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OSU Force Academy Zone: OSU beaming after breakthrough 2022 season

Annabelle Chukwu’s smile after scoring Canada’s first goal of the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup matched the triumphant feeling felt on many Ottawa South pitches this season as soccer returned full force after two years of COVID interruptions.

By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Ottawa South United Soccer Club

From scoring a World Cup goal for Canada, winning more provincial prizes, bringing a long-desired home to life, and the unbridled joy of simply playing soccer again, there were triumphant smiles all around during Ottawa South United Soccer Club’s 2022 campaign.

“It was a demanding but very successful year,” signals OSU President Bill Michalopulos. “We had unprecedented volume and demand for soccer services.”

It was a challenge for OSU to serve an even greater number of players than before the pandemic, but the club was better-positioned than most to accommodate the surge in registrations as sports restrictions eased this year, since they’d continued operating as best they could throughout COVID.

“We were advised by multiple sources that we were way ahead of most clubs in Ontario during the pandemic, period,” highlights Michalopulos, and many new coaches were also successfully integrated into the club. “I believe that this state of readiness also translated into success on the field as well. We had a tremendous season however there were a couple of areas where the demand was so great that we had challenges executing the normal OSU way.”

OSU’s junior academy teams and players were strong this season, while the Force U14, U15 and U17 boys’ and girls’ teams posted a combined 73-23-15 record playing against the province’s best in the Ontario Player Development League.

The OSU Force U14 girls celebrated both league and Charity Shield Ontario Player Development League titles this season.

The U15 Force girls won their second consecutive OPDL crown and the U14 girls won both the OPDL overall and Charity Shield titles, with nine players recruited to join the women’s national team’s development centre in Toronto.

“Wow. What can you say? It’s just exceptional,” Michalopulos says. “I think a big factor in their success, apart from their natural self-improvement mentality was that they had really experienced coaching continuously from a young age in a challenging and fun environment – everything just came together.

“It kind of puts pressure on us for the future: how do you replicate that? But that’s positive pressure.”

Mya Angus, Bianca Hanisch and twins Annabelle and Isabelle Chukwu all played for Canada at the CONCACAF U15 Women’s Championship, while Annabelle Chukwu was called up for the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup and scored Canada’s first goal of the competition.

Annabelle Chukwu also made her debut with the Canadian senior women’s national team along with alum Clarissa Larisey this year – a club first.

“It’s funny, eh?” Michalopulos smiles. “We’ve been working for that (getting a player on Canada’s senior national team) for years and all of a sudden, it just happened in a single year – a tsunami of success. And it’s really great because they’re big role models for our kids now too.”

Matteo de Brienne played 22 games for Winnipeg’s Valour FC in the Canadian Premier League this year after breaking in with Atlético Ottawa.

With close to 100% of graduating OSU Force Academy players obtaining post-secondary scholarships, there are piles of homegrown products playing university and college soccer, while Ronan Kratt and Matteo de Brienne are among those playing professionally in the Canadian Premier League.

“We offer the whole pathway,” Michalopulos underlines, noting the OSU Academy senior PLSQ provincial men’s and women’s teams (which featured Larisey once upon a time) provide an additional steppingstone to higher levels, as do the club’s upcoming trips to showcase tournaments in North Carolina and Disney World in Orlando.

“These kids are making successful careers now in soccer and getting their names known,” he adds. “It’s so exciting.”

OSU’s home base at George Nelms Sports Park will soon have a true home as construction begins on a clubhouse, which will be used primarily for off-field education and fitness training.

Infrastructure development will be a major area of attention for the club as it nears its 20th anniversary. How can OSU scale farther, and will sufficient new soccer facilities be added alongside new homes in the Ottawa South area?

“Those are some of the big challenges I think we’ll see in the future,” outlines Michalopulos, the club’s Founding President. “This is something we really have to think about and plan for – to get ready for even more players who want to enjoy and grow in soccer.”

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