Portuguese thrives on Ontario Cup

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:01 AM ET

Few soccer clubs in Ontario can match the London Portuguese success story.

On Sunday, Portuguese will head to Scarborough to play Scarborough Ulster Thistle in the quarter-finals of the Ontario Cup.

This is far from uncharted territory for the team. The Ontario Cup is the most competitive soccer tournament in the province. London Portuguese is used to getting to the later rounds. It has made the final four times in the last seven years, winning in 2002.

The Portuguese men's soccer team has also dominated its league in London. It has won nine Western Ontario Soccer League Premier division titles in 12 years. The team has a good chance to win this year's crown, as well.

Keeping a team at a top level for years is not easy. It takes more than just finding good players and getting them to play together. That might work for a while. But in order to be successful over a longer time, chemistry begins to play a major role.

Players can live with each other's shortcomings and annoyances for short periods but eventually those issues boil over and affect overall team morale. There's less chance of that happening to players who enjoy being together.

For the most part in Canada, soccer players play the game solely for the love of it. Since they have real-life jobs and families to deal with, making it as easy as possible to participate keeps turnover low.

"I've stated over and over again we're like a family," said Carlos Miranda, general manager of London Portuguese. "We do everything together. We go to parties, go out for dinner, our families are close. We have such a bond we don't want to go to any other teams.

"You don't try out for our team, you get asked to play for it. That creates a close bond. It's usually a tough team to crack."

Team first is the message.

"You have to play from the heart. We expect 100 per cent from each other," said Miranda. "A selfish player won't fit into this team. We play for each other."

As players get older they face more commitments and it doesn't get any easier to keep the team together.

"The guys do have girlfriends, three guys got married this year, kids come into play . . . it's tougher to go four, five times a week," he said. "But the guys look forward to those four times a week, those two hours a night. It takes your mind off things. Some guys like to play golf to do that. We like soccer."

The core of this team came together in 1995. The London Youth Red Devils, an under-16 team, won the Canadian championship. They stuck together and two years later a group of them decided they wanted to play together at the senior level. The opted for London Portuguese.

The goal of the team is clear.

"We love to win everything but we thrive on the Ontario Cup. That's the competition we love," Miranda said.

They aren't looking ahead because they recognize one bad game spells the end of a tournament run. But if an Ontario Cup final is in the works, Portuguese wants to play the Ottawa Royals. The Royals beat them 3-0 in last year's Ontario Cup final.

"We had a bad day, a really bad day," Miranda said. "We'd like a chance to make up for it."

And in the process add another chapter to an impressive soccer history.


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