By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
Ottawa TFC Soccer Club rebounded to record heights in the 2022 outdoor soccer season and it’s all because of Jordan Lundin.
No, the former Radford University player and current Ottawa TFC coach/administrator isn’t single-handedly responsible for soccer registration numbers that surpassed pre-COVID seasons. But she does stand as a perfect example of the type of person who’s now driving Ottawa TFC forward as an influential leader.
Lundin played with Ottawa TFC’s root club Cumberland United in her youth career and was part of the first group of local players who really trained frequently enough and at a high level to make an impact in high-performance soccer.
The Big South all-decade team member and conference champ had great success playing NCAA soccer, and she’s now working to help younger players back at home. Lundin is a sign of the club’s current stage of evolution – it’s been around long enough to have accomplished players return to further enhance the environment they themselves grew up in.
“It’s not just the soccer ball in the white lines uniting us anymore. There’s more to it,” indicates Ottawa TFC general manager Pavel Cancura. “Now we see it the same way. We have aspirations that are similarly strong, but we understand the bigger picture of it all and we all jive with it.
“The environment and culture has to be the best that it can possibly be. That’s what we all strive for.”
One reason Ottawa TFC has attracted record participants is that it excel where many other sports struggle: keeping girls engaged as teenagers, and having them coach younger players to show them that they can do it too.
“Jordan has done a lot of work there,” Cancura underlines, illustrating that new players are often jolted by the quality of programs and the warm welcome they receive from the likes of Lundin. “Just her personality alone has also helped develop some really good leaders.”
Quality grassroots programs is the another force behind strong sign-ups, Cancura adds. Key is having staff integrated to support all aspects of the club (not just the competitive side), and getting senior members of Ottawa TFC’s academy to share the skills and methods taught by their coaches with the younger players.
“(Staff coaches) make sure that the older academy group has the best experience they can, they’re professional, and we all learn from each other,” Cancura explains. “Essentially, our strongest coaches are influencing the strongest players, and then they stay and drive these grassroots levels all the way down to the four-year-olds.”
It’s a bit a departure from the old days of mom or dad holding the clipboard as the primary instructors.
“It’s more than giving a volunteer parent a booklet that has some drills in it,” Cancura says, noting the quality of parent coaches can vary from phenomenal to less so. “(Our coaches) know the game, they know the philosophy inside out, and they’re influencing these kids. So you can start to see that there’s something to that whole model all the way through.”
Some COVID pain persists, but future burns bright
Ottawa TFC bid a bittersweet farewell this fall to its long-time technical director, Vladan Vrsecky. Czech-raised Vrsecky joined Ottawa TFC eight years ago and has now returned to Europe to pursue his UEFA ‘A’ coaching licence.
“He’s influenced a lot of things that won’t be forgotten. It’s never fun to turn over people like that,” signals Cancura. “But a part of this club is that it is a place where people can grow and maybe sometimes roll into other avenues. We wish him all the best.”
Also a sign of Ottawa TFC’s stage of evolution is that players and coaches have branched out to places all over the soccer world, creating connections across the continent and around the globe.
“It’s really neat,” states Cancura, who enjoys trying to keep up with alumni’s university or professional teams. “Hopefully we can keep it going and keep helping people find opportunities.”
Maya Galko and Teegan Melenhorst are the latest players making the leap to the next level, having been recruited to join the Canadian women’s team’s national development centre in Toronto.
“They’re obviously different each of them, but they’re both really good players and really good kids and really driven. And they’re both very ready for what awaits them,” Cancura highlights.
Bolstered by uninterrupted preparation, Ottawa TFC faced great competition in the Ontario Player Development League this season. Its U17 girls’ team had a shot at a championship all the way down to the final weekend of play, ultimately settling for fifth of 23 entries.
Cancura observed a little dip in some areas for the club, induced largely by COVID and a fair bit of staff turnover, but he’s buoyed to see Lundin’s generation bringing infectious energy.
“Everything got a little rusty with COVID, so this year was closer to the standard, and I’d say there’s probably still another year (of rebuilding left),” Cancura indicates. “It was definitely much better than last year, much more complete, and a lot of us were excited to be back on the field.
“And I was definitely sleeping a lot less a year ago, that’s for sure.”