Nicolas Fleuriau-Chateau was the leading scorer for the OPDL-champion West Ottawa Warriors U14 boys. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
The Ottawa South United Force under-15 boys and the West Ottawa Warriors U14 boys put their names in the record books as Eastern Ontario’s first-ever Ontario Player Development champions – in the process extinguishing any lingering doubts about Ottawa soccer clubs’ ability to compete with their Toronto counterparts.
“It’s a small beginning, but an important point in history,” highlights West Ottawa’s Chris Roth, the coach of the club’s first provincial champions in its short six-year existence. “It’ll encourage all the other teams in the club to strive for the same. And I do believe more titles will be coming down the road, whether it’s with this team or with other teams.”
In a district that, for years, would struggle to have more than a team or two across all divisions simply stave off relegation from the Ontario Youth Soccer League, West Ottawa and OSU’s eight U14 and U15 boys’ and girls’ OPDL sides combined for an overall record of 91 wins, 39 losses and 30 draws.
“We haven’t had that ever – that two teams (in a division) would be at the top,” Roth underlines. “Has it happened that we had a Cinderella team in the region that made it far? Yes. We’re not the first to win a provincial title. (Local clubs have won in the OPDL’s predecessor, the OYSL.)
“But what is a first is the depth. It’s truly, truly exceptional.”
Though they didn’t officially clinch the title until the last game of the season, the crucial victory on the Warriors’ path came on the road Oct. 2 against Toronto FC.
“Oh my gosh, I’ve coached at the elite level for over 10 years now and I can sincerely say that that was the best game I have ever coached at that level,” Roth reflects. “It had all the drama you could have wanted.”
West Ottawa went up 2-0 after 6 minutes, but then fell behind 3-2 and had to play a man short due to a second yellow card. The Warriors managed to jockey back ahead 4-3, but TFC tied it. Then with 5 minutes left, Sam Swinwood scored the winner – 1 of his 2 goals on the year.
“The boys were elated. They were so, so happy because they understood what they had achieved,” recounts Roth, whose team conceded just 12 goals in total over 20 games. “It’s one thing to beat Toronto FC in Toronto, but under those circumstances... It was simply the best game I’ve ever coached. What an effort.”
The Warriors benefited from an “influx of game-changers” that joined the squad from FC Capital United this season, amongst them Nicolas Fleuriau-Chateau.
“A good team always needs to have good chemistry, and that’s what we have. We’re all friends and have a great time together,” signals the Grade 9 Colonel By Secondary School student. “The people I met this year, it feels like I’ve known them since kindergarten too.”
Fleuriau-Chateau’s 17 tallies placed him 2nd in league scoring – 2 goals behind OSU’s D’Lontae Whilby, and 2 ahead of Warriors teammate Luke Rosettani.
As one of the smallest players on the field, Fleuriau-Chateau doesn’t stand out as a likely prolific scorer on first look.
“Everyone underestimates me because of my size, so I just show ‘em what I’ve got, and it always goes wrong for them,” he adds with a smile.
“He’s small in stature, but he’s got a heart of a lion,” Roth indicates, noting Fleuriau-Chateau nonetheless manages to be one of the best headers. “He’s extremely competitive. He really wants to win and he’s got that desire and passion.”
Tight OSU group rallies after back-to-back late-season losses
Force coach Simon Wilshaw lists off similar attributes as key ingredients to his team’s championship recipe.
“It’s just a great group and I really enjoyed coaching them – even if from the sidelines, I look like the crazy uncle,” smiles Wilshaw, known to vocalize his feelings on occasion. “Well, it’s because I care about them. Sometimes they need a kick up the backside.”
Wilshaw gave his players the figurative boot in late September. The Force had opened up a comfortable lead atop the standings thanks to a 14-1 record and a 12-game winning streak, but then lost two games in a row to make the title less of a guarantee.
“We thought that we already won the league before it actually happened,” recalls OSU midfielder Luca Nicastro, who won the scoring race with 26 goals – 6 ahead of WOSC’s Owen McKee.
The Force managed to right the ship after the defeats with 2-0 and 7-1 victories over Hamilton United and Markham to clinch the title.
“We just thought it would be such an accomplishment to be the first team from Ottawa, and the first team from OSU to do it, so we left it all on the field,” Nicastro highlights. “We said, ‘why let it go now when we can do something that’ll be a memory for the rest of our lives?”
Mehdi Essoussi and Nicastro delivered a goal apiece in the last two wins, while David Zhu added five of his own in the clincher to put an exclamation point on the historic first.
“The fact that we’re close, that we’ve been brothers for almost three years now” allowed the team to rise above the adversity of the unsettling defeats, Essoussi outlines. “We really motivated ourselves to push hard in training, and that carries us on to the game.”
Since they first broke through to win in 2012, OSU has averaged slightly more than two provincial division crowns per year.
Wilshaw credits a culture of excellence throughout the club, and dedication from staff to help Force players from all age groups, not just the team they’re assigned to.
“We don’t just watch our game and then leave,” explains the England-bred coach. “All the coaches are close, and we get together. We all go and watch each other’s games and we’ve all got a vested interest.”
Wilshaw does take pride in having a feather in his cap that his colleagues don’t have – yet.
“It’s fantastic,” he says. “Only a select few can say they won OPDL, and to be the first team from OSU to do it – hopefully more will do it, but no one else will be the first.”
Force U14 girls win Charity Shield
The OSU U14 girls also claimed their own piece of history this season as the first-ever local winners of an OPDL Charity Shield contest.
The Force won the OPDL east division with 14 wins, 2 losses and 4 ties, though west-champion Vaughan were crowned champions thanks to their higher point total (a 3-2 OSU loss to West Ottawa on July 10 was the big dagger in the Force’s pursuit of the overall title).
Each age group’s division champs did face off on Nov. 5 for the charity matches, and the OSU girls came away with a 2-1 win.
The participating clubs viewed the Charity Shield essentially as the championship game, signals OSU club head coach Paul Harris (though that wasn’t officially the case).
“The two best, east vs west, at the end of the season, we saw it basically a playoff to see who won between the two champions,” Harris indicates.
Playing on neutral territory at the Ontario Soccer Centre in their opponent’s hometown, Dalia Ibrahim broke the 0-0 deadlock with Vaughan in the final 20 minutes and Jade Taylor-Ryan added some insurance with her dazzling goal in the last 10.
“It’s important to recognize that there’s a squad of 16 or 17 girls, and throughout the season, every single one of them contributed to them getting to this final end-of-season game,” underlines Harris, noting team member is a college soccer scholarship candidate. “The group has a really good camaraderie and togetherness, and they are always looking to get better.”