After European rollercoaster, Easton Ongaro lands latest chance at Vancouver Whitecaps
VANCOUVER - As far as professional soccer careers go, there aren’t many more interesting ones in the Canadian soccer scene right now than Easton Ongaro’s, who at just 24 years of age, has already lived through quite a rollercoaster ride of a career.
Because of that, he’s become one of the more interesting names to keep an eye on in Canadian soccer right now, currently cutting his teeth in the Vancouver Whitecaps organization, having recently joined their MLS Next Pro side earlier this year as a free agent, and earning a call-up to the senior team soon after.
There, he’s quickly established himself as a player to watch for the Whitecaps, who have been quite pleased with what the 6’6” Ongaro has brought to their team, making him a shrewd pick-up, one who many have high hopes for in the future.
“Yeah, I'm enjoying it,” Ongaro told OneSoccer this week of his time so far in Vancouver. “It’s a very professional organization, one that's been around for a number of years, and they do things right here, so I've enjoyed it.”
Yet, it wasn’t always supposed to happen this way for Ongaro.
Four years ago, having turned 20 a few months prior, Ongaro had just wrapped up his second season with the University of Alberta Golden Bears, where he had scored an impressive 16 goals and added four assists in just 15 games, doing well to build off of a freshman campaign where he had five goals and four assists in 14 games.
Yet, despite that, there weren’t many options to push to another level for the Edmonton native, whose best option looked like to finish his degree and keep on racking up the goals in USports, before likely having to call it quits once he was done, unfortunately following the desolate path of many top USports standouts before him.
But all of a sudden, there was the creation of the Canadian Premier League, which had been founded a year prior, giving him an option to not just play professionally, but do so in his home country, too.
Through that, thanks to the introduction of the CPL-USports draft, he was then chosen by Cavalry FC in the third round, and while he didn’t end up sticking around with the club, instead signing with his hometown’s FC Edmonton, which allowed him to become a fully-fledged professional soccer player less than a year removed from his breakout sophomore campaign.
From there, the rest is history, as he then would go on to score 25 goals across 57 games in three seasons with Edmonton, becoming one of the more prolific strikers in the league right from year one, doing well to capitalize on the opportunity the CPL gave him.
Instead of succumbing to the fate that many top university standouts had to face before, such as his cousin, former Canadian youth international Justin Ongaro, Ongaro instead was able to push to where he is, proving the value of the CPL.
“I've said it many times, but if it wasn't for the CPL, if it wasn't for FC Edmonton, I wouldn't be a professional footballer right now,” Ongaro admitted. “I mean, there was that gap between Canadian University and the professional game before, and the CPL kind of filled that, giving players like myself an opportunity to start a career, so I'm extremely grateful for that, and it was obviously a great experience, one that was very special for me.”
But that’s just a reflection of what the CPL has been able to provide players since its creation, both in terms of an opportunity to play professionally, but as well as be a springboard to other leagues, something that has become especially true with some of the moves that the league has been able to witness this summer.
“Yeah, I mean, it's only been four years, and yet it's incredible how far they've come (as a league),” Ongaro said. “I mean, the number of players that are getting moves now, (having gone) from starting their careers not being professional, instead being amateurs, to now making serious moves into serious leagues, it's great to see, and it's only going to grow from there.”
And speaking of those moves, Ongaro was actually one of the beneficiaries of such a move earlier this year.
Having attracted European and North American interest over the past few years as he racked up the goals, which even led him to have a short stint in the Danish second division back in 2020/2021, he finally decided to make a permanent move abroad at the beginning of 2022, joining top-flight Romanian side, UTA Arad.
There, it was seen as a huge move for both Ongaro and the CPL, as he was joining a club in a league ranked 25th in UEFA’s country coefficients, making it a very exciting move for the prolific striker.
So despite strong interest from the Whitecaps, who were also eager to bring him into their side, he packed his bags and headed to Eastern Europe, beginning what he had hoped would be a long European adventure.
“Yeah, after my last season with Edmonton, I had some conversations with Vancouver, and was about to come here, actually, with their MLS next pro side,” Ongaro explained. “But then I had an offer from Romania, and all things considered, it seemed like the right move for me at the time, a new experience, something out of my comfort zone.”
There, he did well for himself, too, scoring in just his third appearance for the club, doing well to carve out a role as a super sub, one that seemed on the cusp of breaking through as a full-fledged starter, which would’ve been great news for him.
Easton Ongaro is off the mark in 🇷🇴— Alexandre Gangué-Ruzic (@AlexGangueRuzic) February 18, 2022
The 23 y/o FW scored his 1st goal for UTA Arad today, and it was a big one, helping them rescue a point off the bench in a 1-1 draw
Here it is. Lovely left footed finish to bury home
He’s one to watch for the #CanMNTpic.twitter.com/5cmnDSEykI
Then, all of a sudden, that quickly changed, however, as he mysteriously dropped out of the team as they started to battle relegation. Next thing you know, he was training in Canada with Edmonton again, before heading over to Vancouver to train with League 1 BC’s TSS Rovers and then the Whitecaps, making some wonder what the heck had happened to him.
But for those wondering, while the experience was great in Romania on the field, things had quietly soured off of it, as payments stopped coming through to Ongaro, leading to a whole host of other problems off the field.
So while he would’ve liked to stay in Romania, where he could’ve continued to carve out a name for himself, even potentially putting his name in the CanMNT fold, it just didn’t make sense for him to stick through that, leading him to revisit that Vancouver interest.
“Things weren't ideal there in terms of getting paid on time and those sorts of things, so it made sense to come back to Canada and get into a more comfortable environment, one where hopefully I can flourish,” Ongaro said of his move back to Canada.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t grateful for his time in Europe, even if it didn’t end the way that he would’ve liked it to in the end.
“Yeah, everything, whether it's good or bad, it's an experience, and you learn a lot from it,” Ongaro offered. “The level there was very good, I played in some beautiful stadiums, with some really good players. And I enjoyed myself there in the football sense, and learned a lot and experienced a lot.”
And having gotten a taste of what it takes to succeed at the top level, that has only made Ongaro hungrier to now strive for more as he cuts his teeth back in Canada once again.
Right from the get-go, he’s impressed the Whitecaps with his work ethic and hunger to succeed, slotting seamlessly into their second team, who despite their standing as a top-five team in the league, have embraced having a striker like Ongaro around.
Thrust into a leadership role on a young side, he’s quickly repaid their faith in him, too, nabbing three goals in his first three games with the club, showing the form that got him noticed with Edmonton.
Paying forward what he learned in his time in the CPL and Europe, he’s been a welcome mentor for the young Whitecaps, many of whom will want to use his story as an inspiration to keep working and putting themselves out there.
“Yeah, I think this is the first time in my career where I have to kind of take a leadership role, I'm one of the older players in the squad, and I've got a bit of experience now,” Ongaro said. “And I kind of need to help the younger players and give them an idea of what it's like to be a professional footballer, because, for a lot of them, this is their first year. On top of that, I need to score goals and help the team win games as best I can.”
And the greatest thing about Ongaro’s story? Despite the many twists and turns that he’s already faced at such a young age, he’s still far from done writing the book that is his career, either, already focusing on the next chapter with Vancouver.
Signed with Vancouver’s second team through the rest of this season, he’s eager to show the Whitecaps' first-team brass that he’s worth taking a flier on next year, giving them enough incentive to make a long-term investment in. And this week, he’s already gotten proof that so far he’s doing a pretty good job of that.
With the Whitecaps currently facing a rash of suspended and injured strikers, they’re dipping into the second team to help fill their squad for their upcoming MLS match, a trip to the famed LA Galaxy. As a result, Ongaro has signed a short-term loan for that game, giving him a chance to potentially make his MLS debut as soon as this weekend, showing that his hard work has already paid off.
There, he’d certainly take a big step toward that goal, marking the latest twist in his fun journey towards where he is today.
Yet, that’s a fair reflection of what Ongaro’s career has been so far. It hasn’t always been conventional, but no matter what happens, he’s going to keep approaching it with the right attitude, sticking with the formula that has worked for him to date.
“Yeah, obviously it's something I'm working towards,” Ongaro said of cracking the Whitecaps' first team permanently. “That's why I came here, that's where my mind's at, and I’m working every day to try and earn that opportunity.”