Had the calendars on the walls of the Montreal Impact's offices been flags last spring, they probably would have been flying at half-mast. On April 18, 2011, fan favorite Eduardo Sebrango announced, his voice cracking, that he was retiring from the game of soccer after a 12-year second-division career in Canada and the United States during which he scored 98 goals in 257 games.
Fast-forward 40 weeks. At age 38, Sebrango is out of retirement, training in Mexico with the MLS version of the Impact and fighting for a spot on the roster. And things are going rather well for the striker, who registered two assists in the Impact’s preseason games so far.
The thing is Sebrango, a product of FC Sancti Spíritus of Cuba, just couldn’t remain a retiree very long. He was back on the Saputo Stadium pitch on June 29, more than two months after he hang up the boots, as a second-half substitute against the Puerto Rico Islanders. He looked to be 10 years younger in that match, bursting into the opposition's half for a breakaway in stoppage time.
There was no goal – and a strong case for a penalty that was not given – but it seemed that the former Cuban international (16 goals in 24 games between 1992 and 1998) could still make a statement on the pitch. And he now feels it’s up to him to prove to the club that he can play in MLS.
“We’ve got a good group and it’s been a lot of hard work,” Sebrango told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday after the Impact’s 1-1 draw against Atlas in Guadalajara, Mexico. “The training sessions are good, so Jesse Marsch and the staff have done a great job getting us ready. I’m a bit older, so it takes a little while to get sharp, but I feel great.”
The smile in Sebrango’s voice says it all: He badly wants to be a part of the Impact’s MLS adventure. But most of all, he wants to repay the fans for their love and support. The five-time USL First Division champion has long been adored by the Montreal faithful, even during his stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
It was because of his two goals in a 2-2 draw against Toronto FC in the 2008 Canadian Championship that the Impact won the competition and with it, a spot in an unforgettable CONCACAF Champions League campaign for the club.
“People in Montreal have been waiting for an MLS team for so long," Sebrango said. "Everybody’s talking about March 17, the first home game. We get to play in the Olympic Stadium, so there are going to be a lot of people.”
And Sebrango knows a thing or two about attendances at the Big O. When he re-signed with Montreal in late 2008, his next task was colossal. The veteran spearheaded the Impact’s attack against Mexican side Santos Laguna in the first leg of its CCL quarterfinals.
The forward ended up sending 55,571 fans into raptures with two memorable goals, which later had Mexican taxi drivers greet the handful of Impact supporters who’d travelled to Mexico with shouts of “Sebraaaango!” before the second leg – in which he scored another goal in an ultimately losing effort.
Not that the fans hold it against him, of course. But if they were to have a chat with the man himself about that magical night in Montreal, they’d rather he was an MLS player. So would Sebrango.