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Akeem Garcia of the HFX Wanderers is denied by York United keeper Nikolaos Giantsopoulos during a Canadian Premier League match on June 4th 2022 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Akeem Garcia watches nearly every Halifax Wanderers match.

He’s been busy as a staff coach with Suburban FC, a role he took on last year after deciding to step away from professional football, but makes the time to watch his former club whenever he can.

When he stepped away, his accolades included scoring the first ever goal for the Wanderers, winning the Golden Boot at the Island Games and holding the club’s scoring record with 21 tallies across all competitions.

Former teammate and friend João Morelli has since broken his goal scoring record and sits atop the chart with 24 goals.

“He really deserves it and I’m happy for him. I’m really happy for him,” said Garcia during an interview with the Wanderers Notebook.

Having had an ACL injury himself, Garcia knows the hardships Morelli has endured throughout his rehabilitation process; he missed nearly two years of football with his own injury.

To see Morelli came back and become the record holder, said Garcia, is special given their bond.

“First of all, João is an amazing person. He’s been with the team three years now. The first year he came, he made an impact immediately. He pushed me, of course, in 2020 and we had a great partnership,” he said. “Every time he’s on the pitch, you can see his confidence and attitude. He deserves (the record) because he works so hard.”

This season has been a rollercoaster for Morelli because, at one point, he wasn’t sure he’d ever play professional football again. Now, he finds himself back on the pitch scoring important goals as the Wanderers compete for a playoff spot.

But the challenges Morelli faced in his recovery cannot be overstated.

“It was really hard. I thought (my career) was going to stop, I’m not going to lie,” he said after his first goal for the club in 479 days. “My wife and kid supported me a lot, man. It’s great to be back.”

Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar and his staff have been very deliberate in their use of the Brazilian star and their plan has paid off; Morelli has scored four goals and added three assists in eight matches, looking every bit the fantastic footballer he was pre-injury.

Garcia said he recently spoke with Morelli to congratulate him on the twin achievements of returning and scooping up the scoring record.

“We’ll always be friends. He’s an amazing person and an amazing guy,” he said.

Morelli sits first atop the Wanderers goal scoring chart with 24; Garcia is second with 21; Samuel Salter is third with 15 and there is a four way tie between Aidan Daniels, Massimo Ferrin, Cory Bent and Luis Perea with five goals.

Learning the coaching ropes

This year as been one of transition for Garcia as he learns the ins and outs of coaching.

When the opportunity presented itself last year, he said he wanted to explore another part of the game he loves but hasn’t ruled out playing again.

“It’s worked out, honestly, just the way I wanted,” said Garcia.

One thing he’s noticed is he finds it hard not to be in control of the ball.

“Sometimes, I get a little more anxious than I’m used to. As a player, I’m calm but now that you’re the coach, you just wish you could go on the pitch. But it’s good, I’m loving it and working with the different age groups,” he said.

He noted he was always surprised by players’ reactions to him as a former Wanderer; there’s a sense of wonderment and excitement from the kids at having a former professional coaching them.

But as much as he loves coaching, Garcia said he’d be lying if he didn’t miss the adrenaline of walking out at the Wanderers Grounds.

“I’ve always wanted the best for the club. The people in the organization have always wanted the best for me. Watching the first game, I was like man, it was an instant missing of it,” he said, adding distance has given him perspective on how special it was to play for Halifax. “For me, watching from the outskirts, you appreciate playing at the Wanderers Grounds more.”

Given he’s played with several players on the roster, Garcia said he tries to stay in touch but is enjoying being a fan of the club. He’s been impressed by Gheisar and his staff and the quick turnaround from last season’s woes.

The future, he said, is exciting.

“I’ve been following them and loved how they’ve played this season. I’ll always support the club,” he said.

SOURCE: The Wanderers Notebook