Can't argue with success

KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

Canadian women's coach Even Pellerud had only been in London a few hours when he sounded a warning about the eristic nature of soccer in the city.

The Norway native was troubled by the politics he found in the soccer community when he came here for the first time to conduct a coaching clinic and player evaluation session.

"They hide players. They don't want to showcase the players. There's no co-operation between clubs," he said three years ago.

Pellerud said the talent had to be celebrated and channelled properly in order for it to be developed. Collaboration was needed.

But was the fighting between London clubs something that may have contributed to its success on the provincial and national scenes?

Some would argue yes.

"I think it's the competition between (clubs) and the fact it's a community that's so proud of its soccer," said Eva Havaris, a product of the London system who went on to all-Canadian status and the top university player two years ago while at Western.

While most other districts across Ontario moved toward a one-club concept in the past 10 to 15 years to develop youth soccer, London was branching off into numerous groups.

The clubs competed with each other, taking note of the affiliation of players going on to full-ride scholarships and how many Ontario Cups were won by each organization, as examples. The club rivalries were producing results.

London's success -- particularly on the female side -- was being noticed by other communities. Still is.

Pat Clancy, coach of the Catholic Central girls who won the Ontario high school championship earlier this month, said in his travels throughout the province people will mention London as a soccer hotbed.

"The coaches . . . realize the London soccer program is really strong. They always comment on it," Clancy said.

Besides CCH, the Aquinas and Lucas girls' teams have also won provincial gold in the past five years.

Clancy said the co-operation between clubs and high schools has been good, with one exception. One club coach -- and he declined to name him -- wouldn't allow his players to participate in high school soccer.

"A lot of these kids want to play with their high school friends. They have to give a little bit. Lucas had a couple of kids who didn't play in the final (tournament) because of that. The girl on my team played. She knows how I felt."

Clancy, who also coaches boys' hockey, believes he's the beneficiary of some good coaching at the grassroots level. By the time they reach Clancy, the players already have great skills.

"About six or seven years ago . . . we were just starting to see the fruits in female soccer of some of the work that club teams do. Every year, it seems to get better," said Clancy, who had 45 girls who wanted to play on his team this year.

In 2002, London enjoyed a feast of Ontario Cups, winning six provincial crowns (out of eight teams in the finals) in a year when a record 663 teams entered.

London tied the record for the most titles won by a city in one season. Four of the six teams were female.

"We're the heart of women's soccer in Ontario," declared Ryan Gauss, manager of the inaugural London City Selects women's team, competing in a provincial all-star tournament over three months.

"The right coaches were in place and the girls have the right attitude," Gauss said.

City is one of two elite female teams in the city competing in their first season. The other is the Gryphons of the U.S.-based W-League.

London United has an entry in the top rung of the Ontario Women's Soccer League and there's also the 30-year-old London and Area Women's Soccer League with many strong teams.

Ada Edwards, president of the women's league, fought hard in the early years to have LAWSL recognized and taken seriously. Her efforts have paid off and the league continues to add teams.

The number of females playing soccer in the region also continues to increase. There are about 60,000 players in the London region in registered and outlaw clubs, and about half are female.

Clubs that were formed as places for boys to play, in some cases, now have more girls teams.

Anthony Camacho, who started the London Forest United Club 10 years ago, has 12 female squads in his club and only one male side.

"We started with all boys' teams. The girls have taken over the club," he said.

Colin Linford, president of the Ontario Soccer Association, said the female game in London is still progressing and he feels there are more success stories to come.

"Things are still looking good," Linford said.

But Camacho said it's time to heed Pellerud's warning. London clubs need to start co-operating more to continue the city's success.

"I still think the best way to go is have everyone under one umbrella. Every club -- if you want to maintain the club scene -- has to feed the best players to that one top-level club that has the travel teams," Camacho said.

Havaris agrees: "When you're going for the Ontario Cup, you want the best players all on one team. We don't care what club people come from. We just want to play with the best players."

As other soccer centres continue to improve their programs, London needs to funnel top players to one team in each age division, they say.


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