6th in the standings, 1st in the stands
Halifax Wanderers soccer team missed out on playoffs this season but ended with a season-high attendance
November 10, 2021, 4:09 pm ASTLast Updated: November 10, 2021, 8:23 pm
A record-high crowd of 6,456 at the Wanderers Grounds, cheered one last time as the referee blew three toots to indicate the end of the final Halifax Wanderers game on Sunday.
Averaging 5,196 spectators in the 2021 season, the Wanderers boast the highest spectator average of the eight teams in the Canadian Premier League (CPL).
Jennifer Langille, a Wanderers fan, in an interview on Saturday at the club’s store on Quinpool Road, said that she followed CPL on television for the first two seasons. However, her eight-year-old goddaughter, Priya MacInnis, pulled her away from the screen to the field for this season.
“Priya’s bringing in the vibe. We are doing face painting and we have all the merch. It is just the best feeling being in a crowd full of people that are just cheering on our home team,” she said.
Langille said that the team’s interactions with the crowd make them feel like they are a part of a bigger experience.
“Last week, she (Priya) wanted to get a picture with one of the guys and I know he was in a rush, but he took the time to stop and get behind her and smile for the camera,” Langille said.
Priya plays for Suburban FC, Bedford. The Wanderers’ match against Forge FC on Oct. 23 was her first experience watching professional soccer.
“When players interact with the fans, it gives the young ones a perspective that they can make it too,” Langille said.
Wanderers finished sixth in the league and missed a spot in the playoffs by one point. Kieran Baskett, a 20-year-old goalkeeper for the team, said despite a “really disappointing” season, one of the main positives was to have the fans back.
As a local kid from Halifax, Baskett said that the league could also lead young Canadians like Priya to participate professionally in soccer.
The Canadian soccer women’s team ranks sixth in the FIFA world rankings and won Olympic gold in Tokyo earlier this year. Matt Fegan, VP of business operations at Wanderers, hopes that it’s just a matter of time before women get their own professional league.
The Canadian men’s team broke into FIFA’s top 50 world rankings in October for the first time since 1996. For Fegan, the CPL is about establishing continuity so that this feat does not remain a once in a generation phenomenon.
The league is also trying to showcase Canadian talent. In 2019, it implemented a rule for every team to give at least 1,000 minutes of playing time to three U-21 domestic players over the course of the season. This year, CPL raised that to 1,500 minutes. The roster rules also state that every starting eleven should mandatorily have six Canadian players.
“Earlier, there was amateur and university soccer but there was no real path outside of that. Young players considering becoming professional players can now do it from their own backyards,” Baskett said.
Out of 23 players on the Wanderers roster, 13 are Canadian. Baskett played 10 games of 28 in the latest season of CPL and appreciates having a professional club in the city.
Fegan agreed that CPL can act as a launch pad for young Canadian talent. For him, the idea of success for CPL should be weighed on uncovering players who had not gotten a chance until now.
“We don’t have to pretend that we have to be the best league in the world immediately, we can be a development step,” Fegan said.
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