It’s a surname that carries a lot of weight in Canadian soccer — and, especially in Edmonton.
And when you’re part of arguably Edmonton’s first family of soccer, the name on the back of the jersey gives you instant recognizability.
Easton Ongaro is doing just fine. He’s scored in FC Edmonton’s previous two matches. He headed home the equalizer against Forge FC and scored the opener in a 2-0 win over HFX Wanderers. The game against Wanderers was the six-foot-six striker’s first start.
He is the nephew of Ross Ongaro, who wore the Edmonton Drillers’ colours back in the days of the original NASL, when player wore short shorts and looked like they should be playing bass in Foreigner. Ross would go onto a successful indoor soccer career, and would eventually coach Canada’s national futsal team. He also spent time coaching both the indoor Edmonton Drillers of the National Professional Soccer League, the circuit with the three-point goals and two-point goals. He also coached the Edmonton Aviators of the USL’s top league, known as the A-League, back in 2004. He’s also coached China’s beach soccer program.
Easton is the cousin of Jordan Ongaro, who in 2013 led the PAC-10 in scoring when he was with San Diego State University. He also played for the national U-17 and U-20 teams, and with the Canadian futsal program as well. Jordan was selected by the Montreal Impact in the MLS Superdraft and then later trialled for, yup, FC Edmonton.
Justin Ongaro, another cousin, played at Southern Methodist University and Eatern Illinois.
Easton led Canada West in scoring back in 2018, notching 16 goals in 14 games for the University of Alberta. And, though his progress this year was slowed by a broken hand suffered in the spring, he’s now becoming one of the most-talked about players in the CPL, because of his almost freakish combination of good, quick, feet and size.
Ongaro says he doesn’t see his surname as a burden.
“No, not necessarily,” he said after an FCE training session, as the team prepped for Saturday’s match against Pacific FC. “I think it’s helped me at times. Having a bit of a name, getting me opportunities. At the same time, it’s something you are proud of, growing up with my whole family in sports, basically. It’s definitely pushed me and given me an idea of how far I can go with it.”
“He’s handled it really well,” FCE coach Jeff Paulus said of his striker. “His uncle Ross, with the career he’s had and how influential he’s been in the soccer community here in this city. That family name has been around the sport for what seems like forever — certainly longer than I’ve been in Edmonton. And he’s got some very good cousins who also play — Jordan and Justin — they’re both fantastic players… To come in as a young kid, he’s a bit reserved, but to come in and have that name on the back of your jersey, playing at home, there’s already high expectations. But he’s managed it so well. He’s very calm; this is a kid that’s just flatline. He’s even. He doesn’t have these emotional highs and lows.”
Before Easton signed with the Eddies, he spoke with Jordan about the opportunity to play professionally in their hometown. And, ironically, Easton understands that, had the CPL been around five years earlier, it would have been the perfect place for Jordan to begin a professional career. Even though Jordan had a massive NCAA reputation, he didn’t get into MLS or NASL; had there been a CPL back then, you’d have to think there would have been room at the inn for a guy who led one of the top soccer conferences in America in scoring.
“I talked to him a lot about it,” said Easton. “It was unfortunate for him. He had things going for him really well and it just kind of went downhill. He’s always been super supportive and giving me the best advice he could. He’s definitely got experience in the game and he’s been successful. He definitely told me just to do my best and that if I’m good enough, things will happen for me.”
Paulus had planned to start Ongaro as early as May 18, a road date against Cavalry FC. But in the days leading up to Al Classico, Ongaro broke his hand — and it delayed his chance to make an impact on the CPL.
“I was just unlucky, right before the Cavalry game, one I was looking to start in,” said Ongaro. “Broke the hand and it set me back about a month. And then trying to get fit again, that’s hard. But I think everything happens for a reason, it’s all going well now. I could look back and be upset about it, but I can’t complain now.”