Soc­cer play­ers get kick out of youth tour­na­ment,

Team Canada fin­ished sixth in world

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - Reach Martin Cleary at 613-596-3748 or [email protected] ot­tawac­i­t­i­ MARTIN CLEARY

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.

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