The past eight months were a bit of a roller-coaster for João Morelli, although the first few months probably moved quite slowly.
In that span, the Brazilian arrived in Canada for the first time, joined his HFX Wanderers FC teammates, got stuck quarantining in a new city, and scored four goals in nine games en route to a CPL Finals appearance at The Island Games.
Now, having returned to his native São Paulo to kick back a little after a whirlwind of an introduction to the Canadian Premier League, Morelli is looking back on his first visit to Canada with a great deal of fondness.
Morelli was immediately embraced by Wanderers fans in Halifax, which was a welcome surprise for him after some tough times in Europe. He certainly embraced the city and club back, saying the environment made it a lot easier for him to settle into a new lifestyle, especially during his COVID-19 self-isolation.
“People in Halifax, they’re really nice. I don’t know about the other places because I haven’t been yet, but everywhere we go in Halifax they made us feel comfortable. They’re always hyping you up, they always think you’re the best player, always think you’re the best team,” Morelli told CanPL.ca.
“It helps on the pitch, when the tournament started and I saw all the fans posting and sending messages every single game before the game, it is really good.
“And the club, from our kit-man to (owner Derek Martin), everyone is really nice and helps you. I can’t complain about anything; I had hard times in Europe because people weren’t as nice, and then I come to Canada and people treat you like you deserve, because you’re playing for the shirt and stuff. This is what made me happy, and makes me feel like I want to stay there for as long as I can.”
It’s time to see the fam, good to know I have two homes now and I’ll be back to this one in a bit! Brazil, here I go 🇧🇷🙏🏼
Although Morelli mentioned he hasn’t yet spoken much to the club about 2021, his plan is to be back and (hopefully) play in front of the Halifax fans at Wanderers Ground.
Part of what made Morelli’s showing with the Wanderers so special in 2020 was the connection he’d seemed to magically create with fellow attacking star Akeem Garcia. The pair — along with other attackers such as Alessandro Riggi and Alex Marshall — played in lockstep toward the end of The Island Games, as though they’d been teammates for years, and not just a handful of games.
It stems from the very beginning of training camp, according to Morelli. When he arrived in Halifax at the beginning of March, Riggi was injured and Marshall hadn’t yet come to Canada; so, it was he and Garcia that bonded tightly.
“Me and Akeem from the beginning, we started this connection playing with each other,” Morelli said. “In games I’d just look at him and I’d know what he’s gonna do, and it’s like the opposite is the same.
“You feel really comfortable to play with players like that. They want your best on the pitch too, so they’re not selfish. None of us are selfish, I wanted Akeem to be the top scorer. This is what makes a very good team.”
Morelli later added: “Our friendship is really, really, strong; people don’t understand how strong it is. We don’t only talk about this because it sounds nice, it’s really good to play with friends. It’s impressive, I’ve never seen something like that before. We’ve known each other for seven months now, and we started really building this friendship from the beginning.”
Morelli and Garcia, along with their fellow attackers and captain Andre Rampersad amid a breakout season, came together to form one of the most entertaining attacks in the CPL this year. Garcia, for his part, recently told CanPL.ca that he never doubted the Wanderers could be a top side at The Island Games. Morelli, who knew very little about the other CPL sides heading into the tournament, was a little confused at seeing other clubs rated so much higher than his own.
“Everyone was talking like we wouldn’t even make the top four,” he said. “I was like, maybe the other teams are much better, I don’t know. I felt that we could do it, because our training sessions were very good. I’ve played in different places too, so I was thinking there was no way we couldn’t make it.”
Although the Wanderers did exceed general expectations (meeting Morelli’s own, of course), the Brazilian was still impressed with the quality of the other sides. Having played in some well-established leagues, including a stint in the Estonian top flight and a strong showing over two years at Middlesbrough FC’s reserve side, Morelli saw a lot to like about playing in Canada.
“No one knows football in Canada, it’s new, and they think it’s like university level,” he said. “But coming from Europe, even playing for Middlesbrough, the level in Canada is really good. People don’t understand that, the potential this league has is incredible. I say that to everyone, to my family and friends, I think in a couple of years the league is gonna be really big in Canada and North America.”
It sounds like Morelli himself is hoping to be right there with the rest of his Wanderers teammates to experience that growth firsthand.