A year after finishing second from bottom of the eight-team league, Trinidad and Tobago’s Stephen Hart has guided Halifiax Wanderers to its first final, in the second season of the Canadian Premier League (CPL).
Wanderers will play Forge FC in Saturday’s CPL final. The teams played to a 1-1 draw just over a week ago, with 10-man Forge pressing for much of the second half and only pulling level via a penalty.
Halifax is captained by Trinidadian Andre Rampersad, while another “Trini”, Akeem “Froggy” Garcia, is the league’s top scorer. Garcia has six goals in nine matches and has been named on this weeks CPL Team of the week, after scoring ‘Final Four’ goals in the draw against Forge FC and valuable win over Calvary FC (2-1), the only team to beat them in the regular season.
Tuesday’s final round of league matches became academic when Forge ended all hopes of regular season winner Pacific reaching the final when beating them 1-0 on Tuesday. It left Halifax automatic into the final. Therefore Hart chose to rest 10 of his starting players, including Garcia. Having conceded no more than two goals in any match this season, normally stingy Halifax were defeated 5-0 by already eliminated Pacific, who had lost their previous two matches.
Corresponding with the Trinidad Express just before the final match, Hart was pleased with the improvement his team had shown this season, having brought in 16 new players this season. He had anticipated that the team would only be at its best in 2021.
“Obviously we are pleased with reaching the final,” Hart said. “More pleased with the individual and collective performances. These players deserve the credit for their discipline throughout the pandemic and with the bubble.”
Hart’s team has been fuelled by goals from Garcia, a former national Under-23 player and North East Stars striker, who was also the team’s top-scorer, with seven goals in 24 matches of last year’s inaugural CPL season.
The shortened, Covid-19 affected, 2020 season has seen Garcia leading the tournament with six goals in nine matches. He is also a leading 2020 Golden Boot and MVP candidate.
Hart, who coached T&T to successive CONCACAF Gold Cup quarter-finals in 2013 & 2015, has been impressed by what he has seen of Garcia. “As for Akeem, his potential is plain to see. He is disciplined, willing to learn, and plays for the team,” noted Hart. “I do believe Akeem and Rampersad can make the next step.”