad says while it’s been a challenging few months, the team remained optimistic they’d play and focused on conditioning.
“It was pretty tough; we kept the mindset that something will happen,” he says. “The guys took it pretty well. At home, we did workouts, and we kept in touch with all the staff and the coach. We had to wait on the okay from the province and the league to start practising. It was pretty stressful on our minds, but we dealt with it pretty well.”
Arriving in Charlottetown over the weekend, the Wanderers entered a team bubble. For the next two months, players will stay in their hotel, shuttle to and from the UPEI soccer field by bus, and be subject to daily testing.
However, the noticeable difference for the Wanderers will be that the tournament won’t have spectators. Rampersad says while players won’t have to travel to different cities and face yelling from opposing teams’ fans, they will miss the Halifax fans who have shown their loyalty at the Wanderers Grounds.
“They were pretty nice to us last year; we really appreciate that because it could have been easy for them to say ‘this team isn’t good,’ but they always came out,” he says. “This year would have been bigger; they would have come out and did the same thing even more. Playing at Wanderers Grounds is super amazing for us because we play in front of the crowd supporting us. They give you that extra boost, so you want to do your best, and that’s what you must try to do every time.”
Originally from Trinidad and Tobago, Rampersad is the recently appointed team captain. He hopes to lead by example in Charlottetown.
“You always have this competitiveness that you want to win and that’s what you need in guys,” he says. “Every day, you try to learn something new, and you have to give your ear to other guys; you still have to listen and try to help other guys learn. I keep positive every time, no matter how hard it gets, and keep the guys on a steady mind.”
Once the 2020 campaign begins on Aug. 15 against Pacific FC, Rampersad hopes to make the city proud, even if it’s from afar.
“We are going to make the most of it for our fans; we know what we’ve been through; we know what they’ve have been through and they stuck with us,” he says. “We are going to do everything we can this year to bring the championship home; to win that would be amazing for the city.”