Halifax, Nova Scotia - Aug 12, 2023: Canadian Premier League match between the HFX Wanderers FC and Vancouver FC at the Wanderers Grounds in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (Trevor MacMillan/HFX Wanderers FC)
‘I will cheer for Halifax forever’: retiring Wanderers star João Morelli says goodbye to Halifax
November 3, 2023
João Morelli is the Halifax Wanderers’ first superstar player.
The Brazilian attacker holds the club record for most goals scored and captured the attention of the entire Canadian Premier League with his MVP and Golden Boot 2021 campaign. But, more importantly for Morelli, he is a new father.
On Friday, Morelli announced that he is retiring from football and moving home to raise his young family in his native Brazil.
“My son is my priority, not my career, and it would be hard to combine the two and hard for us not to be in Brazil,” Morelli said. “The best option is staying home and enjoying growing up with my family and my wife’s family. But I want people to know this is a decision I am happy with and thought a lot about.”
Morelli’s impact on the club was instant. Becoming a Wanderer in 2020, he finished third in league scoring and combined with Halifax’s Golden Boot winner Akeem Garcia to lead the club to an appearance in the league final at The Island Games.
And he wasn’t done there. In 2021, Morelli scored 15 goals (14 in league play) and captured both the Canadian Premier League’s Golden Boot and Player of the Year awards. He looked set to defend that title in 2022 before an ACL injury in the second game of the season shut down Morelli’s campaign.
“As soon as I fell on the ground, I thought, maybe this is over, I thought I could never play again,” Morelli told CanPL.ca.”
Following surgery, Morelli continued to rehab his injury and also welcomed his son to the world. While he considered retirement in early 2023, there was a feeling of unfinished business. Morelli, set to turn 27, didn’t want an injury to be the defining moment that ended his football career.
“To prove I could play at the same level I was playing before and not being limited by my injury was something that I needed to do before I decided to stop playing,” Morelli said. “It was important for me and my mental health to not let that injury stop me and be frustrated for the rest of my life, so it was really good to come back and see that I could still be the same player before making this decision.”
In June, Morelli was cleared to play by doctors and quickly charted his path for a return to Halifax. He made his comeback complete in a CPL match on July 12 against Pacific FC. Within weeks of returning, Morelli had found the back of the net, slotting the ball into the bottom corner of the goal on July 30 against York United FC. Fittingly, York Lions stadium was the last place Morelli had scored a goal over a year earlier.
But it was an afternoon in August that will go down as a defining moment of Morelli’s career and an occasion where everything came full circle. On August 12, Morelli was in the starting lineup at the Wanderers Grounds against Vancouver FC. For the first time, his wife, Bruna, and son, Filippo, were in Halifax to watch Morelli play in person. Filippo joined his father out onto the pitch for the national anthem before joining Bruna in the Wanderers box.
And it would only take five minutes for a vintage Morelli moment. Andre Rampersad floated in a cross that the Brazilian hit perfectly with a volley to give Halifax an early lead. Morelli ran straight to his family’s seats in the Wanderers box to celebrate with them. He would add a second goal in a 3-0 Wanderers win to cap off an unforgettable afternoon for the Morelli’s.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a father and always dreamed of walking on the pitch with my son. And that was a special day, I scored two goals. And he won’t remember it, but I’ll make sure I’ll show him the videos a few times. I’m pretty sure he’s gonna love it. Maybe he’ll follow my steps, who knows. But it was really special, like having him and my wife there in the stadium. A place that I enjoyed being the most in my career. So it was really special.”
Morelli also reclaimed his title as the Wanderers’ all-time leading goal-scorer that afternoon when he potted the match-winner. A calf injury limited his availability late in the season, but Morelli managed to score four times over nine appearances to end his career with 24 goals as a Halifax Wanderer.
Having been a part of the revamped 2023 team under Patrice Gheisar, Morelli is excited to see what the future holds for the club. He is honoured by his place in the club’s history books but doesn’t think it will take long for a new face to emerge, as he did, and get the fans on their feet.
“I want someone to break that record in a short time because I know the Wanderers are growing, and the improvement in the quality is unbelievable. It’s nice to have now, and it’s not easy to score that many goals, so it’s nice to be a part of it and hopefully be remembered by the club and the fans.”
For Morelli, Halifax will hold a special place in his heart. He credits the move to Canada with finding a home away from home after years in Europe away from his own family. And while it is a goodbye for now, Morelli envisions a return to Halifax in the coming years.
“I want to thank everyone. My time in Halifax was amazing,” Morelli said. “All the fans were really nice and always supported us through the good and the bad. I will cheer for Halifax forever.”
“Halifax will be a place that I’ll take my son to again and maybe watch a game in the new stadium,” Morelli said. “It’s a special place in my life and where I felt the happiest in my career, so I will remember that time forever.”