Junior Leagues Soccer

Force Farce: Ottawa’s 1st OYSL title ‘taken away’ from OSU

League ordered a match that Ottawa South United U14 girls won to be replayed

After thinking they’d won the OYSL east division title, the OSU Force U14 girls were faced with 2 must-win games on the same day. The league ordered a 1-0 match they’d won nearly two months earlier to be replayed because the referee played both halves five minutes shorter than regulation. Photo: Dan Plouffe

By Dan Plouffe

It was a historic moment as they became the first team from the Ottawa region to win an Ontario Youth Soccer League division championship, but the Ottawa South United Force under-14 girls’ triumph has now been erased.

First, they experienced elation.

Heading into what they thought would be the final game of their regular season on Saturday, Sept. 22, the OSU girls could finish first in their division with a victory on their home field.

The Force came through with a 3-1 win over Bradford to capture the big prize that had previously eluded two OSU boys’ teams, who’d faced the same situation in their final games this year and last.

“It was very, very exciting,” coach Widdgin Bernard smiled after the victory. “The girls wanted it. They wanted this game so bad. Right from the get-go, the girls kept on going and going and going, until the end.”

A 10-4-2 season and a division title is not something the team fathomed prior to their debut season in the OYSL.

“At the start of the year, we were just planning to not get relegated,” highlighted Nicole Bailey, who scored two goals to spring OSU ahead 2-1 at the half before Andrianna Dmuchalsky added some breathing room in the late stages of the second half. “This is just amazing for us.”

Bailey said the Force are a tight-knit group that plays for one another since the majority have played on the same team for a remarkable six years.

“A lot of it has to go to our coaches,” adds the Grade 9 Longfields-Davidson Heights Secondary School student. “We all believe in each other and support each other through everything.”

The club hailed the victory as proof that there’s great value for players to stick together with one club, under one philosophy.

“It’s overwhelming,” said OSU president Bill Michalopulos, who acted as an assistant coach during the game. “We’ve been working hard for 10 years to get to a certain level and today the girls showed we have reached the level we’re expecting.

“It’s beautiful to see, and it’s beautiful to see how happy they are.”

The Force girls had achieved an unprecedented accomplishment for Ottawa teams that have largely struggled to compete in the OYSL. Traveling further and more frequently puts teams from the nation’s capital at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts from around the GTA, since they are often scheduled to play road games on back-to-back days against a fresh side for the second match.

“A lot of teams from the Toronto area think, ‘Oh, it’s just Ottawa…’” Bernard highlighted. “Now people in the OYSL are realizing Ottawa has some great teams and some great players, also.”

They may have beaten the best soccer teams the GTA has to offer, but the U14 girls couldn’t top the Markham-based OYSL and Ontario Soccer Association administrators.

Previous victory scrapped

The controversy that wound up with OSU losing its title stemmed from a mid-July game on the road against Bradford, which OSU won 1-0. The problem, Bernard details, is that the referee only played a 40-minute first half instead of the usual 45. Tied 0-0, both coaches realized the error but did not point it out then.

In accordance with FIFA rules that state each half must be of equal length, the referee again called the second half after 40 minutes, although the Bradford coach then complained about the length since OSU had gained a 1-0 victory.

It was a forgotten moment for the Force as they went on to earn the chance to clinch the division title with a win on Sept. 22, but the earlier match crept back up unexpectedly.

“Apparently, they put a protest in, but we didn’t know about it until the season was almost over,” Bernard recounts.

Bernard received an e-mail from the OYSL on the Monday before their supposed final game stating that they’d have to replay the previous match against Bradford – for a full 90 minutes, with the score reset at zeros. Needing three points for a win to finish on top of the division, it would be the same as starting with a 1-0 deficit.

Bernard was told in that e-mail that the rescheduled match would take place at Bradford the day after the teams were set to meet in Ottawa. But the next day, he was told it was switched to the following weekend, on Sept. 29.

OSU hoped the situation would be rectified by then through their protests to the OSA – and believed both league and FIFA rules supported their case – but instead wound up facing a baffling scenario.

The showdown between the OYSL east and west division champions had already been scheduled for Sept. 29 – a week after the regular season was supposed to be finished. The winner of that match would then advance to face the Quebec champions on the Thanksgiving weekend.

Due to an error in a game two months earlier, the Force girls were suddenly charged with the task of beating third-place Bradford for a third time this season, and then, if they were successful, taking on well-rested west division-champion Burlington later the same day.

“To be quite honest, it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair at all,” says Bernard. “Whatever reasons they have, I don’t know. But for them to wait until the last minute to inform us that we have to replay the game against Bradford, I thought that was unfair.

“Then we had to play one game in the morning, and then if we win that game, we play at 4 o’clock – well, that is not fair at all however you look at it. You cannot have these girls at that age, at that level, play two games in a row.”

They didn’t make it to the second game. OSU carried a 1-0 lead thanks to a first-half goal by Dmuchalsky into the final 15 minutes of the replayed match. After gaining prominence for the first time in the Canada vs USA Olympic women’s semi-final, OSU had the now-infamous six-second violation called against its goalkeeper in the late stages. Bradford didn’t score on the ensuing indirect free kick, but did off a later corner kick, which OSU felt was awarded incorrectly.

The end result was a 1-1 tie and a second-place finish – one point back of Woodbridge, who went on to defeat both the west conference and Quebec champions.

“All the girls were crying,” Bernard describes. “Because the league took something away from them, and they knew it.”

The Ontario Soccer Association did not respond to an Ottawa Sportspage request for an interview for further explanation, as of press time.

OSU expects to receive word later this month on their current appeal to have the Force’s division title reinstated, although since they’ve already missed their chance to progress farther, the decision is not of utmost importance to Bernard.

“In our eyes, we finished first. And in our heart, we know it,” says the soft-spoken coach. “I asked the girls to write down comments about the season. All of them, in their comments, said we know that we finished first.”

The memory Bernard wants his players to retain is how they felt when the final whistle blew on Saturday, Sept. 22 at George Nelms fields in Manotick, when they became the first-ever Ottawa OYSL division champions.

“I wasn’t expecting (the final whistle),” Bailey said in her post-game interview, a smile overtaking her face as she recalled celebrating the historic moment with her teammates, in front of their proud parents and club members from many different levels. “I was just focusing on the game, so when it went, I was just the happiest person ever.

“I feel amazing. It’s amazing that we could accomplish this.”

Read related story: OSU U14 girls’ historic OYSL title restored

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