TORONTO – It takes a fair bit of gumption for a player to correct his coach in front of someone else.
York 9 FC believes Simon Karlsson Adjei has that special brand of pluck, and it’s one of the reasons why the club announced on Monday they have signed the Swedish striker ahead of the 2019 Canadian Premier League season.
The CPL is a new professional soccer league that is expected to kick off its inaugural season next April with seven teams from coast to coast, including a York 9 side that will play its home games on the campus of York University. Adjei is the league’s first international signing – a group of 10 Canadians were unveiled as the CPL’s first player signings last week.
Adjei, 25, is no stranger to Canada. He previously played in the semi-pro League1 Ontario in 2016 for Aurora United FC, who were managed at the time by current York 9 coach Jim Brennan. Adjei finished second in league scoring, netting 19 of Aurora United’s 27 goals during the regular season, and two more goals in the league’s cup tournament. Adjei was also voted a second-team all star that season.
During a recent conversation with Sportsnet, Brennan was extolling the virtues of his new striker for York 9 when he stated that Adjei scored 19 goals for Aurora. The Swede quickly jumped in and corrected his coach that he actually scored 21.
“You see that? Forwards always know exactly how many goals they’ve scored,” Brennan quipped.
Adjei had other options in his native Sweden, but the lure of reuniting with Brennan and becoming the CPL’s first international signing was something he couldn’t turn down.
“I feel like it’s the perfect time for me to come. It’s a new league, and for me to come here and get the opportunity to be a part of history, to be the first international player, it’s something to live up to. I have high expectations of the CPL,” Adjei said.
Brennan is banking on Adjei to provide York 9 with plenty of more goals in the CPL like he did when the two were together in Aurora.
“When I was with Aurora, we brought him over from Sweden and right away I knew he was special. After the season was over, I basically told him he’s too good for this league, and that he needs to go back to Europe. He returned to Sweden, but I kept an eye on him because I wanted to see how he was progressing, and then when I joined York 9, my interest in him grew even more,” Brennan said.
Brennan’s interest was even more piqued after Adjei led Division 2-Östra Götaland (the Swedish fourth tier) with 30 goals in 26 games in the 2018 season for hometown club Assyriska IK Jonkoping.
“This season we flew over to watch him, and what a season he had. Thirty goals. Thirty goals in any division of football is phenomenal. It was great to see him, we had a great discussion, I told him everything we were looking to do with the CPL and York 9, and he said he wanted to come back [to Canada],” Brennan explained.
Brennan noted a big change in Adjei during his trip to Sweden compared to when he coached him at Aurora.
“The biggest thing was his confidence levels. He had so much confidence… You could just see he matured as a player, how his movement was, he was more clinical in front of the net, and you could see he was really progressing in the right direction,” Brennan offered.
Brennan believes Adjei’s size – he stands six-foot-three – will serve him well in the CPL.
“He’s a big target man up top, he has great feet. He’s willing to run the channels, and mix it up with big centre backs. He has a bit of everything. You give him a half a yard of space in and around the box, he’s going to find the back of the net,” Brennan warned.
The son of a Swedish mother and Ghanaian father, Adjei was born and raised in Jonkoping, a city in southern Sweden located on the banks of the country’s second largest lake. Home to several soccer clubs, as well as one of the country’s top hockey teams in HV71, Adjei and his brother played soccer as kids.
He also played bandy, a unique Swedish sport that is similar to hockey – opposing teams of skaters on an ice rink the size of a soccer field try to direct a ball into the opposing net using sticks.
Adjei started playing organized soccer when he was 10, and went on to play professionally in Sweden’s lower leagues before coming to Canada two years ago to turn out for Aurora United FC.
Now he’s back, and ready to make a splash in the CPL.
And while hockey is the king of all sports in Sweden, Adjei isn’t a big fan of Canada’s national pastime.
“I tried it when I was a kid, but I didn’t like it,” Adjei admitted.