By Dan Plouffe
Ottawa teenagers Ariel Young, Isabella Hanisch, Kayza Massey and Jonathan David all carved their place into Canadian footy history while wearing the Maple Leaf in international competition this fall.
For Young, Hanisch and Massey, the groundbreaking moment came in Uruguay during their quarter-final match at the FIFA Under-17 Women’s World Cup. Centre-back Young was called in to defend a 1-0 lead in the final minutes of Canada’s contest against Germany, home to the most recent women’s Olympic champions.
“I was obviously nervous, but I knew what had to be done, and I knew we were so close,” recalls Young, who made a big impact in her short appearance with multiple crucial clearings.
Standing near midfield, Young had her eye on the referee after several minutes of added time, “then I saw her whistle come out, and I heard the first whistle and I didn’t even need to hear the other ones – I just jumped,” adds the 17-year-old who was surrounded by a mash of players hugging each other to celebrate the upset. “It was such a great feeling. I’ve never had that before. It just felt so cool to make history.”
Despite 1-goal defeats to Mexico in the semi-final and New Zealand in the 3rd-place match, the quarterfinal win had already ensured Canada its best-ever finish at a U-17 World Cup. It was quite the step for a group that had only barely qualified for the global FIFA event earlier this year – an 89th-minute goal against Haïti nabbed them the third and final CONCACAF regional berth.
Young drew the most playing time out of the local Team Canada trio at the tournament – Hanisch and Massey did play the full match in Canada’s final group stage game against eventual-champion Spain – though perhaps less than was originally anticipated.
The former John McCrae Secondary School student was relegated to the sidelines during the Canadians’ opening 2 victories – the lingering impact of sprained toes that had threatened to wipe out her participation completely. Having an injury strike shortly before her anticipated World Cup debut was a hard reality to face, Young details, but she got a boost from legendary Team Canada player-turned-coach Rhian Wilkinson – the veteran of four FIFA Women’s World Cups and double-Olympic bronze medallist.
“Because she’s been a player, she understands the player’s side more, I think,” highlights Young, who spent several years with the Ottawa Fury women’s program, like her mentor did in the early-2000s. “Rhian really believed that I was part of the team and I really should be there, if I played or not. I really appreciate her telling me that.”
Wilkinson will now remain Young’s coach at her new home base in Vancouver – site of the Whitecaps’ women’s national team regional training centre. Young has lived in Vancouver with her aunt and uncle since the start of the school year, on the heels of a 6-month stint at Ontario’s REX centre.
There, while staying in Richmond Hill with a billet family, Young enjoyed having the support of her roommate, Hanisch, while she tried to keep positive through an experience that “just wasn’t the right fit for me.”
The pair had known each other for roughly 6 years – Hanisch often earning call-ups to Young’s year-older Ottawa South United Force team, which became the first local youth soccer squad to win an Ontario Cup title in 2013.
Young and Hanisch have gotten to know Massey well too – first, as an opponent who “we always wanted to beat because she was so good” as a goalkeeper for the Gloucester Hornets, then as a counterpart when she moved to OSU to play in the Ontario Player Development League, and closer yet with Team Canada (which is Massey’s second international side, having played for her birth country, Ghana, at the 2016 U-17 World Cup).
“It was really cool to have three of us from Ottawa,” signals Young, who received congrats from many at home, telling her how much fun it was to watch her play on TV. “We’d all played for the same club, and we’ve all shared an experience in the same league. We all kind of came through together.”
Young is finding connections to her Ottawa soccer family wherever she goes. Next fall, she’ll join a player she looked up to years ago, Adrienne Li, at the University of Central Florida – 45 minutes away from her grandparents’ place.
Young hopes to make a career as a soccer pro after NCAA soccer, and become a regular with the Canadian senior women’s national team – with whom she appeared for a friendly at the end of 2017 as a 16-year-old.
“I was just starstruck, definitely for, like, the first 5 days of camp. Every time I saw Christine Sinclair, I couldn’t say anything. I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s really her,’” recounts Young. “Honestly, I never thought that would happen. Especially not this early, but I’m hoping it’ll happen again.”
David scores unprecedented early success
David, meanwhile, entered the record books as the youngest Canadian to ever score for the senior men’s national team. The 18-year-old hit the back of the net twice in a September match against U.S. Virgin Islands.
“I was really honoured and proud to make my debut. Representing my country is something I always wanted to do,” indicates David, who didn’t realize the significance of his tallies at first. “I was obviously pretty happy, but the important thing is not to become the youngest to score, it’s helping the team to win.”
Humble and soft-spoken, David says he owes a lot of his success to coach Hanny El-Magraby, who he followed from the Hornets to the Ottawa Internationals men’s premiere team as a teenager.
“He’s the one who really got me to where I am today,” highlights the Belgium-based pro player. “He helped me a lot. Even outside of soccer, he was telling me just how to be a better man in life.”
David moved to Ottawa from Haïti at age 6 and built many friendships through sport, though he didn’t start playing organized soccer until he was 10. By 15, David was doubling anyone else’s goal totals while winning the top provincial league’s scoring title.
Many pro teams’ youth academies were interested in him, but David chose to stay in Ottawa and finish high school at Louis-Riel where he was a member of its sports-study program.
“I always wanted to play in Europe. That was always my ultimate goal,” signals David, who derives his drive from his father’s passion for soccer. “But I just thought it would be best to keep all the good things going with my coach and the players around me, and wait until I was 18 to take my shot in Europe.”
David’s impact was immediate for KAA Gent in the Europa League. Despite only subbing in late for 2 contests, the striker scored 4 goals in his first 3 appearances.
It was a similar story with Team Canada. After the pair of road goals, David made his home-soil debut with several dazzling assists and a goal against Dominica in Toronto on Oct. 16. Canada is poised to earn a place in the top tier of the new CONCACAF Nations League – a first step in the quest to qualify for the next World Cup.
“Of course I always think about (playing in the World Cup),” smiles David, who will be 26 when the World Cup comes to Canada, USA and Mexico in 2026. “Obviously it was part of my objectives to start making steps to do those kind of things and play for Canada, but really, I just wanted to perform and get better. I never thought this would happen so quickly.”