By Ottawa Sportspage, for Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
Toronto FC got a lift from their little fans in Ottawa while they made an unexpected run to the MLS Cup final. During the Major League Soccer playoffs, every TFC player would get a bundle of cards from admiring youngsters, including a pile from their affiliate club in the nation’s capital.
“‘You mean, Jozy Altidore’s gonna get my card?’” was the reaction of many Ottawa TFC players when told of the opportunity, recounts OTFC General Manager Pavel Cancura. “It was pretty neat. It allows us to connect the kids to it. It helps them bring that dream closer.”
The love went both ways. Just before the OTFC U17 girls left on their trip to make history as the region’s first national champions in their age group, TFC sent them off with a pile of free gear for each player.
It’s been a successful first season of the partnership between the MLS giants and the local Cumberland and Capital United clubs who merged under TFC’s brand, says Cancura, noting that their strong relationship goes well beyond the fun of cheering each other on.
“It’s the full spectrum,” he explains. “They open their door and show what they do:
‘Here’s our curriculum and here’s how we run it.’ That’s very cool because it’s very hard to get that.”
Ongoing coach development has been especially valuable. TFC Academy staff came to Ottawa on numerous occasions for classroom sessions with local coaches, and on-field training with players. OTFC coaches also went to Toronto to get a live look at how they talk to their players and work with them in their Academy.
“I don’t think we were astronomically apart to begin with, but obviously when you gain that level of insight into how a club of that stature works with their kids, you borrow any relevant pieces that you can,” signals Cancura, previously Cumberland’s leader of a decade.
TFC has also shared their library of resources, including videos of first-team players demonstrating skills that young talents are then eager to replicate. While in town, TFC staff kept an eye out for promising prospects, and roughly 20 local players were invited to train for a week at the Academy.
TFC was pleased to gain an affiliate club in Ottawa so that not every player with potential has to move to Toronto at a young age.
TFC also welcomed many Ottawa squads for a tour of the club grounds, a friendly match with an Academy team, and a TFC first team home game.
“Their facility is incredible,” highlights Cancura. “It’s an inspiring place. Just to be able to get the tour, walk in, play the game, and leave, it puts it in every kid’s mind: ‘I want to be there.’”
The clubs are working to begin similar trips for OTFC girls’ teams, paired with a visit to Ontario REX (the Canadian women’s national team’s centralized regional training centre), and several more exciting opportunities and initiatives for the new year.
“The biggest thing that came out of the first year I think was just the confirmation that both our organizations’ values are aligned. You can never underestimate that,” Cancura underlines. “Everyone’s comfortable and has delivered what they said they’d deliver, so now it’ll be about taking steps to become closer and closer.”