By Melissa Novacaska
The soccer fields at Carleton University were the site of some of the city’s division-topping Ontario Player Development League (OPDL) teams for a weekend of competition in early July.
The 1-2-3 standing West Ottawa, Ottawa TFC and Ottawa South United (OSU) U14 boys of the OPDL east division each played matches during July 6-7.
On the Sunday, West Ottawa won an early morning game 5-2 over Burlington, while OSU lost 4-3 in a game against North Mississauga. Ottawa TFC also lost their matchup with Hamilton United by a score of 3-0.
While West Ottawa’s head coach Kwame Telemaque was happy with his team’s win, OSU head coach Simon Wilshaw said his team made “silly little mistakes” that cost them their game. Jared Linttell, assistant coach of the Ottawa TFC team, said though the boys were meeting the objectives both himself and head coach Vladan Vrsecky set out for them, the team perhaps got a bit tired and were overmatched by the opposing team’s bigger players.
The games marked the approximate midway-point in the OPDL season. Telemaque said his team, which at the time of publication topped the east division with a record of 9-1-2, has been “performing pretty well” so far, while Linttell said Ottawa TFC’s team (2nd in the east with a record of 4-1-6) has had its ups and downs.
Wilshaw and OSU technical director Paul Harris agreed his club’s team (3rd in the division with a record of 3-2-3) has been steady so far.
Ottawa teams sitting at the top of the division brings into question how the sport has developed over the last few years in the city and where it can go from here.
“[Ottawa has] always kind of been a hotbed and I think it’s just getting highlighted with the OPDL; the fact that, there’s three [Ottawa] teams and historically with the population that we have, going against the GTA,” Telemaque said.
“We don’t always fare so well, but it just shows what every club and every coach in the city is actually doing and they’re doing some really good things,” Telemaque added.
He also commended the coaches across the province for keeping the level of competition high and maintaining a closely-fought league and division.
Linttell highlighted the fact that while the Ottawa teams have been impressive over the last few years, their heightened competitiveness raises awareness of the quality of the city’s soccer.
“It just goes to show that you don’t have to live in Toronto to have good soccer and it’s nice that the Ottawa teams can compete,” Linttell said.
Wilshaw said though OSU was seen as “top dogs” in the past, he has noticed how other Ottawa clubs have stepped up their play, which has bred local rivalries, meaning that his club’s teams don’t have to play Toronto-area teams to achieve the same intensity.
“I love a challenge, [and] now you can get one on your doorstep, which is great. It just shows that there’s quality in the city and that there’s obviously the right people out there putting their hours in and developing the kids and it’s good,” Wilshaw said.
The competitiveness is a positive for both the players and the coaches, according to Wilshaw, who said it helps their development.
While both Telemaque and Linttell praised the strength of Ottawa’s soccer scene and Wilshaw was generally positive about it, Harris had a different outlook.
While Harris agrees Ottawa soccer is improving, he also pointed out a downside.
“Since I’ve been here, there’s been a vast improvement, [but] I think what’s happened though is with the OPDL, there’s so many teams across the league that there’s been a bit of a watering down of the standing compared to the past,” Harris explained.
In the past he says the best players from the different teams in the provincial level would migrate altogether and be on one team, but now with three franchises in Ottawa alone, each team has their “pockets of good players.”
What he sees now is that while there are more players available to play at the provincial level, the league strength hasn’t grown comparatively.
“(I’m) not sure there’s enough good players to go around anymore,” Harris said.
Ontario REX Team
Another team featuring Ottawa players will soon join play in the U14 boys east division.
The Ontario Regional EXCEL (REX) 2019 team is a group of female players, who are part of the prestigious provincial team and live and train in Toronto. According to Ottawa South United (OSU) technical director, Paul Harris, the point of the program is to get the “best pool of female players in one central environment to help move them forward.”
West Ottawa alumna Keera Melenhorst and Ottawa South United (OSU) alumnae Bella Hanisch and Kayza Massey are each members of this year’s Ontario REX squad. They’ll play games against OPDL U14 boys division teams in September.