By Ottawa Sportspage, For OSU Force
It’s cause for celebration when a soccer club can send 20+ players to postsecondary institutions year after year because of the skills they’ve built under the umbrella of the organization.
A spirited, sold-out crowd of 600+ came together to salute Ottawa South United Soccer Club’s graduating class alongside a pile of other accomplishments for Force teams, players, staff and the club.
There were a long list of highlights at the provincial, national and international level in 2017, which has become an annual tradition for the club as well.
Strong teams at the highest level are amongst the trademarks. The Force U15 girls became the first team from Eastern Ontario to capture an Ontario Player Development League Cup, with Claire Ditchburn becoming the first female head coach to win an OPDL crown. With the 2017 season down to its final contests, a number of OSU teams were also well-positioned to capture OPDL division crowns in league play.
Also celebrated was the OSU Force’s new partnership with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. In the fall the OSU finalized its partnership with the club to launch the Whitecaps FC Ottawa Academy Centre – only the second of its kind in Ontario.
“They have the best youth academy in North America, bar none,” OSU Club President Bill Michalopulos said to the gathering at Centurion Conference & Event Center, thanking the club’s parents, board of directors, staff, coaches and volunteers for the key roles they played in the success.
Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi also spoke via a video message at the banquet, while Canadian soccer legend Carl Valentine of the Whitecaps inspired the crowd with his own in-person speech.
Originally from Manchester, England, Valentine began playing professional soccer in 1976 at 17 years old – the same age as the oldest athletes being recognized at OSU’s banquet. In 1979 as a rookie in the North American Soccer League, he won a league championship with Vancouver. In 1983, he became a Canadian citizen and played for Canada’s national team from 1985-1993, including our country’s last World Cup appearance in 1986.
“If you don’t believe in your dreams, then it’s not going to happen,” Valentine counselled the young talents, the Whitecaps ambassador encouraging them to strive to become the next Canadian soccer greats.
“(The Whitecaps) ownership group is committed to becoming the best club in Major League Soccer, but that’s not going to happen without great partnerships,” he added.
“That’s why partnerships like we have with your club are important.”
Sustained success for OSU at next level
A toast was made to the OSU’s Jaeden Mercure, who joined the Whitecaps FC Residency Program this season – the latest in an ever-growing OSU pipeline to move on to the Major League Soccer franchise.
More than 20 OSU players will graduate to NCAA, Canadian university or college level competition next year as well, bringing the lifetime total past 200 since the club’s inception in 2003.
OSU product Kris Twardek of Millwall FC recently received his first call to Canada’s senior men’s national team. He donned the maple leaf against El Salvador in an International Friendly match in October.
Twelve-year-old Hadi Assaad also represented the OSU in the red-and-white recently, playing for Canada internationally at the U12 level in September’s Danone Nations Cup.
And Isabella Hanisch continued to make her mark as a member of the Canadian women’s national team’s EXCEL program.
“Our players are the best in Ottawa and some of the best in Ontario,” Michalopulos highlighted. “Once again, we had a great year. It’s success and continuing improvement that drives OSU. Every year, we try to surpass ourselves.”