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Montrealers fleeing for Halifax: Coincidence or pattern?

Halifax signings Omar Kreim and Aboubacar Sissoko pose with their new colours.

When FC Montreal shut down its operations in 2016, it left a plethora of local talent without a home. While few players made the leap to the Montreal Impact, plenty were forced to look elsewhere to continue their professional career. Others simply quit. The launch of the Canadian Premier League, however, has since changed this and has given a lot of these forgotten players a platform to showcase themselves, with the Halifax Wanderers taking a particular interest in Montreal talent.

Since the inception of the club, the Wanderers have regularly signed Quebec-based players, most recently with U Sports standouts Omar Kreim and Aboubacar Sissoko in addition to the Impact’s former academy graduates Louis Béland-Goyette, Alessandro Riggi and Daniel Kinumbe. “There are some very good players in Quebec, but unfortunately there’s no teams to showcase yourself here,” said Sissoko. “Halifax is the team that’s looking for Montreal-based players and we’re very happy for this,” added the midfielder.

Sissoko made a name for himself as an all-action midfielder alongside Kreim, and was named the U Sports Player of the Year last season. He was previously drafted 12th overall in the inaugural CPL draft by Forge FC, but was not offered a contract. “In Toronto, they prioritize the players that come from there,” said Sissoko. “When I got drafted by Forge FC, I was good enough to make the team, but they didn’t take me,” added the midfielder. Sissoko has since attracted interest from the Vancouver Whitecaps and will reportedly have a trial with the MLS club, despite just joining Halifax.

UQTR Patriotes host the Montreal Carabins in a tight affair.

Omar Kreim, Sissoko’s teammate with the Montreal Carabins, is another player making the step up to the Canadian Premier League. Kreim, an out-and-out number ten, will add some much-needed creativity to a Halifax Wanderers side that scored the least amount of goals last season. For Kreim, it was only a matter of time before Montreal talent got the recognition it deserves.

Last season, the U Sports final was contested between the Montreal Carabins and the UQTR Patriotes, two Quebec-based sides. “It’s proof of our quality here.” said Sissoko. “If there’s a team in Quebec, we’ll have nothing to envy,” added the midfielder.

Kreim and Sissoko featured over 50 times in the midfield alongside one another, leading the Carabins to the U Sports title in 2018. For Kreim’s exploits, most notably an assist on the Carabins’ game-winning goal, he was named U Sports finals MVP. Halifax wasted no time acquiring the dynamic duo this off-season and will be hoping they can replicate their chemistry at Wanderers Ground. “They both have the quality and a good work ethic,” said Wanderers coach Stephen Hart about his side’s new additions. “I think having the right mentality is 85 per cent of the challenge,” said Hart.

Japan v Canada - U20 International Festival 2018
Halifax newcomer Daniel Kinumbe yet another Montreal export from this off-season.
Photo by Guillaume Ruoppolo/Icon Sport via Getty Images

There have been rumblings of Quebec getting a franchise, but until then, Halifax are making the most of it snapping up a plethora of Montreal-based talent. For Hart, it’s no coincidence these players are making the switch. “There’s a huge recognition of athletes here, whereas in Montreal, unless you play for the Canadiens it’s probably a little less so,” said Hart.

According to the veteran tactician, the influx of Quebec talent is like a domino effect. Once one player joins Halifax, others will want a similar opportunity, he says. “I think you have a huge market of players that have been through the academy, that are well-coached, and I think it worked out in such a way that they became available,” said Hart on the ongoing trend.

This off-season alone saw the arrivals of five more talents from la belle province, as Halifax look to improve on last season’s exploits, where they finished last. In their inaugural season, the Wanderers featured no less than four players with Montreal roots, indicating a greater pattern may be at play here. Hart, however, downplays the Halifax-Montreal link. “We target players that can play,” said Hart. “If they come from Montreal, so be it,” added the 59-year-old.

While the Halifax-Montreal connection may be an unspoken one for now, it’s ever-present within the club and has come to define the Wanderers’ growing roster. With the new season fast approaching, these talents will be eager to demonstrate that Quebec talent can go toe-to-toe with the league’s finest. “We’re going to do our best to represent Montreal, even here in Halifax,” concluded Sissoko.