By Sam Loveys
Local soccer families rejoiced as Ottawa played host to a rare 18-game Ontario Player Development League schedule this past weekend at George Nelms Sports Park, with hometown teams facing off in the signature matchups for first place in the standings.
The Ottawa TFC and Ottawa United Soccer Force under-17 boys’ and girls’ teams had recorded nothing but wins in the lead-up to their Sunday showdowns, though it was only the OTFC squads that had the unblemished marks by the end of it.
“We have a lot of respect for OSU,” noted OTFC U17 boys’ coach Brogan Engbers. “I think it’s more a testament to how good both clubs are and the quality of soccer in Ottawa.”
Having a pair of local sides at the top of the boys’ standings represents a change from recent years, though it’s very familiar territory for the girls.
With numerous championships between them, OTFC and OSU have been the dominant forces in the OPDL in recent years, and it’s no different so far this season.
Both local squads had allowed only one goal each leading into their meeting, with OTFC scoring 19 goals in four victories and OSU 17 times in their three wins.
OTFC U17 girls’ coach Pat Boyle has been a part of multiple championship teams, including the club’s 2021 U17 OPDL championship season. Several of those players remain on his U17 squad this year and he believes his current team is on track to follow in the footsteps of past successes.
“The key was overcoming our own mentality. We needed character and we needed teamwork,” Boys says of the champion squads. “This team is very talented, but talent only takes you so far. The key to any success they’re going to have is how they’re going to come together as a team.
“It’s not going to be easy, but I think this team has the tools to do it.”
The OSU U17 girls don’t have far to look for inspiration either. Many of their players have competed alongside Annabelle Chukwu, who recently scored two goals in extra time to send Canada to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
“It’s so good for them to see their former teammate be successful,” signals OSU U17 coach John Duggan, who was watching Canada’s final qualifying game in the car with several of his players during a road trip.
“The excitement when she scored was unreal,” he recounts. “That’s what we want from this club – players playing for Team Canada and representing us in the professional game.”
As expected in a clash between two undefeated teams, the game itself was a rollercoaster ride. OSU found the back of the net first as Brooklyn Menard squeaked the ball past the OTFC keeper. Moments later, they poured on the offensive pressure and Zoe Mclaughlan pushed the lead to 2-0.
That lit a fire in OTFC’s bellies, and they roared back and dominated the rest of the first half, scoring twice in under 10 minutes to even the game at 2.
The second half followed a similar pattern. Morgan Saunders scored to allow OSU to retake the lead, and then OTFC immediately tied the game at 3 with a ferocious counterattack.
From there, OTFC scored three more unanswered goals, including a gorgeous game winner from Mackenzie Lalonde. The emotional contest ended with a final score of 6-3 in favour of OTFC, which also received goals from Mia Cleroux, Rowyn Serne, Amelie Boyle and Danika Birch (with two).
“The only positive I can pull from (Sunday) is seeing how disappointed the girls were at the result,” signals Duggan, who has many players on his team who won a U15 OPDL league title last year but are hungry to avenge their penalty-kicks Charity Shield final defeat. “I expect a big reaction from them and they’ll be firing on all cylinders.”
The teams will meet again in the first round of OPDL Cup play this Sunday at Millennium Park.
Ottawa TFC U17 boys unravel OSU to remain undefeated
At the opposite end of George Nelms, a simultaneous battle occurred on the modern turf field between OSU and OTFC’s U17 boys’ teams.
“It’s a game that in everyone’s head is a rivalry,” Enbgers indicates. “We need to come out with the right intensity and earn the right to play in the game.”
Coinciding with the girls’ 9 a.m. kickoff, the boys’ match didn’t quite deliver on the anticipation in the same way as the girls’ did.
After a few minutes of back and forth play, OTFC began dominating time of possession in the opposing team’s end. Midway through the first half, Gabriel Tardif landed a penalty kick to give OTFC the crucial opening goal.
This would turn out to be the winner, as OSU was unable to find the back of the net throughout the contest. OTFC would pile on three more insurance goals from Bwidju Mutongolo, Maddix Roberts and Gaël Bah-Ceilier, not letting up until the final whistle to score a resounding 4-0 victory.
“I’m very proud, it’s a big point in our season,” Engbers underlines. “Almost every game so far we’ve had to face some adversity, but (Sunday) was a testament to putting everything together in a really solid performance against a top team.”
OSU remains in second place in the OPDL east division despite the defeat, while OTFC has placed a bit of a target on its back with the strong start.
“We say this to the boys: ‘We’re a solid team and when we execute well, it’s the other teams that have to adjust to us,’” Engbers notes. “It’s just about continuing on this path of what we’re doing well.”
OSU U14 boys rocket to top of OPDL
There were several other standout performances for local teams across the 18-match bill, which featured action from all OPDL divisions from U13 through U17.
None was bigger than the spectacle put on by the OSU U14 boys, who blasted Burlington 6-0 to equal their average margin of victory in seven wins this season.
Nabeel Mahmood scored his league-leading 10th goal of the season and Aidan Dehartog earned his seventh consecutive clean sheet, while Myles Knelsen (with two), Gabriel Elayouti and Alejandro Bolivar also scored.
The Force U14 boys have been the most dominant team across all OPDL divisions thus far, having outscored their opponents by a combined 39-0 total.
The OSU U14 girls have earned a perfect start to their season as well. Danica Menard, Alia Abdelrazek and Willow Baldree scored for the Force this past weekend as they downed Burlington 3-1 to improve their league-best record to 5-0.
It was a 2-2 draw between the OSU and OTFC U15 girls. Playing as a call-up, Baldree scored for OSU along with Paige Jennings, while Brooklyn Maheu and Tylie Theriault replied for OTFC. It was OTFC’s second point in five games, while OSU sits at 2-1-1, just back of 3-1-1 West Ottawa.
With two goals from Reinaldo Abraham, another from Benjamin Seleger, and the shutout by Austin Wood on Saturday, the OSU U15 boys beat Richmond Hill 3-0 to improve to 3-1-1 and gain a step up on 3-3 West Ottawa. OSU then went on to beat FC Durham Academy 2-1 in their opening OPDL Cup match the following day.
Each team plays roughly 20 OPDL league games depending on the division, running through to October.
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