7 targets for the Halifax Wanderers’ 2024 roster additions | News | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
Halifax Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar will have his work cut out for him as he looks to build a title-winner.

7 targets for the Halifax Wanderers’ 2024 roster additions

As the Canadian Premier League soccer club turns an eye toward the 2024 CPL U-SPORTS Draft and January transfer window opening, here’s a look at some names you should get familiar with.

The Halifax Wanderers will enter 2024 with an unfamiliar feeling: Promise. Five years into the Canadian Premier League soccer club’s existence—one that, for much of its history, could be summarized as unfulfilled—there’s a newfound sense of hope around the club’s potential. Expectation, even. In Patrice Gheisar’s first season as head coach, the Wanderers finished with club-record tallies for points (42), wins (11), goals scored (39) and total passes (13,000), and witnessed the emergence of talents like defender Dan Nimick, midfielder Lorenzo Callegari and winger Massimo Ferrin.

Now, the question turns to how the Wanderers will retool their squad to make a deeper run in 2024. It’s a challenge Gheisar has embraced, hinting that Halifax—just maybe—is becoming a free agent lure.

“There’s a lot of players that want to come here,” he told the Down the Pub Podcast in October. “You would be shocked to know how many key players that are all-stars came up to me after a game to say, ‘Man, I gotta find a way of getting here next year.’”

Thus far, Halifax has given the impression of a club that intends to bring most of its talent back: Nimick, Callegari and Ferrin are all under contract for 2024, along with goalkeeper Yann Fillion, fullbacks Wesley Timoteo and Zach Fernandez, midfielders Tomas Giraldo, Andre Rampersad and Callum Watson, and forward Tiago Coimbra. The club still has contract options on defenders Cale Loughrey, Cristian Campagna, Jake Ruby, Doneil Henry, Riley Ferrazzo and Ryan James, along with midfielders Aidan Daniels and Armaan Wilson, and forward Théo Collomb.

In conversations with those involved in the club’s roster shaping, the Wanderers seem to have plans for around seven new players in 2024. (CPL clubs can keep a maximum of 23 players on a roster, with two additional spots reserved for Canadian players aged 18 and under in 2024.)

So, who should Halifax consider? Here’s a look at seven names—both familiar and less familiar—that the Wanderers should keep an eye out for, starting from the top of the pitch to the bottom.

1. Charlie Sharp (Forward, Western Michigan University). When Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar opened up about his club’s roster needs on Down the Pub, the first thing he mentioned was scoring—and more specifically, the club’s lack of depth at centre forward. Halifax’s four most-used forwards—Coimbra, Collomb, Toronto FC loanee Jordan Perruzza and João Morelli—combined for 13 goals in 2023. Not exactly anemic, but not the Hydra head of scoring options Gheisar might have envisioned. (By contrast, the league’s leading scorers, Myer Bevan and Ollie Bassett, finished with 11 goals apiece.)

That gulf doesn’t sit well with the Wanderers coach.

“If I look at the staple of the league, Forge ended up getting 21 goals from their three centre forwards,” Gheisar said. “And we were nowhere close to that.”

There’s a roster hole or two to fill: Morelli (a 2021 CPL Player of the Year) announced his retirement from the sport in November, and Perruzza has returned to TFC. Collomb, meanwhile, went home to France and seems déterminé to find another club after falling out of the Wanderers’ rotation. That leaves a Bedford Basin-wide opening for a forward like Sharp. The NCAA’s leading scorer in 2023, the 22-year-old from Brighton, Mich. bagged 19 goals in 20 games this past season, bringing WMU’s Broncos their second straight conference title. There’s already a Wanderers connection, too: He was college teammates with standout defender Dan Nimick from 2019 to 2022. (Imagine a steady stream of telepathic diagonal passes lobbed from Nimick to Sharp.)

Toronto FC still hold Sharp’s Major League Soccer rights, and could offer him a contract with their first team or TFC II side—but that wouldn’t necessarily bar a move to Halifax, either. Even if Sharp inked a contract with the MLS club for 2024, he could still come to Halifax on loan—which might be his surest path to professional minutes.

2. Pariss Mitchell (Right winger, Colorado Rapids 2).
At 18 years old, Mitchell’s greatest selling point is his upside: The Toronto, Ont. native was ranked the #1 prospect in his age class by First Touch Football Canada. His combination of speed and finishing earned him a spot in the Colorado Rapids academy in 2022, where he’s chipped in a goal and assist in 12 appearances with the MLS club’s reserve team. What Mitchell hasn’t yet found in Colorado is an opportunity for consistent minutes—a pathway which looks surer in Halifax, with a right wing position that lacks an every-match starter.

click to enlarge 7 targets for the Halifax Wanderers’ 2024 roster additions (3)
Javi Johnson via Pariss Mitchell / Instagram (@iamparissmitchell)
Colorado Rapids 2 winger Pariss Mitchell played under Patrice Gheisar at Vaughan Azzurri and alongside current Wanderers Massimo Ferrin and Riley Ferrazzo.

Then, there’s the matter of familiarity: Mitchell played under Gheisar and assistant Jorden Feliciano at Vaughan Azzurri in 2022, and alongside current Wanderers Massimo Ferrin and Riley Ferrazzo. While he’s just aged out of the CPL’s newly-introduced Exceptional Young Talent roster eligibility (intended to promote the skill development of Canadian U-18 players by allowing clubs to fill two roster spots that don’t count against their 23-player limit), he’d still factor well as a domestic U-21 signing that could help Halifax reach its mandated 2,000-minute quota... a threshold the club juuuust managed to clear in 2023. And if the MLS is indeed in Mitchell’s future, the chance for more regular minutes should bode well for him.

3. Jean-Aniel Assi (Right winger, CF Montréal/Atlético Ottawa).
Assi is already a familiar face in the CPL: The 19-year-old has spent his past two seasons on loan from MLS side CF Montréal to Cavalry FC and, more recently, Atlético Ottawa. Three years ago, Assi became the youngest player to ever debut for Montréal, when he appeared at 16 years old in a CONCACAF Champions League win over C.D. Olimpia.

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Tim Austen (Freestyle Photography) / Canadian Premier League
Could Atlético Ottawa winger Jean-Aniel Assi fill a hole for the Halifax Wanderers?

Despite the youngster’s upside, he happens to be in the market for a club: Earlier this month, CF Montréal opted not to renew Assi’s contract for 2024. And while he hasn’t filled the back of the net in the CPL (Assi has one goal in two seasons), he’s been a more-than-capable contributor, with five assists. It’s not a stretch to imagine that in Gheisar’s free-flowing system, Assi would find himself with scoring chances that Ottawa’s eleven-behind-the-ball approach didn’t generate. There’s the added benefit of Assi counting towards the club’s U-21 minutes quota. Plus, he’s got the speed to hang with just about anyone in the league.

4. Manny Aparicio (Centre attacking midfielder, Pacific FC).
Of all the names circled in Gheisar’s beloved notebooks, Aparicio’s surely has to be at the top. The 28-year-old dual-national from Buenos Aires, Argentina has been a workhorse in his five years in the CPL: Not only did his addition prove pivotal in Pacific FC’s North Star Shield-winning 2021 season, he is one of only two CPL players—along with Atlético Ottawa’s Bassett—to finish both 2022 and 2023 on the shortlists of the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards. (And you can toss in a selection for the fan-voted Team of the Year, while you’re at it.)

“He’s somebody that has the capability to unlock [a] defence,” PFC’s former head coach Pa-Modou Kah said in 2021. “Technically, he’s very good. Tactically, he’s good.”

That game-breaking ability would fit in nicely in a Wanderers midfield that already boasts a ball wizard in Lorenzo Callegari. But where the defensive-minded Callegari excels as a pressure-release valve, Aparicio thrives in the attack; he enjoyed his most productive season yet in 2023, finishing with four goals and five assists in 27 appearances. And while the Wanderers haven’t always been a free agent destination, there are better-than-tinfoil-hat reasons to believe that a Manny-to-Maritimes move could happen: As the Wanderers Notebook’s Joshua Healey has reported, both Aparicio and Gheisar share the same agency in NOVERA Sports. Aparicio’s younger brother, Pedro, plays for Vaughan Azzurri—Gheisar’s former club. And then, there was this photo Aparicio posted after the season that set the rumour mill abuzz.

click to enlarge 7 targets for the Halifax Wanderers’ 2024 roster additions
Audrey Magny via Manny Aparicio / Instagram (@manuaparicio)
Is Manny Aparicio waving hello to the Halifax supporters?

If Halifax loses out on the Manny sweepstakes, it might well be to a MLS club. Per reports, the former Toronto FC academy product has been garnering MLS interest in recent weeks, from both Canadian and American clubs.

5. Joshua Belluz (Defensive midfielder, Syracuse).
Belluz is hard to miss on a soccer pitch. At 6’6”, the Toronto, Ont. native offers the kind of imposing presence in the defensive midfield that the Wanderers would benefit from after vice-captain Mo Omar’s departure to San Antonio FC. Another product of Vaughan Azzurri, the 23-year-old started his collegiate career at Villanova—where he ranked among the club’s minutes leaders in his four seasons—and joined Syracuse in 2023, where he led his team in minutes and scored a game-winner against Boston in the NCAA first round.

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Arnav Pokhrel / The Daily Orange
Syracuse midfielder Joshua Belluz should be on Patrice Gheisar's radar as another Vaughan Azzurri talent.

Belluz went undrafted in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft and will be part of the eligible player pool for the 2024 edition on Dec. 19. Even if an MLS club were to select the Canadian, however, he would be free to sign with the Wanderers if he saw it as a better option—just as Nimick opted to sign in Halifax rather than join the Vancouver Whitecaps’ reserve squad last year.

6. Jahiem Wickham (Goalkeeper, Syracuse).
The Wanderers will have a choice to make when it comes to their backup goalkeeping spot. Dalhousie Tigers ‘keeper Aiden Rushenas stuck with the squad through all of 2023, but didn’t make any first-team appearances. Instead, he featured with the Wanderers U-23 development team. Did Gheisar and sporting director Matt Fegan see enough from Rushenas in 2023 to bring him back for another season? Or would they sooner roll the dice on another young ‘keeper? If the choice is the latter, then Brampton, Ont.’s Jahiem Wickham merits a look. The former Toronto FC academy goalkeeper finished his second NCAA season at Syracuse with five clean sheets in 13 starts. Like Rushenas, he’d also fill a much-needed void in the Wanderers’ roster for U-21 players. (Wickham turns 21 on Feb. 26, 2024.)

7. Daniel Clarke (Goalkeeper, Cape Breton University).
The first inkling of the Wanderers’ roster plans will come tomorrow, when Halifax has the fifth and thirteenth picks in the 2024 CPL U-SPORTS Draft. In the past, the club has tended to spend its picks close to home, drafting Cape Breton University’s Peter Schaale, Cory Bent and Anthony Stolar in 2018, 2019 and 2022, respectively, Dal’s Rushenas in 2022 and Saint Mary’s University’s Christian Oxner in 2018.

The Capers are coming off a dream season: Cape Breton won the U-SPORTS men’s national championship in November, the second national title in the program’s history. Clarke went undefeated in 10 starts, with seven wins, three draws and two clean sheets. Raised in Milton Keynes, UK, the third-year business student could be a savvy depth option for the Wanderers, depending on whether Rushenas returns. (If he’s back, then that need disappears.) But the Wanderers will already be familiar with Clarke: He’s been with the club’s U-23 development program since 2022—and some observers rank him as the better keeper over Rushenas.

Update: The Halifax Wanderers selected Clarke with the 5th pick in the 2024 U-SPORTS Draft.

Martin Bauman

Martin Bauman, The Coast's News & Business Reporter, is an award-winning journalist and interviewer, whose work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Calgary Herald, Capital Daily, and Waterloo Region Record, among other places. In 2020, he was named one of five “emergent” nonfiction writers by the RBC Taylor Prize...
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