By Ottawa Sports Pages, For Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
Maya Galko and Teegan Melenhorst shared a special adventure in winning gold medals this past summer at the Canada Games in Niagara, and the Ottawa TFC teammates loved the experience so much they decided to stay. Pretty much, anyway.
After Team Ontario dominated the competition without a goal allowed en route to the national title, Galko scooted across the border to visit the University at Buffalo, and chose her home for the next four years with the Bulls NCAA soccer program.
A week before the Games, the provincial team held a camp in Toronto, where both players had just been offered the chance to join the National Development Centre’s full-time residency program. So Melenhorst decided to save herself an extra trip down the 401, packed up her life and moved right in with a billet family.
“I figured why not go now and get as much training here as I can,” recounts Melenhorst, whose older sister had been part of the NDC before, which helped her get setup quickly. “I really love it (at the NDC). It’s a great environment. It’s something I’ve been working towards for a long time, and I’m happy that it finally came true.”
Galko is also set to join the NDC in January for a half a year before she heads to Buffalo.
“The ultimate goal is to reach the national level and maybe professional one day. I play every single day just slowly trying to achieve that goal,” indicates the future communications/psychology student. “I’m excited for this next step. I’m just hoping that (NDC) brings me to that next level, and it’s only going to help my independence when it comes to going into university.”
They share the same club, the same kind of goals and a sparkling gold medal, but that’s about where the pair’s similarities end. Older by two years, Galko is a fairly tall centreback at 5’ 8”, while Melenhorst is an attacker who’s recently shot up to almost hit 5 feet.
“Teegan’s a tiny player physically. She’s getting bigger now, which is good, but that’s been a part of her life and I think it’s helped shape her,” signals Ottawa TFC General Manager and U17 Coach Pavel Cancura. “She was already the smallest, and then she’d play up (in an older age group) – she had to, because she was very good with the ball, very quick, and she just has a lot of traits that you don’t see very often.
“And then add that little chip on her shoulder she’s always had to almost prove that size doesn’t matter.”
Going against bigger opponents, Melenhorst found that they might try to be extra physical with her or get the ball from her differently.
“You have to learn to play around them and adjust. You have to be able to play faster and anticipate more. It’s the quickness in your game that really allows you to excel,” notes the Franco-Ouest high school student, who played competitive hockey until age 12 and bounced around several west-end soccer clubs before settling in with Ottawa TFC.
Cancura says Melenhorst stands out with her skills around the ball and when she has it.
“She’s just so smooth and so quick. She can play in any attacking spot, she’s got really good instincts, and when she gets fouled, she bounces up. She’s always been a super driven kid and works really hard on her own,” he adds.
“She’s got a lot of really good traits. I mean, once you get to that level, they all do, so she’ll have to find her exact place and all of that, but it’s absolutely no surprise that she’s one of the ones who get an opportunity.”
Getting cut from past teams fuelled future NCAA player
Part of the group most impacted by COVID, it took a little bit longer for Galko to be recognized for a chance with the NDC. She hadn’t made the provincial team on her previous attempts, and this past season was the first time she’s earned an opportunity beyond the club level.
“Looking back on it now, I think that was good because it was a really big motivator for me,” Galko states. “Those are the type of moments where you strive for something more. And that’s what makes me love the sport so much – you’re always wanting to get better and achieve something.”
The career-long striker made a big change before her 2021 season when she became a centreback at her coach’s suggestion. Galko remembers when she was young and players would rotate positions, she’d be crying on the field when she had to play the back end.
“I tried to keep a positive outlook on it, because dwelling on it is not going to help. Now I really enjoy it,” reflects the Grade 12 Gisèle-Lalonde student. “There were times where we’d score and I’d be like, ‘Dang, I miss that feeling.’ But it’s sort of the same as doing a really good slide tackle.
“You find those little joys in the game, and it makes you remember, ‘I don’t care about the position – if I’m on the field and my foot’s on the ball, that’s still great.’”
Cancura believes that Galko would have been an effective player on the wing for their club, but he thought that if she wants to vie for a spot with the national team, her future may be as a left-footed centreback.
“Credit to her, she never skipped a beat,” details Cancura, whose team was ultimately not hurt at all by having a new player on defence – they allowed just 6 goals in 15 games en route to an undefeated season and provincial league and charity shield championships.
“Maya’s calm, poised, accurate – she can deliver all types of balls, in the air. She’s got a lot of tools, and I think that left-foot is a big tool too. A very steady performer, physical, fast, technical, and very steady mentally too – prototypical of what you want from a centreback,” he adds, noting Galko was also a captain who’d do anything for her team.
Cancura has no doubt that Galko and Melenhorst will transition well to their new surroundings in part because they’re both very social and make friends quickly.
“They’ve got more driving them than that, they know their ‘why’, and they can definitely stand on their own two feet, but when the going gets tough – it’s not always easy training at that level – it’ll help that they get along with others so well,” he highlights.
It’s a bittersweet feeling for the Ottawa TFC duo to be leaving home – Melenhorst says being with her team is her “happy place”, while Galko says the culture is what she treasures most about her club of over a decade.
“I’m so thankful for the family aspect,” she underlines. “And also the individual development – there are really, really strong coaches that are focused on working one-on-one with players and providing them with the support and rapport for them to improve individually.
“I’m thankful that I received a lot of that on my journey to make me the player and person I am today.”
Learn more about Ottawa TFC Soccer Club at OttawaTFC.com.