Soccer players get kick out of youth tournament,
Team Canada finished sixth in world
On a typical game day, Brogan Engbers and Dontaye Whittaker would run onto the soccer field for their respective Cumberland Cobras and Capital United teams, aiming to play well and pursue a victory.
As skilled as they are for 12-year-olds, the sidelines might be lined with only a couple of dozen fans sitting in folding chairs, mostly parents and an occasional interested person walking the family dog.
But when Ottawa’s two best preteen soccer players were named to Team Canada for the Danone Nations Cup world youth (ages 10-12) soccer championship in Spain, the beautiful game exploded right in front of their faces.
They, in turn, helped the 14-member national team create some fireworks of its own as Canada finished a best-ever sixth in the 40-country global championship for nine-a-side soccer.
After going undefeated in its round-robin pool with wins over three-time champion South Africa, Bulgaria and Germany as well as a tie against Algeria, Canada won two of three playoff games to reach the fifth-place game against England.
You would figure a nonmedal match would be played in a small, secondary setting with bleacher seats in front of a handful of fans. But this was the Nations Cup and every game is deemed important.
Translated, that meant the fifth-place game was scheduled for the main stadium — the 84,454-seat Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, the famous squared home of the Real Madrid Club de Futbol in Madrid.
And they didn’t play in an empty soccer sanctuary, either. For its eighth and final 15-minute game on a half field, going sideline to sideline, more than 45,000 fans sat in the stadium and cheered loudly for both Canada and England, showing soccer at any age, no matter who is competing, is worth supporting.
“The noise was so loud we could barely hear each other on the field. They were chanting and it was hard to concentrate,” said Brogan, who played all eight games as goalkeeper and only allowed three goals.
“It certainly beats 20 people at our normal games. That was much more than I ever imagined. I looked around the stadium and people were chanting ‘Ca-NaDa, Ca-Na-Da.’ ”
Brogan even heard that same cheer right behind him during the critical overtime penalty kicks, which England won 3-2 for a 2-1 victory and fifth place.
Dontaye, who was somewhat nervous before the game, tried to take all of the attention and noise from the huge crowd in stride and not have it affect his game. But just playing in the same stadium as superstars like Raul Gonzalez and Cristiano Rinaldo left in him awe.
“It was an honour to step on the field of all those amazing players,” said Dontaye, who was wearing his red No. 11 jersey. “It made me feel like a pro.”
The final playoff game pumped up the ego of the Grade 7 student at Lester B. Pearson Catholic High School, even for a short time.
“I felt famous. Everyone wanted to slap hands or have a picture,” he said.
But Dontaye, an attack midfielder for his Capital United team, kept his focus mainly on the field as a Canadian defender. He was aiming for a medal.
“We wanted to make history for Canada,” he said, referring to reaching the medal podium. “I thought we’d go all the way and get gold. I had the determination. Sadly, we lost to Thailand (1-0 in the quarter-finals).”
Sixth place was a worthwhile achievement and earned the players medals and the team a trophy, but it wasn’t enough for Dontaye.
“I believe we could have done better,” he said.
Brogan saw their overall finish from a different perspective.
“When we found out we were playing for fifth-sixth, everyone was super excited and happy. Even though we lost, we were still excited,” he said in an interview.
“At first, I wondered how we’d do. I had a bit of doubt, but we played well in our first exhibition game against the U.S. and we were told we were the team to beat.”
Canada, one of only two countries to field a coed team (two girls, 12 boys), did well in the tournament because of its attack game during the 15-minute matches. The team also kept the ball on the ground and was strong defensively, limiting the num- ber of shots on Brogan, a Grade 7 student at Heritage Public School in Navan.
Brogan and Dontaye attended an Ottawa tryout for the Canadian team on a rainy and cold September day in 2010. A total of 6,000 players originally attended team tryouts.
They made the cut and advanced to a second camp in Mississauga, Ont., where they were named to the Canada East team.
In a match to determine who would represent Canada at the Nations Cup, Canada East defeated Canada West 2-0 at BMO Field in Toronto in August.
For Dontaye, who was unsuccessful in his bid to make the 2010 Canadian team, the trip to the Nations Cup in Spain was the wrap up to spectacular soccer season.
Earlier, he played his first match in a pro soccer stadium, BMO Field, and also went with Capital United to the Mondial Pupilles de Plomelin youth tournament in France in the spring.
While Whittaker has taken many memories from the Nations Cup, he also has something that is a significant hands-on souvenir.
Before he left Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, he reached down to the pristine natural grass field and pulled a few strands of turf to inspire his career.
“It was only a handful,” he said.
Dontaye Whittaker, of Ottawa, left, and goalkeeper Brogan Engbers, of Cumberland, played for Team Canada in Spain.