By Dan Plouffe
There will be some new bite to the local Ontario Player Development League scene next season, with the Cumberland United Cobras set to join Ottawa South United and West Ottawa in the provincial youth high-performance soccer loop.
“We’re really excited,” signals Cumberland United general manager Pavel Cancura, noting the club believed they met the criteria required to participate in the OPDL, which sets stringent standards for facilities, coaching, administration and organizational financial stability, but felt relieved and proud to get the official thumbs up from Ontario Soccer on Aug. 10.
“It’s no secret that the past few years we’ve been trying to build the club up to one of the regional and provincial powers,” Cancura adds. “It was the next step for us.”
Having already offered elite-level training, including a unique after-school academy format, Cumberland will make little change to its programs and coaching, Cancura says, the OPDL will simply provide a higher level of competition for their teams to enter.
“Lately the talk has been the hundreds of hours that have gone into the application,” indicates the Czech-born UEFA ‘A’-licenced coach. “But what we know is the actual work in the thousands and tens of thousands of hours that went into making the club what it is.”
There are many players who want to reach as high as they can in soccer in the club that now counts roughly 3,000 members, though maintaining a community atmosphere is the key foundation to Cumberland United’s success, Cancura underlines.
“It’s phenomenal. Everyone knows each other. Everybody steps up to support whatever area they can get into. That culture can’t be underestimated. I think that’s a massive strength of the club,” reflects Cancura, who was hired as Cumberland United’s first club head coach 8 years ago. “That’s the body of work people have done. That takes a long time to build and we’re very, very proud of it.”
The OPDL kicked off in 2014, though this was the first time Cumberland put in an application for a franchise.
“We’ve seen clubs pull the trigger early and realize, ‘Oh my gosh, we can’t do this,’” Cancura explains. “Being a bit smaller club and definitely in the growth phase, we wanted to see how this pans out, see how the league evolves.
“We have great growth and great things happening, but let’s not skip a step. Now we’re ready.”
Geography will help club’s competitiveness, coach says
The Cobras will kickoff with U13 boys’ and girls’ teams next year, and then will add 2 younger squads come the following season.
Though the region has struggled to find competitive success beyond 1 or 2 teams per age group in the past, Cumberland doesn’t expect to repeat that, says Cancura, whose U13 girls’ team has posted 4 shutout victories in Ontario Cup play this season to advance to the Sept. 16 final.
“We felt that standing alone, even if nobody were to come and support us, we could do this,” states the former NCAA and pro soccer player. “And we can only go up from there. Drawing players is great. We welcome the best players we can find. I do believe there are players from other clubs who have that passion to play at the highest level. They are obviously more than welcome to come here.
“But we felt like we had a steady stream of teams coming that could form the core of these teams regardless.”
Joining the OPDL is also a big win for the east end of town, Cancura adds.
“The feedback has come from even beyond the club: the city needed this. The area needed this,’” he highlights. “Geography is one of the reasons we’ve been able to become so strong anyway. OPDL may be exciting, but driving 45 minutes to practice and back is not that exciting 3 or 4 times a week.
“People were like, ‘We’re getting great training and programs here, teams are on par, so why would we go?’
“Now we even have that last piece, which is the competition. I think it’ll work well.”