Magic For Morelli: CPL Talisman Bags First Goal Since Injury
It had been 470 days since Halifax’s star talisman Joao Morelli went down clutching his knee at TD Place, signaling an early end to his 2022 CPL season and a long road to recovery ahead.
The 27-year-old was cleared to return last month after undergoing both knee surgery and a long rehabilitative process in his native Brazil, signing a new deal with the Halifax Wanderers and – last night – scoring his first goal since coming back from injury with a clinical finish against York United.
“It feels great,” said an emotional Joao after the match. “As I said, my recovery was so hard – it’s hard to think back and remember all the things I’ve been through. I told Kristian and I said to the boys before the game, this is where I scored my last goal, and I thought it would be the last goal of my career for a long time.”
Joao has been eager for minutes on the pitch following his return, but the Sao Paulo-born forward has had to be patient with the club in good form. He had come off the bench as a second half substitute in the last three matches, but came on in the first half yesterday following a nasty collision that saw both Theo Collomb and Jonathan Grant substituted on concussion protocol.
“For me as a player, it’s easier to play more minutes in the beginning than coming on in the last thirty. It’s a different intensity, you come on and its chaotic sometimes. I felt great, and I think I’m ready for at least 60-70 minutes, so I’ll be telling the coach I’m an option to start.”
The Brazilian had a few chances of his own, and so did a few of his teammates – Joao believes they could have put much more than two beyond opposition goalkeeper Niko Giantsopoulos, and suggested that finishing will be a priority in training this week. All the same, Patrice Gheisar was all smiles at the final whistle.
When Morelli played under previous Halifax boss Stephen Hart, his versatility was on display through moments as an attacking midfielder or secondary striker. Last night, he was up top as a false nine – a position that made a lot of sense for him as he eases back into things.
“I feel like the false nine is a position where it’s easier for me to come back,” stated the player. “It’s a little bit less defending than playing in the middle, and I think my best quality is showing up in the pockets and keeping the ball. That’s what we needed today, and that’s what the coach wanted me to do. I felt like when I came on we kept the ball a little bit more.”
Joao’s first goal of the season – and one he thought may never come – has now tied him as the club’s top-ever goalscorer alongside Akeem Garcia. Both players have tallied 20, though with the latter out of the professional game Joao will be expected to take the crown for himself in relatively short order.
“I didn’t even remember that record, but it feels good now that you say it,” laughed Joao. “Until someone breaks it again, your name is on the top, so it’s really nice. I love this club, I love this city, and I love Canada, so it feels really good.”
At the start of the season, fans would have been forgiven for thinking Joao’s time in the game was up: having returned to Brazil for his lengthy rehabilitation process, he became a father and seemed to be dipping his toes outside of the professional game. At that point, even the club called his return to Halifax just ‘a possibility‘, leveraging the possibility of an early career end for a player once earmarked by Kaka as ‘one for the future’.
Thankfully, the stars aligned for Morelli’s long-awaited return last month, and he’s making good progress getting back into the swing of things. The Brazilian may have returned to a much-transformed roster with a new head coach at the helm of things, but he likes what he’s seen so far.
“The difference in the club is massive. Starting from the players, we see a lot of quality and more…not even experience, because they are really young, I think the second-youngest in the league. They are players who have played in good places before, and the coach is really passionate about the game. He is literally coaching us every single thing that we have to do on the pitch. One meter for him matters for positioning, so he wants you to make 100% the right thing. It’s a good thing to have him here, he’s very tactical and he’s helping us.”
There’s no doubt that the fast-footed and clinical Morelli seems a great fit under how Patrice Gheisar likes to play: he likes to play on the front foot and catch opponents out quickly, and that’s something the squad has bought in to. Morelli arrived late, but he’s firmly in that same camp.
“Joao is a big part of this team,” said the gaffer himself. “I was proud of him. I think if it was Joao in mid-August, he’d have scored a hat trick today. He had those two chances where he was trying to find his legs, but the calm and composure he brought and his ability to stay on the ball – we had some magical moments.”
“Joao’s leadership, class, and the way he finished that goal – a lot of people who missed their previous chance will put their head down, but Joao is never that guy. We’re very happy to have him. It’s good to see him going.”
Joao and the Wanderers are climbing back up the league table, with last night’s seeing them leapfrog both York United and Atletico Ottawa in the standings. Now resting fourth, they host a coastal clash against league leaders Pacific next Monday.
Header Image Photo Credit: John Jacques