Ontario Soccer’s Talented Pathway for player development will now be going through Niagara Falls.
After nearly five years of lobbying, the Niagara Falls Soccer Club has been awarded boys and girls under-13 teams in the Ontario Player Development League (OPDL).
“It brings the highest level of youth soccer to this district. This will allow players starting at U13 to play in the OPDL program up to the age of U17 and U18,” said Nick Montanaro, the club’s vice-president and director of its OPDL program.
Plans call for under-13 teams to be added, moving teams from last year up an age group.
“So the 13s will become U14s,” Montanaro said. “After that, the third year we will have 13s, 14s and 15s.”
While the teams, which will feature a 3-to-1 training to games ratio, won’t begin play in the elite travel league until 2021, tryouts will be held beginning Monday night. Sessions will begin out of the Niagara Falls Soccer Club after the teams are selected.
Montanaro said players selected to the OPDL teams will be much too busy to also compete on travel teams representing their home organizations.
“The OPDL program runs 11 months. They get three training days a week,” he said. “We train from January right through to November.
“We play games on weekends. Games can be anywhere in Ontario, from Windsor all the way to Kingston or Sudbury.”
Home games will be played at the club on Springdale Avenue on Niagara Falls, but the OPDL teams will be regional franchises.
“The OPDL team is going to be branded. It’s from Niagara Falls Soccer Club but it will be branded Niagara FC (Football Club).”
Club president Tim Chamberlain said becoming part of the OPDL is a boon for soccer in the region.
“It will build and develop new exciting opportunities in the Niagara Region for Niagara FC players in the 2020-21 season and beyond,” he said.
Despite the name, the catchment area for players won’t be limited to Niagara Region. Because of COVID-19, players from Halton and Peel regions can try out for the Niagara team as can players from Hamilton.
“Sometimes, a player who might not fit in that centre might fit well in this centre,” Montanaro said.
Niagara Falls Soccer Club technical director Paul O’Rourke is the high-performance director for Niagara FC. He will spearhead the recruiting of coaches, help organized tryouts and be involved in selecting the team.
“One of the key elements of the OPDL is all coaches have to be licensed the highest level by Canada Soccer, Ontario Soccer,” he said. “Our head coaches will need to have a B Licence at the national level and our assistant coaches will also need to be similarly accredited with at least a C Licence and hopefully working toward a B Licence as well.”
O’Rourke pointed out the 95 percent of players who compete at the highest levels in the province come up through the OPDL.
“Ontario Soccer does a really good job of tracking player movement, especially with the OPDL,” he said.
“Because of the length of the program, because of the excellence of coaching and frequency of play, we are really excited that Niagara will be able to join that group of players if that’s the player’s pathway.”
The ratio of training to games will be 3-to-1, “which is critical.”
“We know that development occurs in the training modules and then is tested in the games.”
In comparison, the training to games ratio is 2-to-1 for travel teams at the club level.
“Players who play in the OPDL have a really great opportunity to lay the foundation for playing at the next level,” O’Rourke said.
The Niagara Falls Soccer Club formed affiliations with the soccer clubs in Fort Erie, Lincoln and Lincoln as well as with the St. Catharines to support its application for OPDL teams. Working relationships were also established with Niagara Falls United and the Welland Soccer Club, which are among the largest clubs in the region.
This week the Niagara Falls Soccer Club received another feather in its cap when it was among five new National Youth Club Licence holders announced by Canada Soccer. Licence holders can participate in their member association’s player development program’s standard-based leagues.
Players interested in trying out for the new boys and girls under-13 Ontario Player Development League teams running out of the Niagara Falls Soccer Club must attend a minimum of three sessions.
The following sessions are scheduled to take place:
Monday, 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Tuesday, 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 10, noon to 1:30 p.m.
Sunday, Oct. 10, noon to 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Oct. 13, 7:30 9 p.m.
Rain dates are Saturday, Oct. 17, and Sunday, Oct. 18, from noon to 1:30 p.m. on both days.
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