Local soccer feuds over top-level U9-U12 playing formula

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A number of local soccer festivals took place in the past month with U9-U12 teams. Photo: Dan Plouffe

By Martin Boyce & Dan Plouffe

Turmoil has hit the Ottawa soccer community in the wake of Ottawa’s biggest soccer clubs withdrawing their top under-9 through U12 teams from their traditional home in the top Eastern Ontario district league.

FC Capital United, Cumberland United, Ottawa City, Gloucester, Ottawa Internationals, Ottawa South United and West Ottawa, and later joined by Nepean Hotspurs, were looking to establish an Ottawa Player Development Program for their top teams younger than the first Ontario Player Development League age group at U13.

The OPDP did not formally come to life, though the clubs continue to hold friendlies with one another. Some charge that it’s an underground unsanctioned league, while others maintain clubs have every right to arrange friendlies.

As the soccer season began, there were calls for Ontario Soccer to step in and address the situation locally since a majority of the district’s board of directors hail from the clubs that could potentially be reprimanded for violating rules on what constitutes a league.
Ontario Soccer has since called the eight clubs to its headquarters in Vaughan for a June 21 discipline hearing. With the hearing and prospective legal action on the horizon, the clubs declined Ottawa Sportspage interview requests.

The future outlook is unclear. Most every corner of the local soccer community is up in arms and ready to fight.

Amongst the boiling points is the exclusion of teams that previously played against Ottawa’s biggest clubs in the district league, including rural clubs and particularly the smaller inner-city St. Anthony’s Soccer Club, and within St. Anthony’s, teams part of the Parmar Futuro Academy program, along with several Surad teams comprised largely of low-income new Canadians from Ottawa’s Somali community.

There have been suggestions of racism/elitism in Ottawa’s big clubs, and return fire that the Somali community is being used as an undeserved pawn in the battle.

There are larger storylines at play about the rising cost of high-level soccer, professional academies vs not-for-profit community clubs, and professionals within the not-for-profit groups.

“Soccer has been the everyman’s game,” says St. Anthony’s operations manager Harold Visser, who circulated an open letter to the local soccer community urging them to speak out against the larger clubs’ actions. “It’s been the game kids can access for relatively cheap. All you need is some grass and a ball.”

Visser says that while there is a place for high-cost, high-performance soccer, “it shouldn’t come at the cost of accessibility for those who can’t afford it.”

The ongoing war behind the scenes and online has frequently been nasty. Lost is the fact that the OPDP at one point represented a somewhat unprecedented spirit of collaboration between Ottawa’s biggest soccer clubs.

Back to the forefront are layers upon layers of deep-rooted conflicts and long-standing bad blood. Some outsiders have commented that Ottawa’s soccer scene is the worst for infighting in Canada.

The battle has overshadowed news such as the Ottawa Gloucester Hornets’ new partnership with the Vancouver Whitecaps Major League Soccer club and the appointment of Whitecaps FC staff member Joel Moody in place of longtime technical director Mike Lanos, or the Nepean Hotspurs’ forced exit from OPDL, not to mention action on the field.

The Ottawa Sportspage had numerous conversations – most off-the-record – with a number of key local soccer leaders about the situation.

The Sportspage decided that interviewing players at three local soccer festivals (the May 27-28/June 3-4 Ottawa Internationals Icebreaker, and the OSU Nike Challenge Cup and the Nepean Hotspurs’ Foti Memorial Grassroots Festival, both held on June 10) might offer a refreshing perspective from the 8- to 11-year-olds, providing their views on soccer:

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Lesandro Koussa of the Gloucester Hornets. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Name: Lesandro Koussa
Team: Gloucester Hornets U9 boys
Favourite position: Midfield
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“Kicking the ball and scoring, and also playing with my teammates.”
How have you enjoyed the tournament?
“It’s not a long game. They’re short. And I didn’t like when I had to wake up early.”
Does it matter to you who you play soccer against?
“It doesn’t matter. I just want to have fun.”
Do you have goals you want to achieve?
“Being the best in the world.”

Name: Colin Aquilina
Team: Gloucester Hornets U9 boys
Favourite position: Striker
How have you enjoyed the tournament?
“I liked it because we played a lot of different teams that we’ve never played before. I like that.”
Does it matter to you who you play soccer against?
“I don’t care if it’s the best team. I’m just going to try my best.”

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Alex Mullings of the Nepean Hotspurs. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Name: Alex Mullings
Team: Nepean Hotspurs U9 boys
Favourite position: Striker, midfield, left midfield or right midfield
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“Scoring goals.”
What makes you such a strong team?
“Scoring goals, defending good, playing the ball in midfield, making the right decisions.”
What would you like to achieve in your soccer career?
“Doing bicycle scorpion kick goals.”

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Eva McCarthy (left) & Anya Corbeil of the West Ottawa Warriors. Photo: Dan Plouffe

Name: Anya Corbeil
Team: West Ottawa Warriors U9 girls
Favourite position: Winger
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“The games and the tournaments because it’s very intense.”
Does it matter to you who you play soccer against?
“Not really, but I like better the teams that are more intense to make it more challenging.”
Do you have future objectives you’d like to achieve in soccer?
“Not toe-planting. I also want to play for the national team, but I want to play for Germany. They’re the best. My dad is part German. One time I was at my school, and the kids came in the middle of the gym to see the finals with Germany and they won.”

Name: Carina Dowsay
Team: OSU Force U9 girls
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“Dribbling and scoring because I like to use my legs a lot and I like to make my team happy.”
Does it matter to you who you play soccer against?
“No. Sometimes it’s a challenge and sometimes it’s not. But I like the ones where we’re challenged because then you have to work harder.”
What would you like to achieve in soccer?
“To grow up and be a professional soccer player.”

Name: Leila Alsayar
Team: OSU Force U9 girls
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“Shooting and scoring, because it makes my team happy.”
Does it matter to you who you play soccer against?
“No, it doesn’t matter.”
What would you like to achieve in soccer?
“I’d like to be on the Canadian soccer team. My favourite player is on the Canadian soccer team, Christine Sinclair.”

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Isaac Wind of the Ottawa Internationals. Photo: Martin Boyce

Name: Isaac Wind
Team: Ottawa Internationals U11 boys
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“Seeing us execute plays on the field.”
Have you heard about the debate going on about where teams like yours should be playing?
“Yeah.”
Do you think it’s fair or unfair that some teams are excluded?
“I don’t think it’s unfair because they will still get the same number of games and the same practices. It’s just because everybody kept making new teams. If there’s that many people, then you’ll just play against some teams.”

soccer-U11Cumb. Gabriel Allison1

Gabriel Allison of the Cumberland Cobras. Photo: Martin Boyce

Name: Gabriel Allison
Team: Cumberland Cobras U11 boys
What do you enjoy most about soccer?
“I like to travel to different cities for tournaments.”
Have you heard about the debate going on about where teams like yours should be playing?
“No, I haven’t.”
Do you think it’s fair or unfair that some teams are excluded?
“If you’re playing worse teams over and over again, it’s not very good because you’ll just keep beating them. But it could be unfair for the other teams. I think it depends why they were left out. If they are extremely rude and rough, then it wouldn’t be that unfair that they got excluded, but if they are the exact same as the other teams, then it’s unfair.”

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