Canadian Championship soccer comes to Halifax as the Wanderers face Toronto | City | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST
“Pressure is a privilege,” says HFX Wanderers goalkeeper Christian Oxner of facing the formidable Toronto FC.

Canadian Championship soccer comes to Halifax as the Wanderers face Toronto

Toronto’s MLS side typically play pros in New York and Los Angeles, but Tuesday night the team is in Halifax for an important match against the Wanderers.

Growing up in Halifax there wasn’t much soccer on TV, says Christian Oxner, one of the goalkeeps for the HFX Wanderers FC. The English Premier League and the Italian Serie A on Score sometimes were the only games in town. Oxner’s experience isn’t unique in Canada: there just aren’t many options to watch the beautiful game in the beautiful north. Which is why, perhaps, the enormity of the CONCACAF Champions League flies under the radar.

But like Europe’s Champions League, the North American version—organized by the Confederation Of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF—is a major international tournament of the best club teams in the hemisphere. And the Wanderers are three games away from playing in it.

Canada gets to send one team to the CONCACAF Champions League, which has existed in one form or another since 2008 (and is only going to get bigger in 2024). Choosing that team naturally demands a national tournament among the best soccer teams in the country, with the winner of this Canadian Championship going on to the Champions League.

Yeah, it’s a lot of champions to keep track of. But all that matters locally is the Halifax Wanderers have already beaten one opponent—Guelph United—and now face Toronto FC in a game Tuesday night at the Wanderers Grounds, with the winner going on to the Canadian Championship semi-final. A semi-final win, then victory in the final, means winning the so-called Battle of the North and going to CONCACAF.

Being a Halifax kid playing professional soccer for a hometown team three games away from a berth in a major international tournament was something Oxner never thought would happen. “It’s something you have to enjoy because you never know what’s going to happen in life, if you’ll ever get that experience again,” the goalkeeper says.

Beating Guelph, a semi-professional team, was one thing. Toronto FC is a more formidable opponent that usually plays in Major League Soccer, a professional league that includes football clubs in Los Angeles, Dallas and New York. The Wanderers, playing in the smaller Canadian Premier League, are clearly the underdogs. But the team is ready to face the challenge. “Pressure is a privilege,” says Oxner, “we get to go out there and play a game of football. Regardless of what happens the fans will be with us.”

When the Canadian Premier League was founded in 2017, the Canadian Championship added a rule that requires teams to have at least three Canadian players on the pitch for the games. Still, Oxner concedes it’s a bit harder to play against bigger clubs with the power to sign international all-stars like Toronto FC does, and Halifax will have to avoid making mistakes. “You can’t really give them anything,” says the Saint Mary’s University alum. “But at the same time, football is football.” Which is to say in a tournament where fates are decided by 90 minutes of play, truly anything can happen.

HFX Wanderers FC vs. Toronto FC in 2022 Canadian Championship action

When: Tuesday, May 24
Where: Wanderers Grounds, 5819 Sackville Street
Time: 7pm
Tickets: Available now, starting at $143.75

Matt Stickland

Matt spent 10 years in the Navy where he deployed to Libya with HMCS Charlottetown and then became a submariner until ‘retiring’ in 2018. In 2019 he completed his Bachelor of Journalism from the University of King’s College. Matt is an almost award winning opinion writer.
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