By Ottawa Sports Pages, for OSU Force Academy
The new Canadian Premier League soccer season begins on Saturday, April 15, and a trio of players who wore Ottawa South United Force colours as youth are ready and raring to make their mark.
Still just 20, forward Matteo de Brienne will begin his third season in the CPL. The hard-working and speedy forward was #3 in team scoring last year, and is now the top scorer returning to Winnipeg’s Valour FC this season, though he pledges not to take that standing for granted.
“Every single day I step on the field I’m thankful I’m with an incredible group of guys,” underlined de Brienne, who grew up with OSU and won an (unofficial) OPDL provincial title as a U13 player. “This is the dream I want to live. I’m still young and I want to see how long I can make this last.”
While with OSU, de Brienne received exposure to European professional academy environments before he joined the Vancouver Whitecaps’ residency. While home, de Brienne continued to spend lots of time training and coaching with OSU, and he first appeared in the CPL with Atlético Ottawa, OSU’s partners, in 2021.
He went on to earn Ontario rookie of the year honours and a national silver medal with the Carleton University Ravens in fall 2021, just before signing a two-year deal with Valour.
“I grew up in a very competitive family,” signalled de Brienne. “It taught me to take every game like it could be your last. That’s my perspective for every single day, every single game.
“The moment I get comfortable is the moment I’m in trouble. There’s a chance out there to reach a bigger goal and I’m going to do my best to achieve that.”
De Brienne said there were “a lot of positives” from first full pro season at Valour, where he appeared in 22 of his team’s 28 games.
“But there were a lot of moments where I had doubts too,” he added. “It was about picking myself up. It was about, ‘OK, you’re here. Calm yourself down and enjoy the moment.’ The moment I started enjoying the game was the moment everything started to go a bit smoother for me. That’s been a very positive part of the journey for me.”
This year, de Brienne will also be able to gain some guidance from a bit more of a veteran pro who’s also an OSU product. Abdou Samaké has joined Valour after spending the past three seasons with Pacific FC, with whom he was a CPL title in 2021.
The versatile 26-year-old defender says his hard-working and humble mentality also stems from his family, who moved to Canada from Mali when he was six years old.
“I remember seeing snow for the first time, but I also remember just how hard my parents worked so my sisters and I could have the opportunity of growing up in a stable society and getting a good education,” Samaké recounted. “They worked so that we could be in comfortable situations so that we could flourish. I always come back to how grateful I am for that because my three sisters all got college degrees and I was able to study and play in the U.S. I take great pride in that.”
Samaké enjoyed high levels of competition and training in his final season as a youth player at OSU to help him prepare for varsity soccer on scholarship with the University of Michigan Wolverines, where he earned all-star honours both as a player and for his academics. Samaké said graduating from Michigan with his parents in attendance was “one of my best memories” in his life.
“To be able to do something to make my parents proud and have them not have to worry about me because I’ll be able to make my livelihood was so important,” Samaké explained. “Now I just play freely. I’m pushing my football to the limits and for me it’s not about prestige or anything like that, it’s about excellence. I play to excel at the game. That’s what drives me.”
Valour kicks off its season on Sunday at York and will play in Ottawa on July 9 and Sept. 24.
New Halifax goalkeeper to make CPL debut back home in Ottawa
Though he’ll be on the visiting side when his new Halifax Wanderers club takes on Atlético Ottawa, Yann Fillion is sure to have his own cheering section for Saturday’s 1 p.m. contest at TD Place, where the park will be packed thanks to Atlético’s Pay What You Can promotion, with proceeds going to the CHEO Foundation.
“I think my parents have maybe seen me play twice live since I turned professional, and all my friends say they will come to watch,” Fillion noted. “I’m excited to be back home. There’s still more in me that I want to show, and this is a perfect opportunity.”
Fillion returned to Ottawa after completing a five-year contract with Swiss Super League Club FC Zürich, which saw him play in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland on loan.
“I’m glad I did it and got to see so many places and learn who I am as a person and a player,” Fillion indicated. “Now I can return, take all I’ve learned and showcase myself in Canada.”
Fillion, who spent a bit of time at OSU during his youth career, had been with FC Montréal’s academy when he set off to Europe in 2016.
“The only option I had then was to go abroad. I remember hearing the rumours (about the formation of the CPL) and thought how great that would be for Canada,” recalled the 6′ 4″ keeper. “It’s so exciting to have this league now and I’m so excited to be back home.”
Now in its fifth season, the CPL has allowed many Canadian players to break into professional soccer, and OSU makes that link to the pro ranks even stronger.
Atlético Ottawa and OSU have expanded their partnership for the 2023 season, jointly operating OSU’s PLSQ (Quebec premiere league) program. OSU’s women’s first team and men’s first team and reserves will be officially named OSU Atlético and proudly wear the Atlético family uniforms this season. The collaboration will also contribute to OSU players’ development while facilitating a pathway of professional soccer in Ottawa.
“This PLSQ program will help bridge the gap between those who have graduated from their respective youth clubs and stepping into professional first-team soccer in Canada and beyond,” said Atlético Ottawa CEO Fernando López. “We’re thrilled to extend our Powered By Program with OSU and offer more opportunities to Ottawa’s talented soccer players.”
Learn more about Ottawa South United Soccer Club at osu.ca.