FC Capital United trio among 41 Ottawa athletes taking their first big step towards the Olympics at the 2013 Canada Summer Games
By Josh Bell
They all followed different paths up to this point, but Jordan Lundin, Miranda Smith and Vanessa Gilles have reached the same place – they are teammates for FC Capital United’s undefeated Ontario Youth Soccer League squad, and soon enough they’ll again be side-by-side in Sherbrooke, Que., representing their province at the 2013 Canada Summer Games.
“Having one player play for Team Ontario is exciting – having three is triple the excitement,” smiles Raz El-Asmar, the players’ coach for their under-17 girls’ team and Capital United’s technical director. “We’re very happy for the girls, very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish. They’ve put in countless hours for this.”
For all three players, the endless hours they put in to reach the top levels of soccer also included plenty of past time spent training in other competitive sports. Smith was previously a top provincial-level gymnast, Lundin still carries a soft spot for speed skating, and Gilles only began playing soccer three years ago after switching her focus from high-level tennis.
The girls’ road to the Aug. 2-17 Canada Games – which will feature 4,200 youth athletes competing in 20 sports at 20 different venues – was a long one.
Players are identified at age 13 to potentially be involved in the provincial team program. All three players participated in the Ontario Soccer Association’s off-season training sessions alongside the cream of the crop in the province. It’s an enormous commitment, not the least of which is the travel – trips to Toronto every weekend is part of the bill.
“It’s good, but it’s stressful,” explains Gilles, a defender. “You want to show what you can do. Everyone there is fighting for position. It’s a lot tougher than club soccer because it’s a higher level. You want to play to the best of your ability.”
Smith says there’s no doubt she’s improved quite a bit by training with Team Ontario.
“I find a lot of the players are better than me, so they make me better,” signals the St. Matthew Catholic High School student. “They make me strive to get better. The coaches are hard, but it’s good because it makes you want to prove yourself.”
Smith and Lundin both spent their early soccer years with Cumberland United, but have now gone on to excel for Capital United in the OYSL. Their team finished as runners-up in regular season league play last year, and are currently unbeaten this season with three wins and three ties.
The players spend nearly every evening with their bright, fun-loving team that nonetheless carries a fierce competitive edge. Making the trip that’s been many years in the making is sure to be a moment they’ll treasure, the girls agree.
“It’s exciting,” Smith says. “We’ve been working all year towards this, so getting the opportunity to go feels good.”
Having a pair of regular teammates along for the ride is certainly welcome, Lundin adds.
“It makes it easier on the stress level because you know people that are going with you,” underlines the Navan resident. “It makes it more interesting and more fun.”
The girls are looking forward to the Canada Games, but they are also looking further down the line. Smith will be going to the University of Memphis on a scholarship, Lundin also has a scholarship with Radford University in southern Virginia, and Gilles has an idea of where she wants to go but isn’t positive yet.
“U17, it’s really the last year for them (in youth soccer)”, El-Asmar notes. “It’s great to see these three girls invited, and keep going.
“Maybe one day they’ll even be able to represent Canada.”
New Impact signee
Also competing for Ontario in soccer on the men’s side will be Nevello Yoseke. The former Woodroffe High School student will pass through his soon-to-be new home en route to Sherbrooke for the Canada Games. The 17-year-old who most recently dressed for the Ottawa Fury locally will be moving to Montreal this fall to join the Major League Soccer Impact club’s U18 Academy.
It’s a big step forward for Yoseke, who’s always found immense delight in playing soccer no matter how grim life around him may have been. Yoseke and his family escaped war-torn Sudan when he was young and spent several years in a refugee camp before moving to Ottawa in 2006.
“Soccer for me right now is everything,” he writes in his Canada Games bio. “When I play soccer, I just forget about everything else in my life. The stress and worries disappear; it’s pure joy!”