By Ottawa Sportspage, for OSU Force Academy
For Matteo de Brienne, signing with the new Atlético Ottawa Canadian Premier League franchise represents the fulfilment of a longstanding objective to become a professional soccer player, while his youth club is proud to see a homegrown talent serve as an inspirational figure for the next generation of local players.
“It’s an honour, a dream come true, especially for it to be in my hometown, where family and friends are,” says the 18-year-old Ottawa South United Force Academy product. “It’s incredible. I’m still taking in the moment right now.”
Though COVID-19 eliminated the chance for Atlético to host games in Ottawa this season – the league has instead taken refuge in Charlottetown for The Island Games bubble tournament – “we’re just really looking forward to getting started here,” notes de Brienne, who continues to train and coach with OSU whenever possible.
De Brienne was back in familiar confines when Atlético Ottawa set up for pre-season training at OSU’s home George Nelms Sports Park. That’s where the dream was first born for de Brienne, whose career began with OSU at age 3.
“Matteo was always showing promise,” reflects OSU Technical Director Paul Harris. “He was always one of those hardworking players who wanted to get better. He was coachable, wanted to learn and had that extra drive, and that really opened up opportunities for him.”
De Brienne got to taste professional environments early on as he developed with OSU. A tour of England with his U13 mates sticks out, where de Brienne got to play against professional academy teams and go on trial with Crewe Alexandra.
That same season, the attacker scored 44 goals in 20 games as his team topped the Ontario Player Development League. That led to the opportunity to join the Vancouver Whitecaps FC Residency program in 2016, where he played for the Major League Soccer club’s U15, U17, and U19 groups over 3 seasons.
“Being able to cope with moving away as a 14-year-old is very tough, but going through the process I think helped him grow up,” signals Harris. “You have to become older than your years very quickly and become very mature.”
A dynamic attacker with standout dribbling and finishes, it’s nevertheless de Brienne’s mental approach that makes the difference, says Harris.
“We talk to our players about it a lot: yes, you’ve got to have talent. Yes, you’ve got to be physically good. You’ve got to be tactically smart,” explains the former Everton FC Academy coach, “but the biggest thing I think that set Matteo apart has been his determination and his mental strength.”
Atlético Ottawa inks Community Partnership with OSU
OSU’s recently-announced formal partnership with Atlético Ottawa has further solidified club players’ pathway to the pros, notes OSU President Bill Michalopulos.
As part of the agreement, OSU’s men’s and women’s elite teams will be known as “OSU Atlético”.
As nationally-recognized leaders in player development, OSU has frequently been tapped as a hot recruiting ground for Canada’s MLS academies, but “it’s really nice for players to have that opportunity in their own city without having to move away from home,” highlights Michalopulos, enthused to have OSU Atlético serve as a logical route “where the best players in the city can come and play, and hopefully give them that chance to get into the CPL.”
OSU became the first member of Atlético Ottawa’s Community Partnership Soccer Program, which supports and promotes soccer in the National Capital Region from grassroots participation through to the professional ranks.
OSU will have access to Coaching Development, Player Development, Atlético player appearances and open practices, team store discounts, and ticketing for matches, with the plan to grow and develop the program over time.
“We are very proud to start building partnerships within the Ottawa/Gatineau soccer community,” says Jeff Hunt, President, Atlético Ottawa. “OSU have been great supporters of Atlético Ottawa that actually predates our arrival into Ottawa. Bill Michalopulos and Jim Lianos have been fantastic hosts for us at their training grounds, since the day we arrived, and we’re excited for what’s to come.”
“OSU is pleased to establish a community partnership with Atlético Ottawa and our PLSQ Men’s and Women’s teams will be proud to carry the Atlético badge,” echoes Michalopulos. “It is important for the growth of soccer in Ottawa and Canada, that our whole local soccer community does its part in supporting the long-term success of Atlético Ottawa.”