By Dan Plouffe
We are the Champions must have sounded like a broken record to the Cumberland United under-13 girls’ soccer team, as the groundbreaking Cobra queens captured 3 separate championships in 5 days between Sept. 14-18.
On Thursday evening, they wrapped up an undefeated season playing up an age group in the East Region Soccer League U14 girls’ division. On Saturday, they were down in Toronto to finish off a perfect run in the provincial U13 girls’ knockout competition, becoming their club’s first-ever Ontario Cup champions. And then it was back home for an ER Cup triumph on Monday night.
That earned the players a few well-deserved days off from practice, though that directive proved unpopular.
“They were raring to go and wanted to play more,” smiles coach Duane Bonadie, who wasn’t surprised his group reacted that way. “They’re really dedicated. All through the winter, 5 days a week, these girls are training. Not many clubs out there are doing that right now.
“They all work really hard. I’m really proud of my team.”
The Cobras won the second and third crowns of the trio without leading scorer Alexis Virgo, who injured her ankle 15 minutes into the first half of the Ontario Cup final in Vaughan. The loss of the fleet-footed striker (or outside back) – one of several players to attend a Team Ontario talent ID camp following the season – was a big blow, notes Bonadie, but far from a death blow.
“We were able to do it without her, which is a great testament to the team and that we have enough depth to account for losing Alexis,” explains Bonadie, whose daughter Riley finished a spectacular 9-pass play – 1 of her 2 second-half goals – to lift Cumberland to a 3-1 victory over Oshawa.
“I’ve saved the (Ontario Soccer) video and the article,” adds the long-time local men’s premier player. “It was really cool. I got calls from some friends I used to play soccer with who’d heard about it. It was great to reconnect with them.”
Far less enjoyable, Bonadie highlights, was having his players soak him with the traditional championship cooler dump.
“I got the Gatorade shower, and then they doused me with water, which helped a little bit, but I didn’t get to shower, so I was sticky the entire way home,” he underlines. “It was a 4-and-a-half hour drive.”
It was a rewarding sensation at the same time, however, to celebrate the big win with a core of a dozen players he’s coached for the past 4 years.
“That’s why they’re strong – they know each other very well,” Bonadie indicates.
“They’ve played and practiced together for so many years that they know each other inside and out. It’s a really great group. They’ve got a great dynamic. They’re like sisters now.”
The Cumberland girls made good on their club’s first-ever appearance in an Ontario Cup final – the product in large part, says Bonadie, of the Cobras Academy program put in place in recent seasons, and particularly the popular after-school elite academy that began a year ago.
“The club is just getting better and better, more profile, and better players,” signals Bonadie, whose club is set to join the Ontario Player Development League at the U13 level next year – a stream his group may like to enter in the future themselves.
“The coaching is excellent; the program is second to none; it’s fantastic,” he adds. “We’re just the first of many teams that will make the Ontario Cup final for sure.”
Oh-so-close for many local provincial-level teams
With most divisions’ regular seasons wrapping up by Oct. 22, a number of local OPDL teams are likely longing for the league to include post-season playoffs instead of naming its overall champion based on the team that accumulates the most points over the course of the regular season.
The OSU U14 boys and U15 girls, and the West Ottawa U16 boys, were all in contention for east division titles heading into their final games (which would earn them a spot in the end-of-season Charity Shield friendly between the division champs), but were all out of reach of teams’ point totals in other divisions.
The OSU and West Ottawa U15 boys held out the lone hopes for the region to secure an OPDL league title, in a 3-way battle alongside Toronto FC heading into their final weekend.
OSU’s Jade Taylor-Ryan (with 23 goals in U15 girls’ play) and Ronan Kratt (with 15 in U14 boys) were poised to win their east division scoring races.
The West Ottawa Warriors U17 girls did reach the playoffs in the soon-to-be-phased-out Ontario Youth Soccer League. With matching records of 8 wins, 5 losses and 3 ties, West Ottawa topped OSU 2-1 in a showdown for the final playoff spot, but then fell 1-0 to Burlington the next week in the crossover semi-finals.
OSU product Kris Twardek made his debut for the Canadian senior men’s national team on Oct. 8 in Houston. The Millwall FC pro player entered in the late stages of Canada’s 1-0 friendly defeat to El Salvador. The 20-year-old was Canada’s youngest player for the game.
Three local players participated in Team Canada’s U-17 women’s national team EXCEL program camp from Sept. 28-Oct. 5. Isabella Hanisch (OSU), Ariel Young (Fury) and Olivia Cooke (West Ottawa) were all in Burnaby, B.C. as the crew gets ready for next April’s CONCACAF Women’s U-17 Championship in Nicaragua.