He wasn’t the first, nor was he the biggest name in the Canadian Premier League to switch teams this past off-season.
Still, Elliot Simmons’ choice to head westward from Halifax to and sign with Cavalry FC in February was an impactful one.
Just as José Hernández had done before him, Simmons took what could only be described as a step up within the CPL, to a club that had dominated his former team during the 2019 campaign.
“I think maybe towards the end of the season our results were showing that we weren’t really known for winning games or playing attractive football and all that,” Simmons told CanPL.ca of his decision to leave HFX Wanderers FC.
“I knew where I stood with the club as well; moving forward I think having an opportunity to come here and be on — well they were last year — a winning side, was gonna be great for my development.”
Simmons was quick to point out that he enjoyed his time in Halifax, stating that it was a very important chapter in his career. The Englishman, who lived for in Stittsville, Ont., for close to six years before returning to Europe at age 11, came back to Canada to play for the Wanderers in their inaugural CPL season.
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He made 17 appearances in all for the Maritime club, showing an impressive amount of poise and skill on the ball for a 21-year-old. Although he wasn’t always a regular starter for HFX (injuries played a role there as well), Simmons proved to be a gifted passer, able to cut through defensive lines with a good ball, and cut off passes to win back possession.
Still, he wanted more. He looked at the 2019 standings, seeing Cavalry and HFX at opposite ends.
“When we all went to Cavalry for away games, we always said they’ve got a great fanbase, and it was a real hard team to break down,” he recalled. “They played great football, it was always a side that was very attractive. It was almost the side that you wished you were on for a lot of the games we played against them.”
More than a year removed from returning to Canada, Simmons is happy with his choices. Having played all over Europe — England, Spain, Sweden, Finland — he sought a place where he could be sure of first-team senior football, rather than a reserve squad spot.
“Being out in Sweden and going to Finland on loan, it was an eye-opener that youth football is very different to men’s football, where you’re playing for points,” he explained.
“I’ve always had an eye on what’s happening in Canada, and the way things were upcoming and advertised, the first of its kind, it was always very attractive to come back.”
Simmons added that returning to an English-speaking environment was also a major draw for him.
“Coming over here and playing first-team football has always ticked all the boxes,” he said.
Now, the next challenge will be fighting for his place in the crowded Cavalry midfield. Of course, with Julian Büscher leaving the club this past winter, a central midfielder such as Simmons is particularly useful. Still, he needs to compete against Elijah Adekugbe and Bruno Zebie — not to mention the captain Nik Ledgerwood — for his spot.
“I think for any player that’s the atmosphere you want because it’s always gonna get the best out of you and bring out maybe the stuff you didn’t know you had,” Simmons said.
“It’s got to push you to go up another gear. If you’re not outside your comfort zone, or in that environment where you’re competing for minutes and competing for a place, then I think you’ve got to look at yourself and think, is that the environment that I want to be in?”