By Charlie Pinkerton
The 2019 soccer season is around the corner and it will mark year number seven for Everton F.C. transplant and now near Ottawa native Paul Harris.
Harris has been at the helm of one of Ottawa South United (OSU), one of Ottawa’s premiere soccer clubs, since 2012, and has watched the professionalization of soccer form around him.
Harris had worked with Everton F.C. of the Premier League for 10 years before taking the job as OSU’s technical director. He said he chose the Ottawa club because out of all the offers he received in North America he felt that OSU had the most potential.
“I thought I could really achieve something,” Harris told the Sportspage in April.
And his reason for staying so long – something unusual for professional coaches who come from abroad, well it’s just his style to value loyalty, he says.
Since his appointment, the full-time staff at OSU has grown five-fold. He expects Ot- tawa’s other soccer organizations have experienced a similar transformation.
“I’ve got to be honest, watching what some of the other clubs are doing now is also a lot better, so the standard of football in Ottawa now is a lot better than when I first arrived,” Harris said.
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But now – as like every spring – OSU is just one of Ottawa’s clubs whose coaches and players are getting ready for a summer of competition against each-other and teams from across the province.
Here’s what’s brewing for the coming competitive soccer season in Ottawa:
Over the off-season, League1 was purchased by the Canadian Premier League (CPL), which will start its inaugural season at the end of April. The CPL has stated that it plans to use the league as a feeder system to add to its pool of talent. There will only be two Ottawa teams competing in League1 this season: OSU’s men’s and women’s teams. This will be the first season of competition for OSU’s women’s League1 team. Its creation makes OSU one of only four clubs in the province to field League1 teams of both genders as well as a full eight Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) teams.
After two years of League1 play, West Ottawa won’t be fielding a team in the league this year.
There are eight OPDL divisions: Under-17, U15, U14 and U13.
Though Harris said he has high hopes that each of his club’s OPDL teams, he pointed to his club’s U17 girls and U17 boys as two teams that he has high expectations for.
Many of the boys on the U17 team come up from a team that finished 2nd in the OPDL last year, while some members of the U17 girls are graduates of last year’s U15 team who made history as Ottawa’s first OPDL overall champion.
They dominated early competition last season – allowing just two goals in their first seven games (which were all wins) – before clinching the league title with three games to go, thanks to their comfortable 17-1-1 league record.
Other members of that team are of the age group that won the OPDL Charity Shield – which is won at the end of the league’s post-season playoffs but is not considered a league championship – two seasons ago.
West Ottawa is fielding six teams – boys and girls teams from U13 to U15 – all who Kwame Telemaque, the club’s head coach, has high expectations for. He added that he’s excited for his club’s U13 teams to compete, though at their age group in the OPDL there are no scores or standings kept.
West Ottawa’s top U17 teams are playing in the Ontario Academy Soccer League (OASL). Telemaque says the club chose to enter the teams in the OASL to provide them with a cost-effective alternative to the OPDL, where they’ll still be exposed to university and college coaches.
“At those ages they need to focus on being seen by the right people to hopefully have a post-high school career, so that was our thought process behind it,” Telemaque said.
Ottawa TFC will debut four OPDL teams this year. The new club was created out of a partnership between the Toronto Football Club and the merger of two existing Ottawa soccer clubs, Cumberland United and Capital United.
Ottawa TFC will have teams competing in the U13 and U14 divisions for both boys and girls. According to Pavel Cancura, the club’s general manager, they had applied to have more OPDL teams, but were not successful in being approved.
“I don’t always see the inner workings and why the decisions come down the way they do but obviously it was disappointing,” Cancura said.
Speaking about the clubs’ merger, Cancura said that there’s been growing pains but that they’re now “getting to a place where (they) have (their) rhythm.”
With files from Dan Plouffe