BURNABY, B.C. – Ask Pacific FC’s Alessandro Hojabrpour to recall the various household casualties from years of playing soccer around the house, and he will easily reel off a long list.
“Glasses, vases,” the 19-year-old defensive midfielder recalled. “There’s been water spilled on the ground. Plants that have been shot off. Anything you can imagine (has) been broken, probably.”
Such was life in South Burnaby, growing up with an Italian mother, Teresa, and soccer-loving Iranian father, Payman. Burke Street was a quiet place, tucked between Boundary Road and Willingdon Avenue, blocks away from Central Park and Swanguard Stadium. Quiet enough to notice the Sunday traffic from the nearby church, about the only traffic there ever was, and quiet enough to hear the crash of a soccer ball kicked across the living room.
“The whole house was a free-for-all with my dad,” Hojabrpour laughed. “I mean, now, my control is probably a little better than it was, so I’m not breaking things, but we always had a room downstairs that, actually, at one point had a hockey net inside the house that me and my dad would play (with).
“There was always a ball within reach.”
There is soccer devotion, and then there is Payman Hojabrpour.
“My dad’s dream was originally to be a soccer player, so I guess as soon as I was able to walk on my own, he kinda implanted it in me,” Hojabrpour said.
But fandom alone does not create a story like Hojabrpour’s, one of the biggest breakthroughs from Pacific FC’s inaugural season. He’s third in minutes played on Pacific since June 20, and top five on the club in passing accuracy all season (84.43 per cent).
That demands a spark of another kind. Cue the Coquitlam Metro-Ford Soccer Club.
‘One of the best coaches I’ve ever been coached by’
Glance around Pacific FC’s practice pitch on any given day, and it would be near-impossible not to spot a former product of the Vancouver Whitecaps system. The Whitecaps’ Residency program’s history looms large in British Columbia, its reach seemingly as wide as the Coastal Mountains that run from Greater Vancouver to the Yukon Plateau.
“It’s kind of weird, because we all say we played with the Whitecaps, but there’s this one, two-year age gap that (didn’t) really allow us to play with each other,” Hojabrpour explained. “So like, Terran (Campbell), Baldi (Matthew Baldisimo), and Kadin (Chung) were always two years ahead … Same with Noah (Verhoeven).”
Hojabrpour had already been a part of Whitecaps Prospects program. But after getting released three years in, he found himself in search of new surroundings. Enter Coquitlam Metro-Ford and coach Bob Rosenlund.
“One of the best coaches I’ve ever been coached by,” the Burnaby native stated.
Rosenlund was akin to soccer royalty in Vancouver. A former firefighter and captain with the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, he was drafted by the New York Cosmos in 1982, playing in the old North American Soccer League.
“We played a year up for an entire season, and we went undefeated,” Hojabrpour said. “We won five tournaments in the summer, including two in the U.S., both in a ‘99 age group with the whole team being (born in) 2000.”
By 2012, Hojabrpour was back with the Whitecaps – this time, in the club’s new residency program. But his next leap would come across the Atlantic Ocean.
When Hojabrpour first traveled to Bulgaria, he thought it would be for fun, never mind the thought of signing with Lokomotiv Plovdiv’s under-19 team. Never mind the thought of getting on a plane to Europe and not returning.
“We went, just a bunch of players from Vancouver went to Bulgaria for a mini-tournament,” he recalled. “There just happened to be the (Lokomotiv) director in the crowd watching the game, and he talked to one of our coaches, and he said, ‘Is there a chance that he wants to stay? Does he want to pursue a career in Europe, or try to at least?’”
Then just 17 years old, Hojabrpour mulled it over. Bulgaria was a long way from Burnaby – a 14-hour flight, at minimum. There were layovers in between. Time zones – so many time zones – to consider when calling home. But professional offers are fleeting.
“I thought it over one night, and I said, ‘You know what? These chances don’t come to many players. I’m going to try. I’ll stay,’” Hojabrpour said. “I was actually supposed to go home that summer, and I never went home.”
From 2017 until 2019, Hojabrpour played with Plovdiv’s U-19 side. But the thought of returning to Canada never left his mind. And though a return seemed difficult at first – there were contract wrinkles to iron – things began to look more promising. Especially when a text message came from out of the blue.
Visit CanPL.ca later this week to read Part 2 of Martin Bauman’s profile on Alessandro Hojabrpour.