CPL Feature: Bruno Zebie came home for FC Edmonton

Bruno Zebie

Edmonton, Canada — Bruno Zebie came home for FC Edmonton.

To Zebie, a professional soccer player from Edmonton, he feels like “we have a point to prove in Edmonton.” Zebie, a midfielder for the renewed FC Edmonton club, rejoined the team for its inaugural Canadian Premier League season. 

In an exclusive interview with Last Word on Soccer, Zebie spoke about his time growing up in Edmonton playing soccer and his development into the professional athlete he is now. He has spent time playing in both Edmonton and Calgary leading up to the start of the CPL.

He had a choice to try out for the Cavalry FC or to come home and try out for the Eddies. Some may wonder, given Cavalry’s success this season, why a talented player like Zebie would not have stayed in Calgary.

Zebie admitted that he knew that Cavalry “was going to be a very good team.” For Zebie, though, “sometimes in life you just gotta take a chance.”

Soccer Career

Early life

Zebie was born in France, where he started playing soccer as a child with his friends. However, he wasn’t playing in an official league or for any team. His parents immigrated to Canada when he was eight, relocating to Montreal. The Zebie family moved to Canada in search of a better quality of life and better economic fortune. It was in Montreal where he started playing in organized youth leagues.

Edmonton Juventus Soccer Club

After about five years in Montreal, the Zebie family moved out west to Edmonton. Upon arriving in Edmonton, Zebie played with at his school and he joined the Edmonton Juventus Soccer Club, where he played on the youth team. It was readily apparent that he has skill, as he started with the 94 team in his first year before going down to his age group — the 95 generation.

In 2009, Juventus went to the U14 National Championships in Sydney, Nova Scotia, winning the title. Zebie was on that team, along with current FC Edmonton players Ajeej Sakaria and Ajay Khabra. The three teammates have been playing together for 11 years.

Meanwhile, as part of the U16 Juventus team, Zebie took part in nationals in 2010 and 2011. “The first year [2009] was the best year because that was the only year that we won it,” he said. “The expectation was that we would be there every year, and that is what we did. We were there every year.”

FC Edmonton Academy

The FC Edmonton Academy formed in 2012 after the pro-team joined the former North American Soccer League in 2011. It was around this time that Zebie tried out for the academy going through a couple of combines. FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus was there as he had been hired as assistant coach for the pro-team and technical director for the Academy.

Zebie explained that the coaches at the combines chose about 16 players out of perhaps 60 in total. He was fortunate to be one of the players chosen and started training with the academy regularly.

A chance at playing pro for the Eddies

In Zebie’s third and fourth year with the Academy, he started training every day with the first team. On July 3, 2015, he signed a week-to-week contract with the team allowing him to potentially play professional soccer for the first time in his life.

Eddies have many injuries

Zebie’s opportunity would not take long as he started traveling with the team. The team was needing players as nearly half of the squad was out due to injury. The Eddies played a home game in Fort MacMurray to promote the game up there.

Zebie remembers that he didn’t get on the field.

“I thought I’m going to be there, but I’m not going to be playing any minutes, I’m just here to make the numbers, right?” he said. “I told myself I’m just going to train hard and see what happens.”

First professional minutes

Next, the Eddies travelled to Fort Lauderdale to play the Strikers. Zebie recalled that “we were losing one nothing, and then Colin Miller [FC Edmonton Coach] just calls my name. I was pretty confused because I wasn’t expecting to get any game time…I got in the game and I just told myself that I’m just going to work as hard as possible and try to make something happen.”

There were only 13 minutes left in the game, but Zebie made an immediate impact. He passed the ball to his former Juventus teammate, Sadi Jalali. Meanwhile, Jalali put a hardball on the net, bouncing it off the post. In a real bout of bad luck for Strikers goalkeeper Josh Ford, the ball hit him in the back and bounced into the net. This goal that Zebie set up resulted in the Eddies tying the game.

University of Alberta

This was to be Zebie’s last appearance with the NASL version of the Eddies. He moved onto the Green and Gold Soccer Academy. This academy is connected to his former youth club Juventus, Vimy Ridge school where Zebie played and the University of Alberta. As part of the Green and Gold, he went to nationals — again — where the team finished fourth. 

It was during this time, he decided to go to school at the University of Alberta, studying Education. Again, he would play with current teammates Sakaria and Khabra. This time, though, Zebie also played with Connor James, one of the current FC Edmonton goalkeepers.

In 2016, in Zebie’s first year at Alberta, the team went to nationals and won.

Calgary Foothills

During Zebie’s second year at Alberta, Tommy Wheeldon Jr. convinced Zebie to go to Calgary to play with the Foothills in the Professional Development League. Wheeldon Jr. was the coach of the Foothills at the time and is now the current coach of Cavalry FC in the CPL.

2017 was Zebie’s first year with the Foothills along with fellow teammate Sakaria. Dylon Powley was also on the team. The Foothills tied for first in the league but lost out in the first round of playoffs.

The following year, with a few changes to the roster, the Foothills won the PDL championship defeating Reading United. Reflecting on what it was like to play for the Foothills and win the championship, Zebie said, “Coming in we felt like we had a point to prove. When you play those PDL teams, a lot of them…get drafted. You see those players get drafted and you feel like you’re just as good as them, right, so you feel like you belong in the MLS if they do. That was a big motivation for us, and, honestly, throughout the season we never felt like we were going to win the whole thing. Everything just kind of fell into place…We just got the job done.”

Canadian Premier League

“We actually found out in 2017 [about the CPL],” he said. “We thought that we could maybe get lucky and have the CPL arrive in 2018, but it didn’t work out that way. The league wanted to take their time and everything, so it was fine.”

When Zebie had joined the Foothills in Calgary, he knew Wheeldon Jr. was building a team for the CPL and that there were opportunities for Foothills players to make the CPL team.  “Tommy was always great to me, I really like him as a coach, to be honest,” he said. “He liked me as a player. He made it clear that he wanted me on the team.”

Zebie comes home

Zebie’s decision to come home was simple.

“To me, it was just a matter of we have a point to prove in Edmonton because during the NASL days we had a very good core group of academies who I felt deserved a lot more playing time than they received,” Zebie said. “Us players and friends told each other that if we did get a chance to stick together then we would make a big difference, and we could finally show and prove to the fans in Edmonton, that the talent was always there. Back in the NASL days, the team was always finishing near the bottom. We wanted to turn things around and I wanted to be part of that.”

He continued to say that he has a brother in Edmonton and loved playing with him.

“My friend Ajeej who I have been playing with for 11 years and six years Connor, all these guys right,” Zebie said. “I also have my girlfriend here, so it’s a lot more comfortable in Edmonton. Sometimes in life, you just gotta take a chance.”

FC Edmonton

Since the season started, FC Edmonton has experienced some growing pains. In the spring season, the team went on a six-game scoreless streak. They were ejected from the Canadian Championship in their first round of play.

Since then, the team has had quite the turnaround. The Eddies have gone undefeated in nine of their last ten games, including their most recent victory over Pacific FC.  

Allan is injured

Since rejoining the CPL version of the Eddies, Zebie has played in every match. His real opportunity came in the second game of the year against Pacific FC when his brother, Allan, had to leave the game due to an injury. The brothers have been playing together consistently for about three years between their years in FC Edmonton and the Academy.

“It was bittersweet, because, obviously, like I said I love playing with my brother,” he said. “You never want to see any of your teammates, let alone your brother get injured. When I got to go on for him, my only part was to try and do him proud and play as well as he does on the left side or even better. I was pretty motivated for that.”

Regular play; first goal

Since that game, Zebie has started every match. He scored his first goal in the spring season in against Pacific in June. In that game, the Eddies finally broke their six-game scoreless streak.

Edmonton plays Cavalry next to determine who will take the lead in the CPL fall season. Both teams have 11 points. Cavalry has a game in hand and the Eddies are up on goal differential.

Take a chance and prove a point

Zebie came home for FC Edmonton.

He has taken a chance, and clearly it is paying off for him. He may not necessarily be the guy on the field scoring all the goals, nor notching the registered assists. However, watching Zebie, you will see that he is a key player on the field. On many key plays develop, you will see him driving the ball up the field, passing it to a teammate who will get it towards the goal, or stopping his opponent in their end. He’s an integral part of the Eddie’s midfield, and it shows with Paulus consistently placing him in the lineup.

Thanks to a pact amongst teammates and friends, this talented 24-year old came home to Edmonton to take a chance and prove a point.

PHOTO: Provided to Last Word on Soccer by Bruno Zebie.