(Yes, I had to. Everyone else has.)
Halifax Wanderers FC finally made some player signings on Wednesday, announcing a quartet of Trinidadians.
Topping the list, at least in pop culture terms, was Elton John–sometimes pop star, sometimes international for Trinidad & Tobago.
Oh, wait. Hold on a sec, here. May have got some papers confused.
Lost in the buzz around his name is the actual profile of these signings, so now I’ve made my jokes, that’s what we’re going to take a look at. Let’s start our very own rocket man.
Elton John | 31 | defensive mid
No, he’s not a cricket player, either. The cricket club’s football team finished runners-up in T&T’s semi-professional second division last year. The league includes clubs called both Police and Prisons. Only in Caribbean soccer.
He spent 2017 with NorthEast Stars in the top flight, and 2016 with Central, who are fairly regular champions league entrants, having won the Caribbean club championship that year as well. He’s won a number of Trinidadian league titles, and though that league’s not that great, it does qualify its champion for the CCL, where John’s appeared eleven times, so he probably fits the roughly USL-level profile of the Canadian Premier League. He also had a (very) brief stint in Belgium’s second division that lasted about three months while CS Visé was in the process of going bankrupt.
Once the hoopla over his name wears off, Wanderers have signed a journeyman from the Caribbean. He’s also not spent more than a year at a club in a while, although that’s far more common at the levels of the sport where Canadian teams will recruit.
On the flip side, centre-backs who can play with the ball aren’t always an easy find, and that’s what John looks to be, especially as you consider he’s getting older. Combined with Hart’s draft choices, John’s signing does at least signal he values players who can build from the back.
Jan-Michael Williams | 34 | goalkeeper
Elton’s getting the headlines, but Williams is probably the biggest signing of the day, maybe of the week in CanPL.
Of the four, he’s the only regular T&T international, but he’s captained the Soca Warriors, which makes him the first legit international player to sign in the Canadian Premier League. His most recent competitive start was a 2 – 1 loss to Honduras in the Hex on Sept. 27, 2017. Since then he’s been on something of a jaunt through Central America.
The Wanderers signing announcement made a good deal out of his European experience, but while it’s not nothing it should probably be taken with a grain of salt: his time at Ferencvaros in Hungary came while the club was in the second division, and he left for T&T again after the season in which they won promotion. (That was in 2008 and I don’t speak Hungarian so I’m not going to even try to track down how much he played. Besides, minutes aren’t always the fairest indicator of a goalkeeper’s actual ability.)
He played for W Connection back when they were a regular champion’s league team, and has also popped up in CCL for Central FC. His CONCACAF credentials are impressive, and that’s something CanPL teams are going to need if they have ambitions of competing regionally.
According to the release, and Stephen Hart, he’s “larger than life”. It’s hard to know what that means, exactly, but leadership is leadership and that’s something Wanderers did not have on Tuesday night.
Akeem Garcia | 22 | forward
When Derek King’s FC Santa Rosa side won the T&T Super League One (that’s the second division) Akeem Garcia scored the goal that clinched it deep into second-half stoppage time. They do say you can’t teach clutch.
Before that, he’d actually been in the Pro League (promotion is invitational, so think more like MLS/USL than a strict first/second division) and he’s been a fixture of T&T youth national teams for a while, so he’s fairly experienced for a 22-year-old. He’s the kind of signing I expected Hart to make in that he’s a player few outside the deeper halls of CONCACAF will have heard of and he’s coming to Wanderers before anyone else really takes an interest. If he performs well here or for T&T, he’s very much the kind of player could be sold on later.
Also, apparently, his nickname is Froggy. That may actually be better than Elton John.
Andre Rampersad | 23 | central mid
Rampersad’s more of a prospect, having only broken into the first-team at FC Santa Rosa this past year. He played over 1500 minutes, though, scoring three times from midfield for Derek King’s title-winning side. His stats actually compare favourably to Garcia’s.
Hart and King know him, and he fits the profile of a lot of the younger CanPL signings in that he’s no longer really a youngster and still has something to prove. Whether that kind of player needed to be an international or not is a fair question, but perhaps that’s partly down to the lack of a local talent pool in Halifax to draw from. It could well be that of the four signings this week, Rampersad has to fight a bit harder for playing time.
Take me to the pilot
Whoops, there goes another one.
There are a few ways to look at these signings beyond “Whee, we have players!” When I pictured an international signing for a CanPL side, I figured on guys who would be the leaders, the match winners, dictating play on the pitch.
That may very well be a profile Jan-Michael Williams fits, and though he’s 34, goalkeepers don’t age like normal human beings and he could and should be a starter for at least a couple of years.
With limited space for internationals on the game-day roster, it’s vital to get contributions from all or most of them. John is a journeyman. Garcia and Rampersad are intriguing and could grow. There are good, even great, players available in CONCACAF, and it makes sense for Hart and King to use their connections, but they need someone to build the outfield players around.
The club has been clear that more signings are coming. They’ll need some Canadians, at the least.
Thus far, CanPL teams have focused heavily on domestic, local talent–sometimes to the exclusion of much else. Take Pacific FC, who may well field a lineup entirely comprised of British Columbians. On Wednesday, they signed Marcus Haber, a long-time Canadian national team vet who’s been around several blocks, and who will very much be a striker to be reckoned with in this league, at least in year one. Haber fills that game-breaking void.
Hart obviously has connections beyond Trinidad & Tobago. He was Canada’s manager, too, for several years, and to that end, the Wanderers hiring of Victor Mendes as a head scout might be the most important signing of the week. It’s low-key–didn’t even get a news blurb on the Wanderers site–but Mendes is a scout who did video work with the national team.
Mendes is the kind of person it’s vital to have in a professional set-up and he’s worked with just about every Canadian national teamer over the past 30 years. His hire is zero marketing, and all meat. It may not pay off right away–and honestly, I’d have liked to see him announced in November–but it builds a much more sturdy recruitment strategy for a club that’s going to need one.
So far, it’s too early–and too difficult–to really evaluate a signing. Wanderers have players now! Whee! It’s exciting to see players sitting there and think that, honest to God, there’s a professional football club in Halifax, it’s real, and it’s recruiting Trinidadian internationals.
And hey, T&T knocked the US out of 2018 World Cup qualifying.