By Charlie Pinkerton
The biggest youth sport in Ottawa is back with a full season ahead for the first time in two years and that alone is cause for excitement.
Play in Ontario’s top soccer ranks kicked off this weekend.
In the days leading up to the start of the Ontario Player Development League season, top staff from two local clubs explained there’s plenty of enthusiasm to go around for soccer’s return — especially after back-to-back seasons were plagued by COVID-19’s wide-reaching impacts.
“We’re just happy to be back to a full year,” Kwame Telemaque, the West Ottawa Soccer Club’s technical director, told the Ottawa Sports Pages this week. “We were a bit rusty in regards to getting everything launched and ongoing operation-wise, because it’s been three years of trying to piece things together based on restrictions, but frankly, we get a full year and that’s super exciting.”
Pavel Cancura, Ottawa TFC’s general manager, echoed Telemaque’s optimism and added that he’s looking forward to a refreshed local soccer scene with plenty of new faces having joined Ottawa’s clubs since the pandemic started.
“Our (club) is similar. We have a lot of new and young staff, which I’m really excited about,” said Cancura, who explained that Ottawa TFC now employs several recent ex-players as key coaches, who represent a “homegrown, young energetic” staff core.
There are 23 Ottawa teams competing in the OPDL’s eight divisions this year. Ottawa South United and Ottawa TFC are fielding teams in each of the four boys’ and girls’ divisions, which include under-13, U14, U15 and U17. West Ottawa has a team entered in every division, except for a girls’ U13 team.
Three Ottawa teams, including one from each of the city’s clubs, also go into the season as their division’s provincial title holder.
West Ottawa’s defending champs — its U17 boys — shape up as having possibly the toughest pathway to repeating last year’s achievement, since it’s effectively a new team. Telemaque says West Ottawa still has “some really high expectations” for the 2005-born boys making up the nucleus of the club’s U17 team.
The fortunes of another of last year’s division champions, Ottawa TFC’s U17 girls, will also be in the hands — or, rather, feet — of a mostly-new group of girls. The bulk of its starting line from last year graduated from OPDL play, including most of whom have signed on to play university-level soccer at schools across Canada and the U.S. However, the team’s starting backline is made up mostly of players who were on last season’s Charity Shield-winners, which Cancura said gives the team a “pretty solid” foundation, which new members who played for Ottawa TFC’s U15 team last year will add to.
“If you had to pick where you’d want your experienced players, that’s (the backline) probably where you’d want to put them,” he said.
The final Charity Shield-winning team from Ottawa last year was OSU’s U14 girls, who this year have of course moved up to the U15 division. The group dominated its age group last year with a plus-91 goal differential, which was tied for best across all OPDL divisions.
They picked up right where they left off in their first test of the season, dominating their West Ottawa opponents 8-1. OSU forward Annabelle Chukwu, who nearly tripled the next-highest goal-scorer U14 girls division last year, notched five of the team’s eight goals in its season-opening win.
Ottawa TFC’s U15 girls also put in a commanding performance in its first game of the season, beating Kingston United 6-1.
The U15 boys division and boys’ and girls’ U13 divisions also kicked off play this weekend. Scores and standings aren’t recorded in the OPDL’s U13 divisions.
Ottawa TFC’s U15 boys started their season with a victory, defeating Kingston United 2-0. Also in the division, OSU tied 0-0 against Aurora FC, and West Ottawa lost its opener 4-1 against Unionville Milliken.
By next Sunday, all OPDL teams’ regular seasons will have begun.
More season-opening soccer coverage
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