Sitting in the corridor of a hotel in Anatalya, Turkey, Easton Ongaro is a long way from Edmonton.
The 23-year-old, having just signed a contract with Romanian top-flight club UTA Arad, has been among his new colleagues just two days, arriving as a key January addition for the side as they prepare to come out of their winter break swinging. UTA, who sit ninth in the 16-team Romanian Liga I and five points out of a playoff position, have set up shop in Turkey for a warm-weather sojourn as manager László Balint attempts to rejuvenate — and reinforce — his squad before the final push.
Balint will, surely, be hoping that the Canadian Premier League’s all-time leading scorer might help his team boost its slumping goalscoring numbers for a late-season charge.
To Ongaro, this is all very new. He’s plunged quickly into training with his new side, having to adjust on the fly to a massive time change (10 hours behind Edmonton) while surrounded by a flurry of new languages in the dressing room. The past few weeks have been an incredible whirlwind for the Alberta native; though he’s known for a while that he wanted a new challenge in 2022, this particular venture seemed to come together at lightning speed.
“Honestly, it’s crazy how fast things happened,” Ongaro told CanPL.ca from UTA’s base camp on the eastern Mediterranean. “I didn’t hear anything about this until maybe a week ago, my agent called me and said we have an offer from a club in Romania; it seems like a good idea, seems like a good place for you to be. We went back and forth a few times and it happened very quickly, I signed the contract and I was on a flight two days later.”
He added, laughing: “I can’t really say much else about it, because I don’t really know much else about it.”
While he did dip his feet in European waters in late 2020 during a very brief loan stint at Danish side Vendsyssel, this will be Ongaro’s first true leap of faith into uncharted waters.
A couple months away on loan is one thing, but a full move on a permanent contract is a whole new beast.
“It’s going to be my first time really living abroad,” Ongaro explained. “I’ve always lived at home, it’s been comfortable for me and really simple. So this is a new challenge, a new experience, a new environment. Everything’s new to me, and it’s something I’m really looking forward to and ready for.”
Like many young players in the Canadian Premier League, Ongaro has always had ambition to ply his trade abroad — and the time he spent proving himself at home with FC Edmonton certainly helped him make that a reality. Still, Ongaro says the three months he spent in Denmark in 2020 really opened his eyes to the wider world of football,
“That gave me a new experience I really needed, especially given how 2020 went for us,” Ongaro recalled. “There wasn’t many games played, FC Edmonton didn’t have a good year, so it was something I needed to get those extra games in and get that new experience. It definitely helped me in a confidence sense coming here now, because I’ve been to Europe once before and I’ve played at a similar level — I’m not sure how much it compares — but it makes me believe in myself that I can come here and I can play a role.”
Arriving in Romania with a solid track record in Canada — 25 goals in 57 games for the Eddies — Ongaro says his brief is very simple with his new club: put the ball in the net. UTA have just 17 goals in 21 games, so an injection of Ongaro’s finishing ability could be just what they need to compete for the playoffs and spots in European competition.
“They were pretty straightforward and clear, I’m here to score goals,” he said. “That’s why they signed me. That’s my job, and that’s what I’ve got to do. I can’t put too much pressure on myself; I go in and do my job, and the results are the results but it’s what I’m here for. It’s what I love to do, it’s what I want to do.”
Though he’s chosen this moment to move on from his hometown club, Ongaro will look back on his time in the CPL with affection. He made his professional debut with the Eddies in 2019, and the spotlight of the CPL allowed him to prove his mettle on the pitch.
“I’m extremely grateful for (FC Edmonton); they gave me a career,” Ongaro said. “Without the CPL I don’t think I’m a professional footballer at this point, so it brought me into the game, gave me a job, gave me a career. Although the results weren’t always great for FC Edmonton, I still feel like it was a great time for me, and it gave me the chance to succeed.”
Now, though, it’s full steam ahead in Romania (or, at the moment, Turkey).
Ongaro hasn’t yet picked up any Romanian words — “I don’t got nothing yet,” he quipped — but that’s one of a litany of things he’ll have to learn over the coming weeks and months. He has, of course, already familiarized himself with his new teammates somewhat: by playing as UTA Arad in FIFA 22. Hopefully soon, he himself will be added to the squad.
“I’ve played a lot of FIFA in the last 10-15 years,” he quipped. “It’s always been a dream of mine.”