By Ottawa Sports Pages, for Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
Success breeds success. It’s an adage Ottawa TFC Soccer Club is getting well accustomed to experiencing both on and off the pitch as its teams – and, more importantly, the culture around its teams – continue to grow and excel.
Take the group that won an historic title in 2019 as an example. The Ottawa TFC under-17 girls became the region’s first U17 Canadian champions that year, and this year they captured their second consecutive U21 women’s Ontario Cup.
Greater than the latest trophy win however is the enduring bond they developed as youth teammates, which has inspired them to continue playing together for Ottawa TFC’s women’s premiere side in the summertime.
“It’s awesome. Frankly, it’s incredible,” states Ottawa TFC General Manager Pavel Cancura, who previously coached the national-champion team.
“Sometimes I look down the bench and there’s all these U Sports and NCAA players sitting on the bench,” he adds. “It’s incredible depth, but you know, they just enjoy it. It’s competitive.”
The national champs set the bar high, and soon enough an Ontario Player Development League title followed for the next group of U17 girls. That success has carried on for Ottawa TFC, which posted a combined 50-33-14 OPDL record across all divisions from U14 through U17 this season (and teams were very competitive at U13 level, where scores and standings aren’t kept, as well).
There were no youth provincial championships to celebrate this season, though Ottawa TFC’s U17 boys and girls both came very close.
“It is disappointing because three weeks before the end, we thought we could win both of them,” signals Cancura, whose teams were among several jam-packed at the top of the table.
Nonetheless, Ottawa TFC has to count it as a very successful season overall.
“Firstly, on the boys’ side – I mean, you’re going from finishing dead last in a few divisions to being upset about not winning it all in a year,” he notes. “That’s definitely a credit to (coaches) Brogan (Engbers) and Kousha (Aminian) – they did really well and the boys did really well.”
Several female Ottawa TFC players have been invited to trials to join the Canadian women’s National Development Centre in Toronto, while Elijah Roche joined Toronto FC Academy this season.
Many more boys are being scouted by the Major League Soccer club, which held a tournament last weekend for its affiliates, like Ottawa TFC.
“It’s pretty great. (TFC staff) know most of our players by name,” Cancura indicates. “They definitely have their eye on them and they know which of our players are trending in that direction.”
Ottawa TFC enjoyed a great season at the grassroots and recreation levels too.
“I think we’re getting better and better at running those programs and making sure that everybody who’s in those programs has a solid experience,” highlights Cancura.
Seeing a big influx of players joining introductory programs is a great sign, especially as participation declines in some other sports, he adds.
“We’ve seen record numbers of divisions, to the tune that some divisions have doubled year-over-year, which presents its own challenges,” Cancura outlines. “But I think our staff are second to none really and are doing a really good job of managing it.
“We get a lot of parents and players coming from other clubs and when I go check in with them after three weeks, they’re just all praising us and saying, ‘This is awesome. I’m really enjoying it. The kids love it and they’re in a program where they’re developing.’ And that’s the key at those ages in particular.”
Ottawa TFC also kicked off a Sports-Études partnership with École secondaire catholique Garneau this season and recently hosted a tournament for high school teams.
“I’ve been really impressed with the growth of the kids,” says Cancura, noting that two dozen players were part of the Sports-Études program’s first year and that he expects others will be keen to join in after seeing their growth.
It’s been a bit of a similar story in the club’s coaching ranks, which are now well populated by former Ottawa TFC youth players.
“I think there’s almost no substitute for that,” Cancura underlines. “There are so many intangibles that they’ve learned and picked up over the years that make them see things a similar way.
“Everybody still has their own ideas and their own creativity that they bring, but we tend to have the same vision and the same values and priorities, and that’s what this community is all about.
“We use the word ‘culture’ a lot, and that’s literally it.”
When some of the club’s older teenagers look up to past players in their mid-20s who now hold leadership roles, it can inspire them to pursue a similar pathway.
“It’s a great job for a university student. You can put yourself through school with it and make a big difference in the community and do something you love. It ticks a lot of boxes for the right types of leaders,” Cancura details.
“The more awesome the atmosphere, the more people want to be a part of it. It really fuels itself.”