Butler: Sebrango a football man of immense character

Noel Butler

11/2/2012 1:51:57 PM

Following Wednesday morning's state of the union address from the Impact brain trust, I had intended to devote this column revisiting what has been a compelling year for football in La Belle Ville. That will have to wait now.

In his last act in an Impact jersey at Stade Saputo last Saturday afternoon, 39-year young Eduardo Sebrango threw his match-worn boots into the crowd. On Thursday morning, he blew the final whistle on his career.

His absence will be keenly felt. Not just in the dressing room.

The dual Cuban-Canadian's playing career sparked into life when he joined his hometown club Sancti Spiritus as a member of their academy back in 1983 before then going on to establish himself as one of the most prolific players to ever lace them up in North America's second tier.

Sebrango accumulated a record number of championships and when the Impact waved goodbye to the NASL a year ago he left as the second deadliest marksmen in league history.

Out of contract he was invited to join the Impact's 2012 MLS training camp. A week or so later, Sebrango was a guest for a club announcement that took place on the Olympic Stadium pitch. 

Sat in a chair located just right about at the spot where three years previously he majestically scored his second goal of that Impact famous night in front of a 55,000 strong crowd - Joey Saputo made a point in front of a number of dignitaries to signal out Sebrango and wished him well in training camp.

Saputo ended his speech by expressing a personal wish to see Sebrango at Olympic Stadium for March 17th's historic home opener. This time not in his street clothes, but as a player – having successfully convinced the club in training camp to offer him an MLS contract.

It had been an altogether different scene some nine months earlier in mid-April of 2011. The venue was the boardroom of Saputo Stadium, the club announcing Sebrango would be retiring.

When Sebrango rose to the podium, instead of a tearful goodbye his speech was laced with the type of determination he is renowned for out on the pitch.

Yes, he was retiring had accepted a position in the club's academy, but between the lines he spoke with the authority of an individual who fully believed there was still plenty of football in him.

Four months later on the back of a performance that netted him a pair of goals and an assist Sebrango was named NASL player of the week. Not bad for a 38-year-old.

The person responsible for Sebrango shaping an illustrious career fro himself on these shores is Bobby Lenarduzzi. Known today as the Whitecaps President, it was in his role with the men's national team that his eye took a likening to his Cuban opponent.

"I was fortunate enough to be the coach of Canada when we played against Cuba. Eddie didn't go back to Cuba he stayed in Canada. Having been aware of him, I was involved with the 86'ers at the time, I suggested Vancouver might be a good place to play," Lenarduzzi explained to

 "Fortunately he took me up on the offer and the rest is history as they say."

Sebrango's legacy isn't limited to his accomplishment as a player. There's always a person behind the player and in Sebrango, exemplary character oozes right through him.

Impact's Sporting Director Nick De Santis, who played alongside Sebrango, was his coach and the person who ultimately offered Sebrango an MLS contract put that into its clearest perspective in only four words when it was put to him by TSN Radio 690 what to him was uppermost about Sebrango.

"A super human being," De Santis immediately responded.

"It's funny when you talk about Eddie Sebrango of course so many positive things come to mind. Everyone knows him as a professional soccer player but Eddie as a human being is really at the highest level.

"What a great career he had. He ended it on his own terms."

On the eve of club's match against New England and as the media talk focused on the club's season finale, I asked head coach Jesse Marsch for his thoughts on Sebrango.

"Eddie's a great man," he said. "He's older than me so I've always shown respect to my elders that's for sure. He's a really good guy and you can't talk enough about what he's meant to our group."

Due to injuries especially, Sebrango didn't get the playing minutes he hoped for this season. He even missed the home opener in front of over 58,000 in a match where his No. 12 was retired in recognition of the 12th man, the supporters. They couldn't have chosen a more appropriate player.

His greatest value this season was as the conductor of Impact folklore and philosophy for a typical disparate squad of players in an inaugural year. Connecting the club dots sphere of influence only grew as the season played itself out.

"Behind the scenes, his work ethic his commitment to this club, his understanding of what it means to play for this club and he has been able to communicate and translate that to the current group and the current players has been invaluable," was Marsch's take.

"He's just such a great guy built with so little ego. He's built with all the right motivations and work ethic. You see him out there doing extra work with the young guys it's really remarkable, really an admirable guy you can't say enough about him"

Yesterday morning the club announced his retirement, the Impact a richer organization for his remarkable service. Later in the day they announced the details of their 2013 season camp. Expect Sebrango to be involved - only this time he won't need to report for his player medical.

On a personal note my favorite Sebrango Saputo Stadium highlight was the 2011 home opener against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. It may have been a dour scoreless draw on a blustery Saturday afternoon but sat alongside me up in the broadcast booth for the match that day as guest analyst was Sebrango. I think he wore his boots.

In a career that exemplifies that old Olympic adage it was never just about winning matches or titles, setting up or scoring a winning goal. It was always about something far more vital.

An infectious enthusiasm, the sheer joy for having taking part.

Coming off the pitch either in defeat or victory that famous wide smile of Sebrango's always appeared uppermost.

Never taking. Always giving of his all.

Au revoir Eduardo.

A conversation with Eddie Sebrango is available to listen to at