Pitch-perfect record

LYNNE BERMEL

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

"Soccer is a great passion play for much of the world," Paddy Agnew, a correspondent for the Irish Times, said during a broadcast of the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

"The people I talk to are glad the world's only superpower isn't much better than it is. If they won this, too, that'd be the end. What could the rest of the world aspire to?"

Agnew says the reasons North America isn't as crazy about soccer as the rest of the world "are purely cultural, and there's nothing wrong with that."

While the hard-core European soccer fan has yet to hit mainstream America, the College Cup Showcase, billed as North America's top youth soccer event, is helping to get a lot of young players interested in the game.

It's held every year in mid-December along with the NCAA Division I soccer championship, attracting 200 of the top club teams from across Canada and the U.S.

This year in Dallas, the Ottawa South United Force team took top honours in the boys U16 division.

The team beat the Texas Longhorns 1-0, Wisconsin's Elm Grove Academy 2-1 and the FC Dallas Youth team 3-0 before knocking off the fifth-ranked Texas North team Barcelona SC 93 in a penalty shootout in the final.

Dylan Samuel, who gave up only one goal in the preliminary round before stoning the Barcelona players in the championship match shootout, was given the game ball.

"Our boys played well and college scouts took notice of our team," says coach Russell Shaw. "I'm sure every player had a great experience participating in a showcase of this magnitude."

While Ottawa South United was making waves south of the border, the Nepean Hotspurs were doing some fancy footwork here at home.

The Hotspurs announced they will be sending four teams to the Ontario Youth Soccer Leagues next year.

The OYSL is regarded as one of Canada's top youth soccer leagues. The Hotspurs have now sent 15 teams to the OYSL, the most for any Ottawa-based club.

While the jury's still out on whether soccer will one day challenge hockey as a dominant national sport in Canada, Hotspurs coach Boris Bajagic sees bright days ahead.

He says there are four keys to the sport's growth.

"First, you need a sound development program," he says. "Without such a program, you are in trouble. Secondly, you need coaches who know the game, understand and employ the development principles, and who are committed to constantly improving their skills.

"Next, you need committed players and parents, who understand that every hour in a game requires hours of practice and training, and, finally, you need to make the whole program fun. Without that final ingredient, everything else is wasted."

Looks like a few teams in the nation's capital have discovered that recipe.

OTTAWAN NETS VICTORY

Ottawa's Stephan Wojcikiewicz won his opening match of the Hellas Badminton International in Thessaloniki, Greece this week, beating Bulgaria's Krasimir Yankov 21-13, 21-17. Wojcikiewicz lost in the quarter-final to Sune Gavenholt of Denmark.

SILVER LINING

XC Ottawa put in stellar performances at the NorAM cross-country ski championships in Silver Star, B.C., highlighted by Adele Lay's silver medal in the junior women's category behind Janelle Greer of the Yukon. In the open women's division, XC Ottawa's Megan McTavish was 20th and teammate Sheila Kealey was 25th.


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