Halifax Wanderers announced on Friday that Brazilian attacker João Morelli has been medically cleared to play and will return to the club this July. The 27-year-old Morelli will be back in the Canadian Premier League after missing all but the first two games of the 2022 season with a torn ACL. He underwent surgery last June and has spent the past year rehabilitating his knee in order to return to the pitch this summer. “I don't think I can't even describe what I'm feeling right now, really just excitement,” Morelli said in a statement. “I can’t stop thinking about getting to play at the Wanderers Grounds again, I’ve been dreaming about it since last year. I really love Halifax, and I can’t wait to play there again in front of the fans and hopefully score a lot of goals again.” Morelli has been under contract with the Wanderers since 2020, having made 34 appearances for the club and scoring 20 goals. His major breakout came during the 2021 season, in which he scored a league-leading 14 (in just 21 games) to take home both the Golden Boot and the Player of the Year award. Following that year, the club signed him to a two-year contract extension for the 2022 and 2023 campaigns, which remains active. Last year, Morelli looked poised to defend his individual title, opening the 2022 campaign with a game-winning goal from the penalty spot at York United, but an injury against Atlético Ottawa in the following match would put an end to his season. Since then, Morelli has been recovering from surgery at home in his native Brazil. "As soon as I fell on the ground I thought, maybe this is over," Morelli told CanPL.ca. "I had a very nice year last year and then the second game of the year this happens... "It was really hard. I thought I could never play again. Then after that day by day it was just getting better and better. It took me more than they thought — they told me nine months but I’m getting 100 per cent now. I trusted my doctors and my physios; I doubted them to be honest at the beginning. I said, ‘Man, how am I going to kick a ball again?’ They said ‘Don’t worry about it, you’ll be stronger than you were before."
Prior to arriving in Halifax, Morelli had considerable experience with the game in a variety of different places around the world. He came up in the academy of his hometown club Ituano before moving at age 18 to English club Middlesbrough. He would go on to appear for Boro's under-23 side, and would also play two seasons for Estonian club FCI Levadia before making the jump back across the Atlantic to the Wanderers in 2020. Wanderers fans will have very fond memories of Morelli, who was a major part of the club's run to the CPL Final at the Island Games in 2020. He was then one of the most exciting players in the league the following year, including a torrid September run that saw him score seven goals in five games that month to keep Halifax in the playoff race -- though they would ultimately miss out by just one point. “We’ve remained in regular contact with João throughout his recovery journey, knowing a 12 month post-op timeline would give him the best chance at a full recovery,” Wanderers sporting director Matt Fegan said. “The possibility of a return has always been on the table and dictated at João’s pace. João has also had some exciting life moments this year with the birth of his son, which we’ve been delighted to see and respectful of his personal life changes. “When he called to say he wanted to make it happen, we set the wheels in motion and will look forward to welcoming him back into the squad this season.”
Over the past year, Morelli has leaned on his support network at home in Brazil: his family, including his parents and five siblings, as well as his wife and now his newborn son. Having so many friendly faces around has certainly helped him through his recovery and may in fact be the silver lining of this process -- Morelli has spent a lot of time away from home since leaving as a teenager to pursue a professional career abroad. Now, though, he's excited to get back to his adopted second home in Nova Scotia. He explained that many of his fondest footballing memories have been scoring at the Wanderers Grounds, to the point that he found himself tearing up at times watching back highlights from 2021. "Those moments, they’re going to live forever in my head. Now, my wife and my son can be there, that’ll be unbelievable too," Morelli said. "You can’t even explain, you have to live it to understand it. The city’s amazing, the people there — I’ve said this before, they’re really nice. I feel like Halifax is my home, too. I miss it to be honest; I love Brazil, but I have something there that I love and I want to be there so bad. I hope my family now enjoys it as I do." Morelli will prove to be a versatile attacking piece for Patrice Gheisar's Wanderers side; with Halifax having scored the fewest goals in the CPL so far this year (six in eight games), the club will welcome Morelli's goalscoring ability and chance creation. The Brazilian can line up in a number of different positions -- naturally a number 10, he's played as a striker, a false nine and a winger for Halifax. "I tried the best I could to watch a little bit of the games, but it didn't make me feel very good," Morelli said, laughing -- he's said in the past it's difficult for him to watch football when he's unable to play. He added: "I see a lot of potential. We're playing in a different way, I think right now I can fit maybe a little bit better than I was before, my style of game. I'm really excited, I want to get in with the new boys. I know it's going to be a great year." Morelli will travel to Halifax in the coming weeks to join with the club in training before working his way back into the lineup. The Wanderers will likely have to make a corresponding roster move prior to his return to the pitch in order to make room for Morelli's contract on their 23-man roster.