By Dan Plouffe
The Ottawa South United under-16 boys and U13 girls, along with the Capital United U17 girls, upset Toronto’s perennial reign atop provincial youth soccer last month, winning three historic Ontario titles and delivering a strong message about the rise of Ottawa’s elite teams.
The OSU boys became Eastern Ontario’s first-ever Ontario Youth Soccer League champions with a 2-0 victory over Dixie on their rival’s territory in Mississauga on Sept. 28. They’d earlier entered the record books as Ottawa’s first boys’ east division champions. OSU clinched that distinction with a home-field victory over Toronto FC’s professional academy team, a match in which they hit numerous goal posts to raise their coach’s blood pressure before escaping with a 1-0 win.
“It was like a nonstop heart attack,” recalls Force coach Russell Shaw, whose team will face the Quebec champions for a Thanksgiving weekend showdown. “The boys played great. I’m really proud of them.”
Shaw was in position to win division crowns with his teams the past two years – including his current group last season – only to fall in the final game and finish second.
“It’s sort of surreal. I’ve been so close for the last three years,” Shaw highlights, adding that the wait made victory taste that much sweeter. “And beating TFC, who are supposed to be the elite of the elite, is a real good way to win it and secure it.”
There was definitely some added symbolism in beating Toronto clubs in the decisive games, Shaw adds. With so many OYSL teams based in and around the provincial capital, the deck is always stacked against Ottawa entrants, who face more demanding travel and high costs, coupled with frequent back-to-back games on weekends.
“We’re kind of the little brother that never gets looked at,” Shaw explains. “We’re the forgotten ones, I find.”
That’s a big-time motivator for Ottawa players, signals Force midfielder Dario Conte, who’s experienced his fair share of centre-of-the-universe arrogance over the years.
“It makes it a hundred times better,” smiles Conte, who savoured beating TFC in what was a do-or-die game for their opponents. “Sorry for the language; but (Toronto teams) think they’re top sh–. They think just because they live in Toronto and they’ve got the provincial team there, they think they’re the best.”
It was also particularly special to win the long-awaited championship with a group that’s been together, for the most part, since U9 or U8, he adds.
“It’s been awhile,” Conte underlines, expressing his pride in being part of a club with exceptional coaching and community spirit. “It’s amazing. They’re great people on and off the pitch. They’re really fun to be around.”
The OSU U13 girls also made history, but their coach didn’t get to see the moment. Widdgin Bernard couldn’t handle the stress of a penalty-kick shootout in the Ontario Cup final.
“I don’t even look,” highlights Bernard, who received a regulation-time goal from Emily Amano, and shootout goals from Nina Andrascik, Sydney Provost, Kayleigh St. Jacques to beat Stoney Creek.
“Mollie was excellent in net – that’s what I hear,” he continues. “When we scored the last goal and I saw the girls running towards me, I’m going, ‘Did we actually win?’”
Goalkeeper Mollie Eriksson put up exceptional stats this year, recording 10 shutouts in 18 games against East Region opponents en route to league and ER Cup titles. The Force never allowed more than a goal regionally, outscoring opponents by a combined 111-4 mark, led by Odessa Strizzi’s 31 goals.
But the catalyst to the provincial crown was actually a loss, maintains Bernard, whose squad lost a 3-0 match to Stoney Creek earlier this season in the Robbie International Soccer Tournament.
“Their mentality changed. They came to realize they’re not invisible,” Bernard explains, identifying good technical skill, eagerness to learn, commitment of players and parents, and team chemistry as keys to success. “If you have a core group of players that start playing together at U8 or U9, they bond and they gel together.”
Cap U girls win division
You’d be hard-pressed to find a team with a closer bond than the third set of history-makers, the FC Capital United U17 girls.
“Raz really pushes that – to always have fun and be smiling,” Cap U’s Jordan Lundin says of her coach. “We’re blessed to be on the field all the time. We’re a happy team.”
They’re a dedicated group as well. Relegated in their first OYSL foray, the girls came back, stayed up last year, and then went undefeated at 10-0-4 in the OYSL’s signature U17 division to become the first Ottawa team to win OYSL division title and play in the championship final (baffling boardroom circumstances prevented OSU’s U14 girls from competing in last year’s final when their east division title was removed, then later restored by appeal).
Capital United’s key victory came against top-ranked defending-champion/nemesis Glen Shields – whose lineup featured nine provincial team players – on a Wednesday evening at the University of Ottawa’s Lees stadium. Sydney St-Germain scored on a pinpoint free kick in the 1-0 triumph, which they followed up with the required tie and a win the following weekend on the road in Ajax and Brampton.
“These girls pulled off games week after week,” notes coach Raz El-Asmar, whose team fell 3-2 to Burlington in the east vs. west OYSL championship final. “They’ve always been tight games. We’d been down the road before, and they built their character.”