Seven years ago, he wore white and blue in Foxborough among the likes of Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Clint Dempsey en route to back-to-back MLS Cup appearances in 2005 and 2006. With his creativity and deft passing, his influence on the strongest midfield the Revolution ever assembled was undeniable.
But last Wednesday night in New Britain, CT, José “Pepe” Cancela returned to New England as a Rojiamarillo (red-yellow) on a different team from a different league as his Club Sport Herediano tied the New England Force 1-1.
“Playing with the New England Revolution was one of the best parts of my life,” said Cancela after the game. “I have got a lot of friends from here so it definitely feels good to come back.”
Signed as a “Discovery Player” in 2003 by the Revolution, Cancela soon became the creative centerpiece in a midfield that included Ralston, Shalrie Joseph and Joe Franchino. Noted by revolutionsoccer.net for “(combining) great technique with superior field vision,” he sparked countless scoring chances, and by 2004, was a core player with his highlight-reel worthy passing and team leading assists (10).
But Cancela was not destined to stay at Gillette Stadium forever.
In 2005, Cancela’s minutes and starting status waned with his time on the field shrinking from 1,957 minutes in 2004 to 1,643. By 2006, Pepe was down to 1,387 and only starting 15 matches out of the season’s 32, despite recording some impressive assists.
After staying on the bench during the 2006 MLS Cup, Cancela went to Toronto FC via the league’s Expansion Draft. Of the ten players the Revolution could “protect” from selection by TFC, Cancela did not make the cut.
However, quickly after being dealt to Toronto, he was sent to the Colorado Rapids in exchange for an international roster spot in 2007. There, Pepe’s first team status diminished further as he only started five games and came off the bench for 15.
Before the 2008 season started he was waived by the Rapids and returned to his native Uruguay to play with Centro Atlético Fénix for a short spell.
But before the year was over, Cancela made the jump to Costa Rica’s Primera Division where the midfielder thrived.
Upon being transferred to Municipal Liberia in 2009, his team captured the ‘09 Clausura title and Cancela played in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time. When sent between seasons to Herediano and Deportivo Saprissa in the following years, his playing time hit record highs of 2,825 minutes in 2010 & 3,315 in ’11.
His stats continued to impress. With Herediano in the 2011-12 season, Cancela recorded 17 goals and 16 assists through all competitions. With Saprissa in 2012-13, Cancela had 8 goals along with 14 helpers. So far this season, he’s recorded an assist in CONCACAF Champions League play since his return to Herediano this summer.
“It’s a good country and a good team,” Cancela said of Herediano. “Everyone enjoys football and it’s been great for me and my family.”
And after Wednesday’s friendly, Cancela and his team were quick to return home. Waiting for them back in Central America was an important tournament match on Sunday versus Liga Deportiva Alajuelense (they later lost 0-1) and their flight back was in Newark, NJ, leaving them little time for rest.
But as they packed up, when asked about his time with New England and how it felt to be back playing the same position, passing the same through balls, and delivering from the corner the same way as he did with the Revolution, Cancela described it all as “very important.”
“New England, for me, is part of my life,” he reflected. “This is where my kids, my boy and my daughter, were born. I’ve got a lot of friends here and to be here was good for me.”
Check out this stunning goal from Cancela last season for Deportivo Saprissa (jump to 1:22 if the video doesn’t automatically):