By Charlie Pinkerton
It’s soccer season. The Ontario Player Development League and League1 have kicked off, some community clubs are testing professional partnerships, Ottawa academies are looking to gain steam as new entrants to the Ontario Soccer Association’s academy league, and a youth festival-circuit has emerged as the solution to what was a shaky last summer for the sport. Here’s more on what’s in store in the city this season.
There are eight OPDL divisions: Under-13, U14, U15 and U17 for both boys and girls. The U13 leagues do not keep scores or standings as part of Ontario Soccer’s focus on player development.
Ottawa South United (OSU) leads local clubs with a team in all eight divisions. Paul Harris, the technical director for OSU, pointed to his club’s U14 boys, U15 boys and U17 girls as teams that he has especially high aspirations for.
The U14 boys, a team of more than 20 players, are off to a 2-0 start in league play
“We think (the U15 boys) are going to be close (to be repeating as champions) on the eastern side overall,” Harris said.
The U17 girls team is made up primarily of 2002-born girls who have won provincial championships in back-to-back years.
West Ottawa has six teams playing in the OPDL: U13 boys, U14 boys, U17 boys, U13 girls, U14 girls and U15 girls.
“If there’s growth and development and strong retention, we know that we’ve had a pretty good year. Of course, we want to see some results, that’s always important, but it’s not our primary focus at that level,” West Ottawa’s outgoing technical director Kristina Kiss said. Kiss will be leaving West Ottawa after five years as its technical director to pursue non-soccer interests once the club fills the opening.
Cumberland United is entering the OPDL for the first time with its U13 boys and girls.
“Those groups are in our after-school program… so I think training wise they’re quite ready,” Cumberland United general manager Pavel Cancura says.
Cumberland’s U13 boys won the Elite U13 division of the Nike Challenge Cup held in Dublin, Ohio at the end of April. They outscored opponents 17-6 in four games in the tournament.
“I think they feel pretty good coming into the season,” Cancura said.
Cumberland is also debuting an “alliance” with Capital United this year. Originally announced last fall, the partnership brings coaches from each club to the other to share their expertise. Raz El-Asmar, Capital United’s technical director and club head coach, was one coach announced to be assisting with Cumberland’s U13 girls team in the OPDL.
This will be the second season for OSU’s League1 men’s team and West Ottawa’s League1 women’s team, both of which were the first teams from Ottawa to represent the city in their respective leagues last season.
Harris said that OSU is discussing adding a League1 team in the women’s division, nodding to the club’s strong group of girls born in 2002 as a class that may be fit to carry them into the league.
Two Ottawa clubs, the Gloucester Hornets and Ottawa City, are testing a new professionalized format. Ottawa City announced a partnership with Global Premier Soccer (the self-described Official North American Youth Partner of FC Bayern) last fall.
The partnership promises to open up opportunities for the club’s players while furthering its commitment to player development. Global Premier’s Craig Fannan also joined Ottawa City as its technical director.
Similarly, the Gloucester Hornets have brought on James Parry of the Vancouver Whitecaps as their new head coach and technical director as part of a new partnership between the organizations.
A notable pledge by the Whitecaps’ new leadership of the Hornets is a vision of the club becoming “the best non OPDL alternative for players across the city.”
“We’re not here to make money and leave,” Parry said. “I wouldn’t be a part of it if that was the case. It’s 100 per cent definitely for the development of (Hornets) players.”
Parry says that professional partnerships in Ottawa follow similar collaborations that are common in Europe.
Kevin Nelson Soccer Academy (KNSA) and FC Barcelona Ottawa have joined the Ontario Academy Soccer League this year for what is the second season of its two-year pilot project league. The league was founded through a partnership between Ontario Soccer and the Soccer Academy Alliance of Canada will feature 45 academies – up from 13 in its first year.
Three KNSA teams, the U15, U16 and U17 boys, will play in the OASL this season.
“It’s based around the development aspect,” Kevin Nelson, who serves as his club’s technical director, said about his goals for his academy’s teams in the OASL. “And with development the results will come.”
There will be five teams from FC Barcelona Ottawa playing in the OASL this summer. The academy will field U10, U12, U13, U15 and U16 boys teams.
“We’re expecting they’ll do well,” Hernani Eleuterio, the program’s project manager, said. “Are they going to win their division? We doubt it. But it will give them some competition that was needed for these players and I think they’re going to do quite well.”
It’s no secret that youth soccer turned sour in the city last summer. As a result, the Ottawa Player Development Program is no more. But the top U9 to U12 teams of clubs like OSU, West Ottawa and Cumberland – among others who were found not guilty of misconduct by Ontario Soccer in a July ruling stemming from accusations of holding illegal friendlies last summer – will not return to their former home in the East Region Soccer League.
Each of the community clubs contacted for this story said their top teams at the U9 to U12 levels will participate in formal Ontario Soccer-sanctioned festivals held on Sundays during the summer. Host clubs will be responsible for confirming team registrations and festival divisions and format.
The East Development League will also be hosting four tournaments during the summer. Three will be played at FC Barcelona Ottawa’s home, the Louis-Riel Dome. Eleuterio says the tournaments are open to any teams to register.