By Ottawa Sportspage, For Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
The Ottawa TFC Soccer Club lives by a philosophy and matching OTFC acronym for its new club: One Total Football Culture.
One group of 17 players from the club recently got to live and breathe total football culture in a country where the global game is all-consuming, when they visited the Czech Republic from May 20-28.
“It was an amazing experience,” says Jared Linttell, an assistant coach for the 2005-born OTFC boys’ Ontario Player Development League team. “The boys really enjoyed it.”
The long-awaited trip had been in the works for most of a year, with lots of time spent on logistics coordination and fundraising efforts. The lead planner was OTFC Technical Director/the team’s Head Coach, Vladan Vrsecky, who enjoyed bringing a group of young players over to the country where he grew up and went on to play professionally.
The first stop on the journey was Prague, where the team did a 3-hour walking tour of “a very old city that you just don’t see in Canada,” as Linttell describes it.
They also visited the home of AC Sparta Prague, a storied club founded 125 years ago. Sparta Prague plays in “an old communist-era stadium, which is pretty worn out itself,” Linttell details, “but they’ve also got their training facility there, which has 5 full-size pitches and then 2 smaller ones all within the walls of that stadium.
“I mean, just walking into a big stadium like that was a pretty awesome experience. They all really liked that.”
Vrsecky, serving as de facto translator and directions master, then guided the group south where they visited clubs their coach played at once upon a time, and met a former teammate of his who’s now a coach at their home club.
The team participated in a tournament in Lipno, where the first thing that struck the players was simply the quality of the natural grass pitches.
“They make some of our fields in Ottawa look like crop fields,” Linttell laughs. “The boys were really, really impressed with the fields and just how professional everything was.”
The standard of professionalism was certainly evident in the quality of opponents the Canadian boys faced as well. Every little town in Czech Republic and Slovakia seemed to have its own high-calibre side.
“Watching some of these guys play was pretty impressive,” notes Linttell, whose team matched up with a number of professional clubs’ youth academies. “Many of them will be pros in 5 years time, which is kind of interesting to think of. It’s a very, very high level.”
The OTFC boys weren’t outclassed or blown out in their 5 tournament matches, but Linttell indicates that most opponents were indeed a step ahead.
“They’re just so smart. They know where to put the ball. They know where they should be,” outlines the former Nipissing University Lakers varsity soccer player. “And when they make a mistake, it doesn’t bother them. They keep playing. They know what their role is.”
The Czechs’ aggressiveness and killer instinct inside both the offensive and defensive 18-yard boxes also stood out.
“If our boys didn’t know before, they sure know now how hard they have to work if they want to get that dream of being a pro,” adds Linttell.
The overseas journey also provided an invaluable bonding experience for the group.
“Now you see how they push each other along when practices get tough,” Linttell signals. “They’ve definitely realized the importance of everyone on the team, and that you need to be on the same page to win.”
The trip also allowed players and coaches to get to know each other on more of a personal level.
“You get to see them in a bit of a different light. You can see their personalities off the field, or walking around Prague,” highlights Linttell, whose club will also send a girls’ team in the same age group to Europe this fall. “Overall, they definitely grew as a team.”