Wanderers sets to meet Toronto in a Canadian Championship match in Halifax

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According to Christian Oxner, one of the goalkeepers for the HFX Wanderers FC, there wasn’t much soccer on TV when he was growing up in Halifax. The English Premier League and the Italian Serie A were often the only games available. Oxner’s experience isn’t unusual in Canada; there aren’t many places to watch the beautiful game up north.

This is likely why the CONCACAF Champions League’s magnitude goes unnoticed. The North American edition, like Europe’s Champions League, is a major international tournament for the best clubs on the continent, which is organized by the Confederation of North, Central America, and Caribbean Association Football, or CONCACAF. And the Wanderers are only three games away from being a part of it. 

The CONCACAF Champions League, which has operated in some form or another since 2008, allows Canada to send one club (and is only going to get bigger in 2024). Choosing that team necessitates a national tournament among the country’s finest soccer teams, with the Canadian Championship winner qualifying for the Champions League.

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There are indeed a lot of champions to keep track of. But all that matters in Halifax is that the Wanderers have already defeated one opponent—Guelph United—and now face Toronto FC in a Canadian Championship semi-final on Tuesday night at the Wanderers’ ground. A semi-final victory followed by a final victory means winning the so-called Battle of the North and advancing to the final.

Oxner never thought he could be a Halifax youngster playing professional soccer for a hometown team three games away from a berth in a big international event. “You have to enjoy it because you never know what may happen in life or if you will ever have that experience again,” the goalkeeper explains.

Toronto FC is a more challenging opponent who normally competes in Major League Soccer, a professional soccer league that comprises teams from Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York. The Wanderers are the underdogs in the tiny Canadian Premier League. However, the crew is prepared to take on the challenge. 

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“We get to go out there and play a game of football,” Oxner says of the pressure. “Whatever happens, the fans will be there to support us.”

The Canadian Championship implemented a rule requiring teams to have at least three Canadian players on the pitch for games when the Canadian Premier League was founded in 2017.

Still, Oxner admits that playing against stronger clubs like Toronto FC, which has the power to attract international all-stars, is more difficult, and Halifax will have to be careful not to make mistakes. “You can’t give them much,” the Saint Mary’s University alum says. 

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