No footballer’s first trip away from home is ever easy — even less so during a global pandemic.
Easton Ongaro learned that first-hand over the past few months, as he set off for Denmark after FC Edmonton’s campaign at The Island Games came to a close. The towering Eddies striker went out on loan to second-tier side Vendsyssel FF, where he slotted almost immediately into the starting 11 for a side that was battling injuries and trying to avoid relegation.
“I got there and the team had quite a few guys injured, and not many players healthy. I think my third day there, I was right into the lineup in a cup match,” Ongaro told CanPL.ca.
Vendsyssel lost that game, quite badly. But still, Ongaro was glad to be involved so soon into his first ever foray overseas. He explained that, if he hadn’t been so lucky, trying to force his way into the squad might’ve been difficult.
“Doing it that way, you’re just instantly comfortable, you’re gelling with the guys already,” he said. “It becomes normal, whereas maybe if I was just training and not getting minutes yet, and really had to work my way in, then it might’ve been a bit harder for me mentally.”
The Alberta native ended up playing eight times for Vendsyssel during his tenure there (it would’ve been more had the club not gone through a COVID-19 shutdown in November). By the time the club released him, allowing Ongaro to return to FC Edmonton, he had just scored his first two goals in Denmark in his final two games for Vendsyssel.
According to Ongaro, it’s always a matter of time before the floodgates open. Had he remained there a little longer, Ongaro might’ve continued his red-hot scoring pace.
“It’s kind of a way I’ve always been, just a matter of time until I find my feet and start scoring goals, and then once I do I usually have the confidence where it just keeps happening and I just get on a roll with it,” he said. “I think that was definitely the case over there; the first month and a half there I was kind of trying to adjust and get used to it — I mean, even just playing on grass is not something I’ve ever really done before growing up in Canada. It’s a different style of play, and I was just trying to get comfortable there.
“Once you start feeling a bit of confidence and realizing that you can compete at this level and you can perform, the goals start going in and you start performing better.”
Although his attacking breakout was cut short, Ongaro said he’s grateful for his first opportunity abroad. According to him, the eight games he played in Denmark taught him a lot, and served only to add to his desire to move to a higher level from the CPL.
“I grew up my whole life here, and this is really all I knew. Getting an opportunity to go overseas and get that experience in Europe, I mean it’s something you always dream of as a kid, especially growing up in Canada being a footballer,” he said.
“I think it was very motivating for me to get out there and kind of see, you’re still so far from the top and where you want to be, but you kind of realize that maybe it’s not as far as you once thought. You’re playing with guys that have played at higher levels and have played with great players and have experience, and you start to realize that with a good work ethic and consistency, there’s a chance that you can reach those higher levels, and it’s not that far away.”
Ongaro certainly had teammates at Vendsyssel who have experience around Europe; fellow attacker Tiémoko Konaté had played in the UEFA Champions League for Sparta Prague, and midfielder Morten Knudsen came from Inter Milan’s reserve side, to name a few.
So, the experience abroad has given Ongaro a new perspective upon returning to Edmonton. He’s keen on moving up in the footballing world, and he’s pretty confident that he can do that from FCE.
Of course, a lot changed for the Eddies in the time he was away. Ongaro returns to a club with a new coach, several new faces in the squad, and an altogether new outlook on life. Ongaro’s excited about that, too, and he’s happy with his first impression of new boss Alan Koch.
“Everyone’s really excited for just a change,” he said. “I think we needed a bit of a transition, a new voice, and someone that’s gonna really push us to be the best team we can be. We’ve got a lot of new guys coming in, a lot of changes, and I think the overall impression is that this is our chance to really prove something.
“Especially after last year, we didn’t have a good performance, we were very disappointed with ourselves. This year we know we have a lot to prove and we’re ready to prove it. I think Alan is the perfect voice and leader for this kind of transition.”
Ongaro is expected to be the centrepiece of Edmonton’s attack this year, and he’ll hope to be challenging for the Golden Boot again in 2021, as he did in 2019. Certainly, if he returns to form as one of the CPL’s top young goal-scorers, he’ll have a clearer path to securing that eventual move to a higher level.
First and foremost, though, Ongaro wants to win with his hometown.
“I think the team realizes we need to start winning games, and the mindset is we’re gonna be the best team in this league,” he said.
“I think there’s no other option but to think that way.”