By Dan Plouffe
The groundbreaking season continues for the Ottawa Fury Soccer Club as its youth teams earned a club-record seven berths in the USL Super-Y League finals thanks to standout summertime performances.
Each one of the Fury’s boys’ squads from the under-13 level through to U17 qualified for the Dec. 2-6 event in Tampa, FL. That accomplishment comes on the heels of the Fury’s first perfect W-League regular season earlier in the summer.
“It’s unbelievable,” says Jimmy Zito, who coaches the U13 and U16 boys’ teams, along with the U16 girls – one of two female Fury squads headed to Tampa, along with the U14s. “But it’s one thing for us to qualify and another for us to go down there and beat the top teams.”
Zito’s job at the moment is to keep his troops prepared and in top shape. The teams that qualified for the finals took two weeks off after the end of the regular season in mid-August, and now they’ll be waiting all the way into December for the championship tournament that takes place after the end of the collegiate season to accommodate recruiters.
“It’s good to recharge the battery for sure,” Zito smiles. “The kids need it, and the coaches need it more.”
Zito coaches four teams in total counting his Algonquin College men’s crew, and that means he’s out on the field six hours every night until the end of November leading training sessions.
But it’s worth the time and effort to enjoy a special season like the one his U13 boys just did. Led by Zachary El Shafei’s remarkable 23 goals in 14 contests, as well as double-digit scorers Gabriel Bitar and Jack Wadden, the club’s youngest USL members earned an undefeated 13-0-1 record in their first Super-Y League campaign.
Zito didn’t expect an unblemished mark would happen for his boys since they often match up against bigger players on some U.S. clubs, but when he considers the work ethic his team possesses, it doesn’t come as a total surprise either.
“Because there isn’t a big drop-off from my best player to my worst player, every session is a big, competitive try-out almost,” the 2010 Ottawa Sports Awards male coach-of-the-year explains. “They push each other all the time because they know if they don’t, they’ll lose minutes on the field, and these kids have never been in a situation where they’re not the stars of their team.
“I’m lucky that the environment created itself.”
Another major highlight from the U13 boys’ season was their trip to a tournament in France where several villages billet every player and coach that comes to the event, including many of the biggest European clubs and some from Africa.
“It’s really a big celebration of soccer,” describes Zito, whose squad went 3-2-3 against some tough competition. “They got pushed probably harder than they ever have in their life. To play against teams of this calibre was really a special thing for these kids.”
KICKIN’ IT INTO WINTER
It can be a challenge for players to keep focused with the big gap between the end of the regular season and the championship tournament, especially as football, hockey and volleyball start to take up many of the multi-sport athletes’ non-school hours.
But the Fury try their best to keep the soccer legs going by arranging friendlies such as the one they played this past weekend against the Toronto Lynx in Carlsbad Springs. Now it’s just a matter of keeping their fingers crossed for some decent fall weather.
“It’s hard to keep yourself in shape because of the weather Canada gives you – sometimes you can’t run outside to prepare because if there’s six feet of snow, there’s six feet of snow,” Zito notes. “There’s years that we went down there and we were in better shape than for our season, but we didn’t do well. And there’s other years where I didn’t think we were in that type of shape and we’ve gone down there and done well.”
Zito, who coached the Fury U17 girls to the club’s first North American title at last year’s Super-Y League finals, sees some potential in the groups he’s working with now to repeat that feat.
“You never want to go in there overconfident, but I think all of them have an opportunity to win,” Zito says. “With some timely goal scoring, good defensive shape, and the right amount of luck, anything is possible. It could happen.”
The Fury U15 and U16 boys both put together exceptional seasons with respective 12-1-3 and 13-1 records, while the U17 boys went 10-2, the U14 boys were 7-3-4 and the girls’ U14s posted a 7-4-3 mark with the U16 girls at 7-5.