Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Interview with Andrew Ornoch

Anrdrew Ornoch is one of Canada's brightest young players. The 22 year old has represented Canada at the international level; most recently at the Olympic Qualifying tournament this March. Ornoch, who currently plays for Esbjerg fB in the Danish SAS Ligaen, was kind enough to chat with me about his career, and a number of other topics recently in this interview. I hope you all enjoy!

You grew up playing at a high level as a youth. What would you say were the positives and negatives of your experience as a young soccer player in Canada?

I was lucky to grow up playing for competitive and successful youth clubs. I always had excellent coaching, guidance and competition. My first real coach was Mike Ristic a former member of the Canadian national team. His NSSC, North Scarborough Rockets team developed a great reputation for technical football. We played a very high level because of our talent, which included Jonathan De Guzman, among many others. Our assistant coach Julian De Guzman among other very successful NSSC Flyer members; our big brother team, which helped with our development. We had a group of older players to look up to! We had a lot of fun, and it all made for a wonderful learning experience. After NSSC, I played for PSA (Professional Soccer Academy) the program was designed by Joseph Komlodi- a provincial coach at the time, Mike Ristic- my coach from NSSC, and Marko Mashke a Hertha Berlin youth director. PSA was a developed program based on professionalism, and treating players as though they were preparing for Europe. We trained six days a week and we had a first team as well as a reserve team. Pressure was applied, hard work and performance earned you first team playing time, if not you had to prove yourself on the second team. Overall it was a great learning experience. We traveled to Europe twice a year playing Hertha Berlin, Stuttgart, MTK Budapest, Ferencvaros, Sporting Lisbon among other top youth clubs, and we did very well, winning our fair share. It was a competitive environment and it was as good as it got in Canada for a young player. I was surrounded by provincial and national team players, it was great. Afterwards, I played for Erin Mills Soccer Club, where Mike Ristic and Joseph Komlodi were again a major part of my development. It was a competitive club where I was surrounded by the core group of PSA, and together we were in four straight Ontario Cup championships, winning twice. We dominated our leagues, playing many years above our age group as well as in the men's league. It was a great learning experience and a stepping stone in earning a soccer scholarship to NCAA division 1 school Detroit Mercy. In terms of my story I had a successful group to develop with, and excellent coaching and mentoring. I think those are the most positive things I can say about my experience. There are many other great and dedicated youth coaches such as Carmine Issaco in Toronto, and that is always necessary for the development of youth in Canada. Until the age of 14 or 15, the football talent Canada has is equal to that in Europe. Sadly much of that talent goes to waste. We are greatly out resourced financially which is most evident. Like many other young footballers in Toronto or even throughout Canada, I had nothing to look up to that was professional. We base our own youth systems on the amateur system, and that won’t cut it when you have to compete with the best. My dreams were based around Europe. Playing in the Champions League was and still is my goal. Playing for a top club in Europe was the dream. Sadly, the longer a player stays in Canada, the less of a chance he has of “making” it. But hard work will always pay off eventually.

You started your career playing at the University of Detroit Mercy, where you had quite a bit of success. How did this experience prepare you for your career overseas?

Yes, I enjoyed quite a bit of success in Detroit. I was lucky to be surrounded by a few teammates from PSA and Erin Mills who went to school on scholarship with me. Together we formed the nucleus of that Detroit Titans team. It was a great opportunity to develop my physical presence. The opportunity to go to school also helped me develop a maturity that gave me more confidence on and off the field. When it was my time to go overseas I was ready to sign.

You then moved to Hungary, and played in the top division for Lombard-Papa TFC. What was the reason for this move, and were there other options open to you?

At the age of 20, there are not many doors open for an amateur Canadian player with no international experience. I knew I was good enough to go to Europe and sign for a first division club. I was not interested in playing in MLS even though I had plenty of recognition in the US. Since I was a boy all my goals and dreams revolved around Europe but I just needed a route to get there, which was non existent at the time. I was working hard and looking for my chance. It came through my old coach Joseph Komlodi from PSA, and Erin Mills. Three other teammates from PSA and Erin Mills have just gone on trials in Hungary for first division club- Papa Lombard. The club was looking for a central midfielder, so it was my chance. I went on trial and I signed a three year contract after three days. That is how I ended up in Europe. It was a big step from amateur football in the USA to a professional football environment full of passion. I knew it wasn't going to be the sexiest place to start my career. I knew it would be a big challenge, but I knew it would make me a better player. I loved the fact that I was finally a professional. I was never under any illusion. I knew I had one foot in the door, and I had a chance of making it in Europe with hard work. I never felt I made it…

And how would you describe your time in Hungary?

My time in Hungary was a huge learning experience. It was the next step of my plan; a stepping stone. I had to adapt to a new language, culture, customs, everything was different. I was lucky to have a few Canadians on my team; three of whom played on PSA and Erin Mills. But after a couple of months only 2 of us remained. After a year I was the only one left. It was a huge mental test, but one I was determined to pass. The quality of football was not the best, but it was higher than anything I was used to. As I was there, I made sure to work hard everyday, because I knew I would not settle to play in Hungary for 3 years. I needed to move to a higher level to reach my goals. I enjoyed learning from my coaches and teammates, but I knew I deserved more. My time in Hungary helped me earn my first cap for the Canadian national team. It was a special occasion. We played against Hungary, in Hungary, and it remains a special memory.

You then moved onto Denmark, to play for Esbjerg fB. How do you like Denmark so far, and what made you choose Denmark?

Yes, I was working very hard, and I believed I needed a change of environment to further my career. It was almost do or die in my eyes. I spoke to Atiba and he was enjoying life in Denmark, I knew Issey was playing in Denmark as well. They had both been enjoying success, and I believed I could do the same. The Danish SAS Ligaen (Superligaen) is a highly rated league, a top developmental league. There is an amazing amount of exposure to leagues such as the Bundesliga in Germany, the EPL in England, as well as other countries. It's simply very professional, a huge step up from playing in Hungary. I got an opportunity to go on trial at EfB Esbjerg, and I took full advantage. In the end the clubs agreed on a transfer price, and I was officially an EfB player. I signed a 4 year contract, and I was thrilled. After 4 months here, I still love it. I am buzzing all the time. I have played against Atiba three times, and Issey once. It was a great experience; I loved it. I wake up everyday with a smile on my face, leave for training and I know how privileged I am to be playing at this level. I know how hard I have worked to get to this point, it's just fantastic. However, it's just another stepping stone. I am constantly working hard to develop into a better player, and reach an even higher level. For now I'm just taking it one day at a time, I'm enjoying my surroundings and with a little time, I know things will fall into place.

Have you been keeping track of the success that Toronto FC has gone through? And has there ever been an opportunity for you to come to TFC, or have you thought about possibly coming in the future?

I was raised in Scarborough; Toronto. I love my city to death! That means I am a TFC fan for life. I have been keeping up with the team, and I am so proud of the support for the squad. The best in the MLS! One of the reasons I enjoy my football in Europe is the love and passionate support. It's the culture, and it seems that love and passion for football is developing in Toronto, I love it! I even have my own TFC Jersey. I can't wait to go see some games this summer on my vacation. I always said Toronto deserved a professional team, and to see the support and success the team is experiencing is great. A year and a half ago before TFC´s 1st preseason, TFC goal keeper coach Carmine Issaco contacted me and asked me if I was interested in TFC. Carmine was great, and wanted to bring me back to Toronto. TFC had their own plans, and nothing materialized. In the end everything worked out for me. I ended up in Denmark. Of course one day I want to play for TFC, but for now I am focused on achieving my dreams in Europe, developing into a top player here, and of course my future will involve TFC. We will see how things work out in the future. For now my focus is on my club football in Esbjerg.

You were called up to the national team to play against Hungary in 2006, and even though you only played for 4 minutes, what did this mean for you as a player?

Ahh man…pulling on the Canadian shirt was a dream come true. It was only 4 minutes, it was a big deal to me, it was my first international experience. It was in Hungary, the country that I was playing my club football. I got the opportunity to share it with my friends Jules, Atiba, and Jaime (Peters), it was a special experience. I will always be thankful to Stephen Hart and the staff for giving me the opportunity. As a player, I knew it was the right step in my career, it meant my hard work was not going to waste; it was a sign of progress. At the same time I knew that I needed to work very hard if I was to be a part of the team on a consistent basis.

You also played for Canada at the Olympic Qualifying tournament in March. How do you feel you performed during the tournament, and how do you feel the team performed overall?

Yea, I was proud to be part of the Olympic qualifying team. It's a goal I set for myself a while back, and reaching that was fantastic. I will always be thankful to Nick Dasovic, Tony Fonseca, Mark Watson, and the staff. They were great, very professional and well prepared. Unfortunately we were the most under-prepared team in the tournament, likely the most under-funded team which handicapped us from the start. The team goal, my main goal and dream was to qualify for the Olympics with Canada. We achieved the right results, and with exception to the Haiti match, we deserved every result we got. It was tough to lose to the USA, but in the end they deserved to win the match. I still believe we had the chance to qualify, and it hurt to lose, but it has left me with a huge motivation to reach the world stage with Canada. This is a new goal I have set for myself and my country. In the tournament, I am a midfielder; I have always played central midfield and occasionally out left or out right in midfield here in Denmark. In the qualifiers I was asked to play out of my position. I played a striker in a 4-5-1 formation, playing a lone striker role up top is not my strength nor my natural position, but I did the best I could at the time. Nick had asked me to play this role and I was determined to do all I could to qualify for the Olympics. In the end, I learned a lot and I felt that I helped the team achieve some good results. All in all, it was a fantastic experience, and I was thrilled to represent my country.

Who would you say is the most talented up and coming player in Canada that you have played with?

Canada is a huge country, and it has some wonderful talent throughout. I have only played in Ontario, Toronto specifically. Canada has a lot of up and coming talent, one of which is the most talented and hard working player I have played with in PSA, Erin Mills, and Detroit, Vahid Assadpour of the MISL´s Detroit Ignition. He is currently trying his luck in Europe, and I am confident that sooner or later he will sign in Europe and have a bright professional career.

You were born in Poland, so did you ever have any thoughts about trying to play for them at the international level? And if the option was open, what made you choose Canada instead?

That's a good question. I was born in Warsaw, Poland and a lot of my family remained in Warsaw. At the same time a large portion of my family moved to Toronto when I was just a kid. I love both my countries, and I have both passports. Naturally I've had strong feelings about playing for both countries. Growing up I fantasized about playing for Poland, and occasionally how special it would be to qualify and compete in the World Cup with Canada. I grew up in Scarborough and I fell in love with the sport in Canada. I played most of my life in Canada, and although most of my football development has taken place in Europe, Canada is my country that I love, and I am proud to represent it through football or anything...

And how do you feel about Jonathan De Guzman choosing to play for the Dutch?

Jono is a good friend of mine and I support and fully understand his decision to play for the Dutch. It's a personal decision of his, and I am happy to see his tremendous success and I am always going to be a big supporter of his career for both club and country.

Finally, who has been the most influential person in your career? And what are your goals as a player moving forward?

It's impossible for me to name only one person who has influenced my career. My family have always supported me and have always been there for me, so they have been a positive influence on my career. Mike Ristic, my coach of 12 years now, has helped my development, as well as other players. He has had a huge impact on my life. Other players who have mentored me as I was growing up include Julian De Guzman, and Cesar Pena. I have been blessed to have their support and ongoing advice. They have all helped me so much

......My goals in moving forward with my career revolve around performance here in Esbjerg, Denmark. I want to win trophies, so it was sad to lose the Cup Final here just a couple weeks ago. We are currently in 6th place with 4 matches to go. The top 5 clubs will be involved in UEFA competition next season, so there is still a chance at the UEFA cup next season. I want to play in the UEFA competitions, UEFA Cup, and eventually Champions League. Of course I want to play for a top club in one of the best Leagues in the world; Bundesliga, La Liga, EPL, Seria A. Internationally, I want to be a part of the Canadian World Cup Qualifying team, and I want to qualify for at least 1 World Cup, (as many as I can!). I want to win trophies with Canada, and basically I just want to make the most of my football career. It's a great life, with ambitious goals and dreams, but nothing is achieved without hard work, and nothing worth while happens easily. I like to believe things that can't happen, will happen. So the future is very bright.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Coming up....

Sorry for the lack of content lately, I've been very busy with school. I should be putting up some more articles when I get some time to actually write them.

As for interviews, keep your eye on here in the coming days, as interviews with Patrice Bernier, Julian De Guzman, and Andrew Ornoch should be completed.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Just Say No to the Argos

BMO Field is the home of Toronto FC, not the Toronto Argos, and it should stay that way. I am a season ticket holder for Toronto FC, and as rumours surface yet again surrounding the move of the CFL to BMO Field, it has become clear that this move is coming closer and closer to reality; enough, is enough. I, as a fan of Toronto FC, will not stand for such a move and have decided to protest against it. If the Argos are to move, it would almost certainly bring about stadium alterations that would hinder our ability to enjoy, and create the atmosphere that we are so proud of; along with other possible negative impacts. It could ruin Toronto FC.

Therefore, if these rumours are not cleared up, I will be wearing black and not my usual Toronto FC red. I hope you all will join me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

An Interview with Issey Nakajima-Farran

There are many Canadian players perfecting their craft as a footballer overseas every year, however few have traveled to the places, or had the experiences that Issey Nakajima-Farran has had in his career. The 23 year old, who was born in Calgary, Alberta, was kind enough to chat with me about his experiences at both the club, and international level. Issey is currently playing for FC Nordsjælland in the Danish first division, and he has represented Canada at the international level.

When it came to which country you would represent at the international level, you had a few options open, if I'm not mistaken. What made you choose Canada?

-I got an invitation to play for Singapore, when I was 20 years old, to play for the U'21s playing against Japan, which I thought was an opening for a chance to play for Japan. That game I scored 2 goals and got man of the match; the coach of Japan, after the game, said that there were good Japanese players everywhere so it was a nice way of rejecting me. After that game I just wanted to beat Japan for how shit they had been treating me, including at Niigata and Tokyo Verdy. I just wanted to prove to those narrow minded people that I was better, and one day I will in front of them. Like a small anger that’s been tucked away you know? England was just where I grew up but could never really call home so it was an easy decision for me when Stephen Hart called me up.

What was it like starting your career as a youth in Japan?

It was hard; the culture was a real shocker. You talk in a different way to people, even if they are 6 months older than you, that’s just the way it is. So it didn’t matter if you were bigger or anything. I remember my first couple of months there; one of the older guys threw a 100 yen at me and told me to go get a coke for him, which was outside. I had a towel on and it was obvious I was about to hit the shower and this guy, who was fully clothed, threw money at me and demanded a coke. I as a European tripped and was disgusted at what was just said. I threw it back and the other young guys all looked at me, shocked, and basically to keep a long story short, all held me back. It’s just the way players grow up over there, you treat others like you’ve been treated you know? Then I heard it used to be a lot worse, but I did enjoy it a lot there and I do love Tokyo and it will always be my second home.

You then moved on to Singapore, playing for Albirex Niigata Singapore. How would you describe your experience playing in a country that is often left untouched by players?

Albirex received and invitation to set up a club in Singapore, as Singapore is so small they have other countries’ clubs set up there, which makes the league pretty interesting. So Albirex sent their whole reserve team there to get more games in the top league, which is a different pressure. The young guys, including myself, basically had no other choices. I just wanted to play so I took the offer, plus if you did do well the Japanese club would take you back, as you were on loan. I was the top scorer for the club but they took the second top scorer who was 3 yrs older and said to me that I was still too young. It was hard to swallow but I thought, “okay”, and in the 2nd year I won the young player award in the S-League, but still the Japanese club said to me one more year, so that’s when the Danish coach who was the coach for the Singapore U'21 team offered to take me to Vejle. But Singapore is a great city and I definitely see my self playing there later on in the future, as Singapore was very good to me.

When you had decided to move on from Singapore, is it true that you attempted to transfer to England?

Yeah, there was some trouble from Vejle, being skeptical of a young player from Singapore, so I had to find other solutions. Other coaches in Singapore gave me trials, and I went to Portsmouth, who had no coach at the time. Redknapp had just come in so it was the worst time to be there on trial even though I was there for 3 weeks. Plus my parents were living in London so it would have been nice to play there when I’ve been playing away for the last 5 years.

You then moved to Denmark, and have played with Vejle Boldklub and FC Nordsjælland. Was there a severe jump in the quality of the league? And how have you found it playing football in Denmark?

Well maybe more coverage over the games but having to play with so many different players, I realized there are great players everywhere; it’s just how lucky you get which determines where you play. But playing here definitely gives me more windows and chances for moving up the ladder. I think it’s a different style as players are stronger (in Denmark), but Japanese football is very fast with players shutting you down fast. I think playing in different countries has made me adapt faster. I do really like playing here with FCN, as everything is on the ground with players playing fast, quick football. It’s also the coach’s vision of football, which makes it exciting.

Do you stay in touch with F.C. Copenhagen's Atiba Hutchinson?

Yeah I live 8 minutes away, so I’m usually hanging out with him at cafes, as Copenhagen is a great cafe culture. It’s the thing to do here, and it helps both being single too.

What is your favoured position as a player, and what do you feel are your best attributes?

Left wing, Right wing, depends on the day and I like to switch a lot on the field. Like the ball being switched and create chances from the side, comfortable on both sides. I think I can create chances from different angles.

You represented Canada at the 2007 Gold Cup. How did you, and the rest of the team, deal with the missed call against the United States?

Obviously it was a killer decision, especially when the replay shows it wasn’t offside. None of the players like losing and as I hear from the other players, this year’s Canadian team is the strongest it’s ever been. So for me it was just nice being part of that. But again no one likes sitting on the bench so I wish I had more time but I guess you just have to be patient. But after that game, even though I think we were all outraged at the outcome, it gave us a lot more confidence knowing we can win these games.

What do you attribute the team's recent poor form to and will the team have their Gold Cup form back for World Cup qualifying?

I think so… its a hidden rule that players all perform better in big events, so there’s no doubt that we will all have a point to prove.

What are your thoughts about Canada playing Brazil, and how do you feel the CSA has done since it came under such criticism over the past year or so?

I think it’s a great experience to be playing the former world champions. I’m not too familiar with what goes on behind the scenes with the CSA, but from what I gather from the other guys it needs improvement. But for myself, I just want to be proving myself if I come on to the pitch and that’s all that matters on the day. I’m sure things are on the up curve.

How would you describe your brother, Paris, as a player? And how do you feel about being able to play with him for Canada?

It’s always been our dream to play along side each other, and the camp in February was the first, so it was nice playing with him as we are pretty close. Having gone through the same experience in Japan and having to see and experience his development was something really special. I think he’s a natural leader and can win balls which is a great asset. He’s got a great left foot and I think he is a smarter player when it comes to the passing side of the game. He was always the defender and I was the attacker when we used to play after school, so we grew up just like that. Bullying him made him more aggressive as well, and I have no doubt about his career.

And finally, it seems that you are quite the artist! How did this happen?

Art at school gave me the interest really. The long distant relationships lead my thoughts through a paint brush which also takes my mind off football. The thing about art is that it’s nice to let your fingers do all the talking with no one telling you what’s right or wrong.

Check out Issey's website here!