In November, I profiled TFC's Oscar Cordon for Soccer 360 Magazine. As many of you know, Oscar was one of a few signings from TFC's academy and has quickly become an example for other young Canadian kids. As a treat to our readers, I thought I would post the profile of Oscar from Soccer 360 Magazine's November issue on Waking the Red. Soccer 360 doesn't have an online portion for the magazine, so many of you are missing out on this fine, fine piece.
It's the off season, so I thought this would be an ideal time for a feature type post. We don't get to do many once the season starts. Click below the jump to read the piece. I encourage comments, questions, or even remarks on why I didn't profile your 15 year old cousin who's tearing up the Vaughan Indoor scene. Don't worry, he's next.
When Oscar Cordon sprints onto BMO Field, thousands of young Canadian Soccer players are poised to follow him. He’s a home grown hero and his journey to the Toronto Football Club is a template for aspiring Canadian footballers.
"I think it’s massive," says Jason Bent, Toronto FC’s assistant coach. "Finally in Canada, we have the completion of the pyramid-straight from grassroots, all the way up to the professional level."
Cordon’s soccer career started at age 7 in the Driftwood Hispanic League for the Toronto Future Stars. His first rep team, the North York Hearts, was his jump off point for the Erin Mills Eagles, the Brampton Bullets, and the Mississauga Falcons. While playing rep soccer regionally, Cordon was also dominating in Ontario’s U-14, 15, and 16 programs.
"From 7 to 12, it was just about having fun and learning as much as you can. But at 12, it got more serious, coaches demanded more with training, and at 16, was when I thought I could do this(go pro)," Cordon said.
Cordon’s break into the TFC academy came when his Ontario U-16’s took on the pro team’s newly formed youth set up in 2009. He caught the eye of then TFC Academy Director Stuart Neely, and ended up making their U-17 program.
"Oscar is a leader by example. His commitment to the game and his family is superb," Neely said. "You could see a future young professional in the making."
Cordon’s development in the academy was so impressive that he earned his first call up to the senior team against the Vancouver Whitecaps last year. Finally, under Aron Winter’s youth movement, Cordon signed his first pro soccer contract.
"It was like five days before the league was starting, but this something I worked very hard for. The day was special, not only for me but for my whole family too," Cordon said.
Cordon is adapting quickly to life as a full time Toronto FC player. He trains with the First team from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., but also has the challenge of balancing a full work load from high school and a social life. But it’s all part of the life of an 18 year old professional soccer player.
Cordon is also discovering some of the perks of playing for Toronto’s MLS team. Cordon said some of his family members told him that he was on the EA Sports FIFA 12 roster. He said that the first thing he did when he bought FIFA 12, was check to see if he was in it.
"I was really excited. If you were to ask me 5 or 6 years ago when I was playing FIFA 2002, I wouldn’t have believed it," Cordon said.
Bent, who also coached Cordon at the TFC academy, is excited about the opportunities this milestone opens for other players. Bent wasn’t as fortunate as Cordon to play professional soccer in Canada, and like many other Canucks before him, he made the journey across the Atlantic in his teens.
"I had to leave at 19 years old to go to Germany to play. It was still a good experience and helped me grow and mature as a footballer," Bent said. "These kids have the opportunity to develop in their hometown, with their family’s support, and still get to go to school."
When Bent came through the Canadian youth system, there were no fields under bubbles. Instead his team trained in January and February several times a week at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. Bent said he practised at Lamport stadium in Liberty Village, just like TFC’s academy now, except back then there was no bubble to keep the kids warm.
Those days are behind Canadian soccer now, as TFC prepares to open its new $17.5 million training centre at Downsview Park in June 2012. The complex will serve as the club’s academy home base. The 14 acre facility will have everything from a club house with locker rooms and offices, to heated fields for winter training.
Former TFC academy Director and Head coach, Stuart Neely said that with recent advancements in Canadian soccer, there really is an opportunity to play at a number of levels. Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto have full flight academies, and Canadian NASL teams in Ottawa and Edmonton will also offer young kids a chance at top flight soccer. Neely said a player’s attitude and ambitions are the first things he and his staff talk about when selecting players.
"We look for the players work rate and technical ability as well as the respect they have for themselves and their family," Neely said. "We all read about professional footballers and their glamorous life, but getting there is not glamorous."
If there’s one piece of advice Canadian kids should hold onto, it’s this. Neely said Cordon played his heart and soul out every single training match, and he was dedicated to playing and committing everything to a 90 minute game.