Right Place, Right Time: Hojabrpour’s Path To CPL History
When Alessandro Hojabrpour headed in the title-winning goal at Tim Hortons Field on Sunday, he cemented a place for himself in Canadian Premier League history before leaving the pitch with a gold medal that would soon be coated with champagne.
The Burnaby-born youngster is one of Pacific’s originals, having arrived in January 2019 alongside his hometown familiars Terran Campbell and Matthew Baldisimo. The trio had developed in the Whitecaps Academy before all three had to play abroad to keep their careers afloat.
If you’d told him back then that in a few short years he’d be a title-winning midfielder in his own country, he’d probably wouldn’t have believed you. His pathway to the being in the right place at the right time in the 2021 CPL Final comes as a clear example of why the CPL is so important to the many young domestic athletes just like him.
When Hojabrpour departed from the Whitecaps in 2017, there wasn’t a domestic professional league around for the Canada U-17 midfielder to test himself in. Campbell and Baldisimo went to Vancouver’s USL affiliate in Fresno for a season apiece, but Hojabrpour departed to Bulgaria to develop with the U-19 squad of Lokomotiv Plovid instead.
His future looked set in Europe when his former coach with the VWFC Residency program – James Merriman, now an assistant at Pacific – texted him about the Canadian Premier League. “For the first couple texts back and forth, I was still in Bulgaria,” Hojabrpour told CanPL in 2019, “it was just premature talks at that point.”
When Christmas season rolled around and the CPL grew closer to launching, those texts got serious. Merriman asked if Alessandro would be on board to join him with newly-minted Pacific FC side out west.
Alessandro took Merriman up on his offer.
With the birth of the Canadian Premier League, a 19-year-old Alessandro Hojabrprour was unveiled as one of Pacific’s first five signings, though it took him some time to break into the roster under Silberbauer. He featured as a substitute in three of nine matches before Merriman sat him down and said he was going to push for Alessandro to get a starting spot against Valour.
Impressing when handed the opportunity, Alessandro proved to be a a smart tactician in his own right, making intelligent plays and distributing the ball well. After that match against Valour, he’s been a mainstay for the west coast side.
The arrival of head coach Pa-Modou Kah for the 2020 Canadian Premier League season didn’t disrupt his upwards trajectory, with Kah already knowing the youngster and Merriman remaining on the coaching staff throughout the transition. “I’ve watched this young man here grow,” said Kah this week, “I watched him play for the Whitecaps. I watched him go to Bulgaria and come back, keep growing and keep growing, and now he’s sitting here a champion.”
Kah showed faith in Alessandro since day one, deploying him in all ten matches at last year’s Island Games tournament. After that, it was no surprise to see the youngster re-sign for another year, with Alessandro then making 29 appearances across all competitions this season.
Hojabrpour has maintained his good passing rate througout the campaign, completing the fourth-most out of any Trident. He’s a top four club performer in blocks, interceptions, tackles, and clearances, though Kah is not one to hype a stat sheet. Statistically, Alessandro and his team were the underdogs en route to their title victory.
“This is why you play the game, to leave a legacy,” says Kah, “it is a part of the legacy that nobody will ever take away from them or this club. I know there was a lot of writing about the three-peat, but for us we know going into this game that it was our destiny to make history.”
Kah revealed after the match that Pacific FC had run that goalscoring set piece several times in training, with Hojabrpour making a decoy run. In the 59th minute of the final, however, things took a different spin as the midfielder connected with the ball and watched it soar beyond Triston Henry instead.
“I’ll be honest with you, I can’t believe I scored,” Alessandro laughs, “that was a real feeling, I flicked it, kind of looked behind and the ball was in the goal, and the first thing I saw was the guys on the bench and I ran up. I wasn’t thinking of anything, really. It is one of the greatest moments of my life so far.”
Yet, without the Canadian Premier League, such a moment would likely never have come, and the midfielder would have likely still be in the European lower leagues had he continued to pursue the professional game. Kah said it himself when he re-signed him earlier this year: “He is an example of a young Canadian player who is able to now play at home and develop in our environment.”
Now able to play in front of his family at home, he’s showing that players can reach great heights without going the full MLS route or spending their careers abroad. After dipping his toes in both, his own journey landed him right where he needed to be: near-post on a set piece against the run of the play.
Because of that, Pacific has itself a title.
I think everyone’s journey is a little different, and we all have to realize that there are so many players where not everyone can take the highway straight to the top. You have to go through different paths, and I’m super proud to be here. This is my path, and I’m super happy that Pacific trusted me for the last three years, and it’s paid off, right? Every journey is different.Alessandro Hojabrpour
Hojabrpour – much like his team’s goalscoring leader Terran Campbell – remains quiet and humble amidst his individual success. With his hushed demeanor, it’d be hard to know you were looking at Pacific FC’s third all-time appearance leader, who just bagged a title-winning goal after picking up a U-21 Canadian Player Of The Year nomination.
Burnaby’s own title winner becomes only the fifth CPL Finals goalscorer, and the very first one who doesn’t play for Forge FC: Tristan Borges and David Choiniere netted in the 2019 CPL Finals, while Alexander Achinioti-Jonsson and Maxim Tissot sunk Halifax last year.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” said the 21-year-old, “I don’t even know what to say, really.”
Kah surmised it well: “To his point, all paths in football are different. For us to sit here and say we are CPL champions, that is something that nobody can ever take away from us.”