By Martin Boyce
The undefeated Ottawa South United Force are looking to hold off the West Ottawa Warriors’ push to top the under-15 boys’ Ontario Player Development League standings, one year after watching their cross-town rival secure the historic championship.
Not quite half way through the season, OSU has dominated its competition, only conceding 1 goal in 7 league games. Consistent effort has been key for the team’s success, says coach Abraham Osman.
“We get the ball to our danger players,” he explains. “They’ve been able to capitalize on chances they’ve had and score a lot of goals by retaining the ball and keeping possession.”
Though the OPDL features older age groups, the U15 level has almost become the signature division on the boys’ side since many of the top players tend to join professional clubs’ youth academies by the time they’re 16.
Champions at the U15 level last year, OSU didn’t field a U16 team this season, with so many moving on to the next level, particularly with Toronto FC of Major League Soccer. Those kind of opportunities provide plenty of fuel to the fire for teenaged OPDL players, Osman indicates.
“Perfect your craft and your skills,” he preaches. “You have to make it almost a perfect art because at the next level, for every one of you, there are five or six in the same position you have to beat out.”
OSU leading scorer D’lontae Whilby is one of those players hoping to move on to a pro club next year, but he wants a title to his name before then.
“My team is very valuable and I’ve gotten to know them, so coming through as a team would mean a lot,” signals the league’s #6 scorer with 9 goals in 8 games. “I’d like to play pro in the MLS. Of course in Europe too, to make the big bucks. I’m just always trying to make it to the next level.”
At #2 in the U15 boys’ scoring race is OPDL newcomer Ali Audy, who joined the Warriors this season from the Kevin Nelson Soccer Academy.
“I just found this team because I heard they won the league last year and have a very good coach and very good players,” explains Audy, an Iraqi-born Syrian refugee whose family had fled two wars in the middle east.
Audy, who’s scored 11 times in 9 matches, credits his growth and success this year to his West Ottawa teammates.
“My finishing has gone well, but without them I wouldn’t be able to score all those goals,” he highlights. “So thank you to them.”
Audy, who idolizes and aspires to be like Lionel Messi, has his sights set on playing professionally in Sweden, where he and his former teammates went to compete in the Gothia Cup last year.
“I want to play pro anywhere in Europe and represent my country,” he underlines.
Lurking close by with 6 wins, 2 losses and a tie, the Warriors could yet rain on OSU’s planned championship parade.
Meeting during a massive June downpour for the OPDL quarter-finals, it was West Ottawa applying consistent offensive pressure on OSU to advance in the knockout competition with a 2-0 win.
“Offensively, we’re always a threat. At any point in time, we are able to penetrate the defence,” signals West Ottawa coach Chris Roth. “Defensively, we’ve been struggling a little bit. That’s why we’re not at the top of the table.”
The Warriors blow out their opponents more often than not, but they’ve been on the receiving end of a couple big defeats too.
“We just need to play more consistent,” Roth adds. “But the boys are absolutely able to play at the top level, there is no doubt about it.”
The local rivals will meet again Aug. 3 in OPDL regular season action.
Also sitting strong at the OPDL midseason break are the OSU U14 boys (1st with 7 wins, a loss and 2 draws) and U15 girls (1st at 7-1-2), the West Ottawa U16 boys (1st at 7-4-0), U14 girls (5-1-3, though stuck down in 4th) and U16 girls (2nd at 5-1-1).