Young soccer star training at pro academy

Michael O’Brien hopes to parlay experience with Ottawa Fury FC into collegiate career

John Browne
Published on March 17, 2014

Mount Pearl’s Michael O’Brien has been practising and playing with the Ottawa Fury FC’s Academy team, a development program for the organization’s North American Soccer League franchise, since the fall. The 15-year-old hopes to one day play soccer at the collegiate and professional level.

©— Submitted photo

Fifteen-year-old soccer player Michael O’Brien admits to being “a little overwhelmed” when he arrived at the Ottawa Fury FC Academy.
The Mount Pearl native, who has been at the Academy since September, now says he’s settled in, but there was definitely a period of adjustment.

O’Brien says practising and playing with the Academy team, which is a youth development program for Ottawa Fury FC , a new franchise in the North American Soccer League (NASL), has been eye-opening, to say the least.

A Team Atlantic player at the all-star nationals this past summer, O’Brien was advised that if he wanted to further his career in the sport, it was best to either move to the mainland or attend some camps in England.

He said he looked into various clubs in Toronto and Montreal and was eventually able to land a tryout with the Ottawa program this past summer through the recommendation of Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association technical director Dragan Mirkovic.

O’Brien attended an open tryout in August, and learned he made the team two weeks later which meant moving to Ottawa.

“I was kind of in a panic to find out where to live,” he said with a chuckle. “But I eventually found a place to stay with a distant cousin.”

These days, when O’Brien isn’t attending Grade 10 at St. Pete’s Catholic High School in Ottawa, he is practising with the Academy team and travelling to Florida and Montreal for competition.

The key to being able to play regularly on the mainland, he said, was the exposure to a higher level of play.

He’s enjoying his time at the Academy, which is everything he’d hoped it would be.

“It’s a great atmosphere. Every training session is high intensity and they have a great coaching staff.”

The 5-10 centre midfielder, who came up through the Mount Pearl minor soccer program, said he’d like to play on Team Atlantic’s U16 team this summer, “if my schedule works out.”

Asked to describe his style of play, O’Brien said, “I wouldn’t consider myself one of those players with crazy moves. I keep things fairly simple, I see the field well and I can think fast.”

O’Brien feels he plays equally as well on defence and offence.

He said he was impressed by the calibre of play at the Academy, and with how they moved the ball.

“The biggest adjustment for me was the speed of play,” he noted.

“Right now, I feel like I belong, on and off the field. The guys are really accepting. I couldn’t ask for a better atmosphere.”

Player Development Director and Newfoundland and Labrador Soccer Association (NLSA) staff coach Mike Power, who has coached O’Brien the last few years on provincial teams and at the High Performance Centre, said O’Brien is a, “great kid … a great player.

“Michael is a very hard worker, a high intensity player,” said Power. “It’s definitely a big accomplishment for us to place a player with a pro club.”

The summer will bring a full schedule of youth club games in Canada and the United States, which is just fine for O’Brien who would one day like to play at the pro level and is willing to do whatever it takes.

The Ottawa Academy, which is now a development program for the Fury, has been in operation for over a decade and has seen over 85 players rewarded with scholarships to U.S. colleges and universities (NCAA). More than 125 players have moved on to play varsity soccer at Canadian colleges (CCAA) and universities (CIS).

According to its website, Fury Academy players have moved on to professional academies with MLS clubs like Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact as well as English clubs such as MK Dons and Everton. To date, eight Academy alumni have achieved their dream of playing professional soccer.

“That’s my long-term goal,” said O’Brien. “Playing professionally would definitely be my dream come true, but first I want to get my education.”

His next goal after high school is to earn a scholarship to play at the college level in the United States or Canada.

Right now, though, he has to work hard to keep his spot on the Academy team.

“Training is very intense and there are new guys coming in on a regular basis for a trial, so you’re always fighting for your place on the team,” he said.

That’s not a big problem for O’Brien, who likes the pressure of maintaining a strong work ethic.

And keeping busy is never a problem.

There are three 90-minute training sessions a week at this point of the year, and he is also working out with the U20 Fury reserve team as well.