By Tiffany Tambeau
Since he was a little boy, Johnny Schieda dreamed of winning a national soccer championship and on Oct. 9, his dream became a reality.
Schieda, 26, plays forward for the St. Anthony Italia soccer team which recently won the men’s Canadian national club championship in Surrey, B.C. Italia became the first Ottawa soccer team to bring home the Challenge Cup.
“It’s like winning the World Cup to me,” says Schieda.
But winning the national championship wasn’t just Schieda’s dream. His father, who stood in the crowd during the tournament, practically raised Schieda and his brother on the sport.
In 1998, Schieda joined the Ottawa St. Anthony Italia Soccer Club and played for one of their youth teams. The club, located in Ottawa’s Little Italy, has 10 competitive and eight recreational teams for soccer enthusiasts young and old, male and female.
After playing in the youth league for a couple of years, Schieda joined Italia, a competitive men’s amateur team. This year, Schieda and his teammates’ hard work finally paid off. Along with winning the Challenge Cup in Surrey B.C., Italia also won the Ottawa title, the Ontario Cup Challenge and the Canadian Soccer League Open Canada Cup this season.
Schieda says the team’s chemistry on and off the field was a key element to winning the various tournaments throughout the season.
“We love playing with each other,” says Schieda. “We are all really good friends.”
Simon Bonk, 39, was a new addition to Italia this year and says the team was very inclusive. Bonk used to play for Italia’s rivals, the Ottawa Royals, an amateur team in the same league as Italia.
“I was a little apprehensive to join [Italia] to be honest, because the rivalry between St. Anthony’s and the Royals was pretty intense and I had always been on the other side,” he says. “But there was a good bunch of guys and they welcomed me in and it’s just a good environment to be working in.”
This wasn’t Bonk’s first trip to the national championships, but it was his first win.
Although Bonk and Schieda say the team is a lot of fun, they have had to make many sacrifices. Players often struggle to balance school, work and the team.
“Sometimes you want to go play a round of golf on the weekend, but you made a commitment to the team and stick with it,” Bonk says.
Team manager Rick Giamberardino says it has been hard to keep good soccer players who are above 18 or 19 years of age. Many go off to university to play for varsity teams or start new jobs.
“It can be very difficult to keep the team focused because there is so much going on [in their lives],” he says. “They’re amateur players, so they are not getting paid. You have to have passion to play and these guys are very committed.”
Bonk says the St. Anthony Soccer Club is well-organized and manages all the administrative affairs for the team, allowing the players to focus on the game and be fully committed on the field. Support for the team has been growing over the years.
Giamberardino says the Italia club, as well as businesses and restaurants on Preston Street in Little Italy, have been very supportive of the team. But he adds amateur soccer doesn’t get a lot of exposure in Ottawa and is overshadowed by other sports, especially hockey. The lack of coverage results in less sponsorship.
“Hopefully once we get a little more exposure, maybe we’ll have more people saying ‘hey, I wouldn’t mind sponsoring that team,’” says Giamberardino.
As management continues to seek sponsorship, the players say they are focusing their attention on the game. Although the season is over, many Italia players will be joining the indoor men’s soccer league. Bonk says it’s important to keep in shape for next season.
“It would be nice to repeat,” he says. “It is much harder to defend your championship than to win the first one. It’s a long hard road, but I hope that our guys are up to the challenge.”
Italia met the Calgary Callies in the final game of the national championships in Surrey. Captain Urbain Some scored the only goal of the game on a free kick in the 80th minute.