By Dan Plouffe
With Vanessa Gilles and the Canadian women’s soccer team winning Olympic gold for the first time ever, the Sports Pages thought it would be fun to look back at that other time she won the championship and wrote some new soccer history.
We’re going back 8 years to when Ottawa soccer teams had only just begun to offer a real challenge to the Toronto clubs that had long dominated the top provincial youth leagues. Gilles was young in her soccer career, having only taken up the sport a couple of years earlier at Louis-Riel high school. The former provincial-level tennis player joined an FC Capital United under-17 girls’ team that was hungry to make their mark.
They’d missed the Ontario crown the previous season, finishing 11 points behind Glen Shields. Cap U put together an undefeated campaign to set the stage for a decisive match against the defending champs. There was no blistering heat to contend with like in Tokyo; instead, it was a cool see-your-breath fall evening at the new University of Ottawa stadium on Lees Ave.
Sydney St-Germain scored on a pinpoint free kick and Gilles held the back line as Capital United won 1-0 and then celebrated the capital’s first Ontario Youth Soccer League east division crown.
“These girls pulled off games week after week,” noted their coach Raz El-Asmar, now Ottawa TFC’s girls’ academy director. “They’ve always been tight games. We’d been down the road before, and they built their character.”
More than the title, Gilles remembers the warm welcome she received in local soccer when she took up the sport.
“I was fortunate enough to be in that environment and family atmosphere,” Gilles reflected in a Sports Pages interview years later looking back on her journey to Team Canada. “When I go back to Ottawa, we’re still like 18-year-olds playing kick-around. It’s really cool to have.”
At the start of the championship season, Gilles wasn’t really recognized as a top player on her team, let alone someone who would go on to anchor Canada’s defence two Olympics down the road.
But by midseason, the latecomer had been selected to Ontario’s 2013 Canada Summer Games team, even though she was still trying to find an NCAA soccer destination.
“U17, it’s really the last year for them (in youth soccer)”, El-Asmar noted in 2013, the year Miranda Smith and Jordan Lundin joined Gilles on team Ontario.
“It’s great to see these three girls invited, and keep going,” El-Asmar indicated, before adding prophetically: “Maybe one day they’ll even be able to represent Canada.”
This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.
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