Chelsea Abbotts (right) celebrates OSU’s east division title alongside goalkeeping partner Mollie Eriksson. The tandem recorded 13 clean sheets in 16 games. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
Two local soccer sides won their divisions only to lose the championship finals on the road against the teams they’d beat in the regular season standings.
The Ottawa South United Force under-17 girls and U16 boys both topped their 2016 Ontario Youth Soccer League east division tables, but couldn’t win home field advantage for the Oct. 1-2 championship weekend, held at the Ontario Soccer Association’s Vaughan headquarters, just down the road from their respective rivals from King City and Markham.
“The Ottawa teams are always disadvantaged,” highlights OSU club head coach Paul Harris. “Over a weekend when you play Saturday and Sunday, you’re away from home, you’re obviously not sleeping in your own bed, so your preparation is different in terms of sleeping, and eating.”
The Force girls and boys both earned semi-final victories on Saturday evening, but then lost the second leg of the back-to-back away contests Sunday afternoon.
“To play two games in two days against the supposed best teams in the league, I’m not sure it’s the greatest system,” signals Harris, whose OSU U16 girls also played in Vaughan, falling in the semi-finals. “What I’ve preached is we don’t have to be just as good as Toronto, we have to be better to go and win.”
That is what the Force U16 boys did during the regular season against Markham. They earned a season-opening 4-1 victory on the road, followed by a 6-0 blowout win at home in their later meeting en route to the east’s #1 ranking.
Down several regulars due to “an injury crisis” and a few more playing hurt on championship weekend, OSU beat Waterloo 2-1 in the semi-final but then lost the final 4-1 to Markham. It was just the second loss of the year for the 2015 Ontario Cup-champion Force, who bowed out of contention for this year’s Cup in a 5-4 semi-final penalty-kicks defeat to Scarborough.
“Guess where that was? Down in Toronto again,” Harris notes. “It’s always part of life being from Ottawa.”
The OSU coach of four years wishes there could be more of a rotation for championship game sites in the future.
“I don’t think it’s likely. Obviously we understand that the vast majority of the league is from the Toronto area,” Harris adds. “But in my entire time here, I can remember one (Cup) semi-final here in Ottawa. The rest has been in Toronto. It’s a little bit frustrating.”
‘Fantastic season’ for finalists
Harris says the defeats “take a little bit of gloss off what was a fantastic season” for his club’s two finalists.
The OSU girls had an undefeated campaign leading into the final. Defender Paige McNeil scored her third and fourth goals of the season in her team’s 2-1 semi-final triumph over Kitchener, but the Force fell 1-0 in the championship meeting with King City.
Earlier on Sept. 10 at George Nelms Sports Park in Manotick, the Force girls celebrated their first-ever east division title following a season-ending matchup against King City.
“It’s a big deal that we finished first in the east,” smiles Amelia Carlini, who scored the game-tying goal off a corner kick with just moments left to give her team the point they needed to clinch the crown. “The team jumping on me was really exciting.”
It was the Force’s second comeback tie against the defending champions this year, OSU having battled back from 2-0 down with 5 minutes to play in King City on June 25.
“Last year, we wouldn’t have recovered from it. Our team has just grown so much,” indicates goalkeeper Chelsea Abbotts. “I think that since it’s our last year as a team playing OYSL that it hit us all that we won’t be playing together next year, so we had to make this year count and lay it all on the line.”
Abbotts, alongside Mollie Eriksson, split time in net for the Force, combining to post 13 shutouts in 16 games. OSU and King City finished tied with undefeated records of 11-3-0, but superior goal differential (+51 vs +48) put the Force ahead.
“Some games, we were winning by a lot, but we still made sure we were clicked in the whole time,” notes Abbotts, who credits strong team defence for so many clean sheets. “We knew we can’t let those goals in, we need them for our goal differential, and that’s one of the reasons we won the league – we set our standard high at the beginning of the season and we didn’t let that standard slip.”
Abbotts says there were never conflicts working in tandem with her “bud” Eriksson, who missed OYSL championship weekend in advance of UEFA U17 women’s qualifying with Team Sweden.
“It’s not just us as goalkeepers, but as a team, we really want each other to do well,” echoes Eriksson, who was born in Sweden but grew up in Ottawa. “Me pushing Chelsea and Chelsea pushing me, it’s good because then we’re bringing us all up.”
The Force improved their record little by little each year they played in the OYSL – from 4-7-5 in 2013, to 5-3-6 in 2014, and 9-1-3 in 2015 before the unbeaten mark in 2016.
“It’s a credit to the club and the development program that we have,” underlines OSU U17 girls’ coach Dom Oliveri, who was assisted by his former goalkeeper Jasmine Leblanc with the Ottawa Fury’s 2013 W-League championship-winning team. “They were a great group of kids when we got them. And they’ve been great all season long. These kids fought for everything. They deserve it for sure.”
Though they didn’t get the end prize they sought, the Force players were nonetheless proud of their first, and last, division crown.
“Out of all our seasons, we’d never done it before, so it’s a really big accomplishment for us,” highlights Carlini, the league’s #3 leading scorer behind her teammate and 4-time OYSL scoring champ Clarissa Larisey
. “The first year, we were worried about getting relegated. We were at the bottom of the pack. As the years went on, we got to the middle of the pack, and now we’re at the top.”
Playing and growing together for many years was a big help, adds the Grade 12 Mother Teresa Catholic High School student.
“They’re like my family. These are my best friends. I wouldn’t trade them for anything,” Carlini adds. “That’s why it’s going to be so hard going to university. We are so close. But I know everyone’s going to go on and do good things.”