(From left) Antonio Carlini, Danny Assaf & Mehdi Essoussi. Photo provided
By Phi Trinh
Three Ottawa players and friends have set off to chase their soccer dreams together. Antonio Carlini, Danny Assaf and Mehdi Essoussi are a couple months into their tenure with Toronto FC’s academy, having joined the Major League Soccer Club in January.
“It feels great having my teammates and best friends with me,” signals 16-year-old Carlini. “It makes it more comfortable having familiar faces around me when I'm so far from home.”
Before they setup shop in T.O., the trio left their mark in the local soccer history books, playing key roles in capturing Ottawa’s first Ontario Player Development League championship to conclude their careers with the Ottawa South United Force.
“It gives a boost mentally, knowing you have people with you that you were playing with since the age of 12,” highlights Assaf, who laughs at the memory of Carlini being his enemy not so long ago. “Back when he used to play for the Nepean Hotspurs, there was a huge rivalry between me and him, and now we are best friends who left home to play soccer in Toronto.”
The three amigos have spent plenty of time in Toronto in recent years, whether as members of Team Ontario, or for previous visits and guest appearances with TFC.
They’ve become accustomed to being on the road for weeks at a time for various opportunities in Canada and abroad, though moving away from home remains quite different, they note.
“This time is weird because you always get that thought: ‘This is my life now,’ and you just have to move on,” details Assaf, who’d previously been to Vancouver, England, France and his birth country, Egypt, for trials.
Essoussi says it hasn’t felt like a true goodbye though since he stays in touch frequently with his coaches at teammates at OSU, who frequently offer their encouragement.
“I am doing great at this level,” he signals. “The first week was a challenge but I found it easy to adjust myself and start progressing as a player.”
Carlini says his “amazing” billets have played a big role in adapting to the new setting.
“They treat me like I'm part of the family and make me feel at home, which has really helped me adjust from being away from my family in Ottawa,” adds the centre-midfielder. “And my teammates at TFC are great. I'm starting to gain really strong relationships with a lot of them.”
Their group trains 6 days a week, with games on Sundays, creating a competitive environment between players seeking to earn a place in the lineup for the matches. The main goal, at present, is to gain a regular role on TFC’s Provincial U21 Elite Ontario Soccer League team.
“Competition here is super high,” underlines Assaf, a 2015 OPDL scoring champion. “Players here are all amazing, and come in day-in, day-out, ready to compete, impress and win everything there is to win.”
League1 sked unveiled
The West Ottawa Warriors will host the first game of the Soccer Ontario League1 women’s season. Kickoff is 7 p.m. at Beckwith Park.
The other new local entry in the top provincial league, the Ottawa South United men, start with two road games before their 3 p.m. home opener on May 13 at Carleton University’s MNP Park.