By Brendan Shykora
You would be pressed to find a local amateur athlete who had a busier 2019 than Florence Belzile.
To cap her year the 16-year-old soccer player was invited to the Women’s National U-17 Excel camp in Mexico City. Her first international level appearance comes at the tail end of a number of months of program-to-program bouncing and call-ups.
Ahead of being invited to the national junior camp, Belzile started her year with Ottawa TFC before moving to the Ottawa Fury, followed by Ottawa South United. Then came a call-up to Team Ontario and recruitment to the national program from the Ontario Regional Excel Super Centre – all this while moving to Markham away from family and switching to an English-speaking school for the first time.
It’s a list of different teams, competition levels and lifestyles that’s hard to fit into one breath, which begs the question: how much of a toll does it take to switch between so many different environments?
“Not a lot to be honest, because I love soccer so much,” said Belzile, fresh off her visit to Mexico. “Being away isn’t that hard because I love what I do.”
The U-17 Canadians played two games at the camp, which had results of a 3-1 loss and a draw. Though her team came home without a win, Belzile calls the excursion the highlight of her jam-packed year.
“Mexico was just a dream. I’ve always wanted to represent my country and I played my first cap for Canada which was really cool,” she said.
Belzile went to the eight-day national team camp alongside fellow Ottawan and Regional Excel teammate Sheridan Michel. The centre back has spent most of her competitive days with Ottawa TFC and was one of four players who made their debut in Canadian colours at the camp.
“She’s very physical, she’s a really good athlete and she sees the play very well,” said Belzile.
Having played together in Ottawa for two years, Belzile and Michel had time to share dreams of playing at higher levels – dreams they can now say they were able to live out in lockstep.
“When we were playing for OTFC we were talking about how cool it would be to represent our country and being in the REX program, being on Team Ontario,” recalled Belzile.
“Everything happened for us so quickly and it’s just so overwhelming, but we’re so thankful.”
When moving from home to Toronto to play soccer at the highest level it’s good to have a familiar face alongside you, and the two have become close on and off the field.
“She’s one of my really close friends,” said Belzile. “She’s shy but when you get to know her she’s very outgoing.”
Belzile, on the other hand, is not someone you could call shy. While playing for Ottawa TFC she decided she needed more of a challenge, and so she switched to playing with the boys.
“It helped me physically and the play was so much faster, so it made me better.”
Switching to the boy’s team would seem like a daunting undertaking for a young teenager, but Belzile said she wasn’t fazed.
“I’ve lived through so many changes in my life … when I got there I wasn’t nervous, I was still playing like myself.”
Belzile’s father is a military man, which means throughout her life she’s commonly stayed in one place for just a few years at a time. It’s why she’s been able to adapt so seamlessly to different teams and cities.
“He helped me so much,” she underlined. “That’s why I’m here, it’s because of my dad.”
Belzile’s dad also helped her find her future soccer destination. He made a highlight package of her soccer games and sent it to colleges across the United States, which led to her receiving interest from the University of Nebraska – a Big Ten school – where she’s since declared her intent to play.
In the NCAA the Cornhuskers-commit will have the opportunity to display the game-changing offensive skills that she possesses on a larger scale.
“I’m very creative and wanting to have the ball. I love to look forward and attack and be dangerous,” Belzile said in describing her own game.
Belzile still has much ahead of her before she settles south of the border – including a 2020 that might make the year that’s coming to a close seem tame in comparison.
Canada’s U-17 women will play in the Concacaf Championships for the right to earn their place at the FIFA World Cup for their age group later in the year.
It’s Belzile’s goal to make the team that takes its shot at qualifying.
“I’ll hopefully make the team because it’s not for sure yet, but hopefully I can play and make an impact in a positive way.”