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OSU Force Academy Zone: ‘Maybe our best year ever’ for OSU in 20th anniversary season

By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Ottawa South United Soccer Club

Following several storied seasons in a row, Ottawa South United Soccer Club faced a quandary for its 20th anniversary season: how could they surpass their past success to mark the milestone?

Well, OSU Founding (and current) President Bill Michalopulos came up with one way when asked to rate how the 2023 campaign went: he gave it an “A++”.

“Wow. It was a great year for our 20th year, maybe our best year ever,” Michalopulos reflects. “Overall, it was a great, great season. We’re very happy with how things are going.

“Now the challenge is always to keep improving and not take anything for granted.”

OSU continued its steady stream of championships this year to bring the all-time total to the cusp of 200. Force feats at the provincial, national and international levels grew greater on the girls’ side, and the club enjoyed renewed success on the boys’ side as well.

The competitive fire that’s always fuelled OSU served as inspiration for Force boys’ teams to follow in the footsteps of the club’s groundbreaking girls’ players and teams.

A committed, intelligent group that excelled under Spanish import coach Emilio Millan, the Force U14 boys produced an undefeated season against the province’s best to capture the Ontario Player Development League championship.

“We’re really proud to see our boys’ teams back on top,” states Michalopulos. “It’s the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of people and it’s great to see how everyone’s collectively contributed to the rise.”

Centre-back Ty Williams was recruited from the champion Force OPDL squad to join Toronto FC’s Academy midseason, and he’s since been named team captain.

TFC brought a pair of its youth teams to town on Nov. 11 for friendlies at Ben Franklin Dome, which doubled as an opportunity for the Major League Soccer club to scout for more players ready to join a professional environment.

“The speed of play was amazing. It showed you the importance of playing this type of good competition,” Michalopulos signals. “It also speaks volumes about the development that’s happened over the years that they’re willing to drive up to play against our kids.”

Numerous OSU products are making noise in men’s pro soccer. Among them are Matteo De Brienne, who earned the Canadian Premier League’s Best Canadian U-21 Player Award this season, and Ronan Kratt, who transferred from the CPL to Werder Bremen of the German Bundesliga.

On the girls’ side, a pile of OSU players are powering Canada Soccer’s Women’s National Development Centre in Toronto.

Recently chosen to play for the Canadian U17 girls’ team were Mya Angus, Reese Kay, Katie Ozard, Isabelle and Annabelle Chukwu, who sent Canada to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup this summer and appeared for the Canadian senior women’s team along with Clarissa Larisey.

“It’s almost getting hard to keep track” of all the OSU products excelling as university/college players at U Sports and NCAA schools as well, Michalopulos laughs.

But there were a couple recent signings that especially stood out – Taylor Cassidy with Louisiana Tech, Annabelle Chukwu with Notre Dame, Sofia Cortes-Browne with the Arizona Wildcats and Rosa Maalouf with the Texas Longhorns.

“Those are big powerhouses – elite leaders out of sports universities in the United States,” Michalopulos underlines. “To see local players from OSU getting there, we feel so proud of the kids, and it also acts as a platform for the next generation.”

OSU also enjoyed a great season at the grassroots level, with enthusiasm for recreational soccer continuing to grow club-wide. Michalopulos thanked families for their understanding as high participation exacerbated a nation-wide shortage in referees. But feedback the club received nonetheless indicated that participants enjoyed the positive, challenging, fun and healthy soccer environment offered in OSU programs.

OSU’s competitive teams enjoyed rampant success across the board. Every Force entry posted a winning record in OPDL play this season, combining for a 73-21-22 mark overall. OSU also earned the most titles in Eastern Ontario regional and district leagues too with nine (the next-best club total was two).

“To me, that’s the mark that the club is doing something right, having that consistency and improvement year after year,” Michalopulos highlights. “It means that the foundations of the club are solid.”

Countless players, coaches, officials, parents, volunteers, staff and board members have contributed to building OSU into the leading club it’s become in its 20-year history, says Michalopulos, who was excited to see construction begin on OSU’s training and education centre at George Nelms Sports Park this year – which helps the club find a way to again take another step ahead.

OSU hosted a sold-out banquet with almost 700 attendees in the fall, which marked not only the club’s 20th anniversary but also the first time the year-end event returned since COVID shutdowns.

“There was so much excitement in the room,” recounts Michalopulos, noting that League 1 Ontario chair Dino Rossi and National Development Centre director Joey Lombardi delivered inspiring speeches at the dinner.

“It was beautiful to be back together and to celebrate our individual and collective achievements, which we’re so proud of,” he adds. “But the way I look at it is it puts the pressure on us to continue doing that at this rate and this level.”

Read More: ‘Relentless pursuit of excellence’ still burns strong as OSU celebrates 20th anniversary: Club President

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