'One game, one half, one pass at a time': Halifax reign in excitement ahead of 1st home playoff game
Ahead of what is arguably the biggest game in his club’s history, Patrice Gheisar is soaking in every detail of the occassion.
As his Halifax Wanderers side gets set to host Pacific in their quarter-final matchup on Saturday, he knows what's at stake for his team, in what promises to be a special day for the city of Halifax.
The club’s first home playoff game in their history, in front of a sold-out crowd, it’ll kick off what could be a pretty special month for the city and this sport.
Of course, there’s the club’s impending playoff run, which they’ll hope ends with a North Star Cup, which along with the recent announcement that the CanWNT will be playing a game against Brazil in the city on the 31st of October, should make for a pretty fun month for the Halifax soccer fan.
Especially as the team pushes to show that there is the appetite to build a permanent Wanderers Grounds, these moments matter for many reasons, and Gheisar is appreciative of that.
“As a staff, for sure, without a doubt, this is (our biggest game),” Gheisar stated this week. “Obviously, there were the 2020 Island Games in that shorter season, when (the Wanderers made) the CPL final, but I think with the challenge of the CanWNT vs. Brazil game coming here soon, as well as the discussion of an expanded stadium, with the way our season has gone, this is one of our bigger games for many reasons, and we love it.
“Our guys are becoming addicted to this feeling, we want to keep this going, we want to be able to play an even bigger game next week, and then a bigger one the week after, but we’re taking it one game at a time, one half at a time, one pass at a time.”
Yet, Halifax has certainly bought into soccer fever right now, and that’s being felt everywhere with the success of this 2023 Wanderers campaign.
After a 2022 season to forget, one that saw them finish 7th with just 29 points, they turned things around completely in 2023, jumping up to third (finishing tied for second) with 42 points, an impressive 13-point increase.
Thanks to the arrival of figures like Gheisar, however, who was quickly able to stamp out his vision on this team despite being a new head coach, as well as some key players who came in after him, this Wanderers team has quickly become one to watch.
Before known as more of a stingy team that tried to keep games low-event, they’ve done all of this while playing fun, free-flowing soccer, becoming one of the funnest teams to keep an eye on in the CPL this season.
Despite being one of the youngest teams in the league, with a head coach in Gheisar who had been untested at the professional level, they’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with everyone, allowing them to complete this remarkable turnaround.
And they’re not done yet, either. While this game will certainly be a celebration for the city, these Wanderers want to ensure that they finish the day victorious, all while playing *their* way.
"I hope this is something that we can continue to grow"— Canadian Premier League (@CPLsoccer) October 13, 2023
Set to host a playoff game for the first time tomorrow, can @HFXWanderersFC build some momentum and pick up a first-ever trophy this season? ⚓
Wanderers playoff preview: https://t.co/dEZTHZh2gh#CanPL I ✍️ @BTFR17
Something they’ve done all season long, quite unapologetically, they don’t have any plans on stopping now, and why would they?
It might get nervy at times, no doubt, especially as several of these players take the field in the CPL playoffs for the first time, but Gheisar is confident in their ability to overcome that pressure, with veteran figures such as Yann Fillion and Doneil Henry expected to be relied upon to help with that if need be.
“Yeah, I mean, the thing is that our style of football is the only style of football that we have, our principle is to play,” Gheisar promised. “If we come into this game too tight and we can’t play our style, we're already forfeiting the game. So it's been important for us to be brave and embrace the moment. I will never try to brainwash them and say that it’s like a regular season game, that it’s not a playoff game and that the CPL made a mistake, but instead, to embrace it and not feel nervous., and use this fuel as a way to find extra concentration.
“Yes, we don't have many guys that have been in a playoff game in the CPL but we have a lot of players who have been in important games. If you need, lean on a bigger brother if you feel lost in the game, and if you're a bigger brother, find someone who needs an arm around them, prepare them, and then tomorrow we’ll go out and leave everything on the field.”
Of course, they’ll be wary of the threat that Pacific can offer, as the 2021 North Star Cup champions are one of the deepest teams in the league and are frustrated after a tough end to their regular season campaign, which they showed in a 1-0 win over York in midweek, but Halifax will stay focused on themselves despite that challenge.
A goal-oriented team, one that had lofty ambitions such as hosting a playoff game (which they’ll now do), claiming 30 points at home (they fell just three points short of that) and never losing two games in a row (they also completed that with ease), they’ve also got some boxes to tick in this game, too.
Gheisar won’t reveal those goals, understandably, but as he mentioned when talking about them, their success in the pursuit of those past goals is just a reminder of how the Wanderers are aiming to come out full throttle in this game.
“Yeah, for sure, you can’t change your identity because of the elevation of the game, that would be the biggest mistake,” he noted. “We are here today because of the way we play, and we're here today because our key guys have been so key, and that's not going to change, I’m not going to turn my back and say ‘Let's play a game not to make mistakes’, as I would be completely wrong, and something that I haven’t preached for the past eight months. We’ll play our style, our way, as we always do, especially at home, and work to be clinical in front of the goal.
“Obviously, there are a couple of different things that we've talked about, such as Pacific being deadly on set pieces, and being aware of that. But this is a 90-minute game, and of those 90 minutes, it may be dictated by just four minutes, and those moments within those four minutes are the magical moments, and we have to live it and be best in those.
"We've also talked about things we can control before the game starts, such as our work rate, our attitude, our smile, our synergy, and the way we support each other, all of those are things that we can control, so we’ll take care of those before the game starts so that once the whistle is blown, we’ll be fine.”
From there, the Wanderers are just looking to enjoy every moment of this special occasion, as they look to kick off their playoff journey with a game to remember.
Especially after what has been an up-and-down year for the city and the province, which has dealt with a few tough moments, they know that’ll be a special moment for many of those fans.
Some of the most diehard fans in the league, who have continued to support their team despite some lean years prior, they’ve long waited for a moment like this, and the buzz that has surrounded the city this week just shows that.
There’s a reason why tickets to this game nearly sold out before a date was even confirmed, showing why the atmosphere for this game is going to be special, as this was one not to miss for those in Halifax.
Only 300 left so maybe I should have said this will be sold out by Thursday!— Derek Martin (@WandererDerek) October 4, 2023
Oh and yes for anyone wondering we don't know the date, time or opponent yet...that is just how @HFXWanderersFC fans roll https://t.co/XVrq7De0Bq
Because of that, these Wanderers are eager to put on a show for their city, making the most of this special day for the club, the city and the province of Nova Scotia as a whole.
“Yeah, it's fantastic,” Gheisar finished. “You look everywhere and hear about it such as on the news today, and even the fans come to watch our sessions, and that’s great to see the joy that it brings to the city. Plus, it's been a couple of rainy days, but as we get closer to the game, it looks like the sun will come out, and that’s very nostalgic and emotional.
“I'm really happy that our guys were able to give this gift to the city, if to the organization, as it’s been five years of hard work from the ownership and the staff that was here to lay this out, so to see it come alive, I'm extremely excited, and I hope it's a sign of bigger and better things to come from us."