Ontario Catholic schools excited to see alums in World Cup

TORONTO (CNS) — Watching Canada clash against the greatest soccer stars from around the world in the FIFA World Cup will be particularly exciting for students and staff at St. Edmund Campion Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario.

The city is home to numerous members of the 26-man national soccer team, and three of these players — winger Tajon Buchanan, forward Cyle Larin and midfielder Jonathan Osorio — all formerly starred for the St. Edmund Campion Bears senior soccer team, under the tutelage of head coach Greg Spagnoli.

“It is great for the school community,” said Spagnoli, Campion’s department head for physical education and health. “These gentlemen worked very hard to achieve these goals since they were in high school. We’re very proud and ecstatic to say that they came to our school and represented our Catholic school community in that capacity, and we’re all looking forward to watching them excel on the world stage.”

The three were named to the final roster of the Canadian team Nov. 13, after helping Canada through the grueling qualification for the World Cup for only the second time in its history. The tournament begins in Qatar Nov. 20 and runs through Dec. 18, when the world champion will be crowned. Canada’s preliminary round games will see the squad take on Belgium Nov. 23, Croatia Nov. 27 and Morocco Dec. 1.

Osorio, Larin and Buchanan all tasted glory at the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Association AAA boys’ soccer championship in different years. Osorio led the Bears to the title in 2009 in Grade 11, Larin captured three consecutive provincial crowns from 2011 to 2013, and 10th-grader Buchanan struck gold in 2015 before relocating to Broomfield, Colorado, to attend Legacy High School for his junior and senior year.

Spagnoli said his former players “are all very different in demeanor, and how they are and how they carry themselves.”

“John Osorio (was) very vocal and very instrumental in taking that mantle of leadership on while he was playing for me at the school. He was the guy who was involved and really trying to motivate his teammates during the game. He thrived on carrying the team in that capacity,” said Spagnoli. “Cyle was a gentle giant. More reserved, a bit quieter, kind of just went about his business and performed by showing what he could do on the field. Tajon was very similar to Cyle, a quiet leader who did what he had to do.”

Plans are in the works for classes at Edmund Campion to watch at least parts of the Team Canada matchups scheduled during the school day.

Spagnoli is eagerly awaiting the opening kickoff and seeing his players on the world’s brightest stage. He has stayed in touch with his former players over the years. He has traveled to the U.S. to watch Larin play for the University of Connecticut. He messages Buchanan and Larin periodically; both play for Club Brugge in Belgium. And Spagnoli regularly sees Osorio compete for Toronto FC.

FIFA World Cup fever also seems poised to sweep through Dante Alighieri Academy Catholic Secondary School in Toronto as the students and staff root for defender Richie Laryea, who graduated in 2013.

“You feel excited like you are a kid,” said Mauro Ongaro, physical education teacher at Dante Alighieri. “There is a sense of pride because you were part of his life when he was in high school. All of us who taught him, coached him, are very proud of him and what he has accomplished and everything he has gone through to get to this point of being a player on our national soccer team competing at the World Cup.”

Ongaro said Laryea’s elite talent was immediately clear during his formative years, but what also stood out was his “perseverance and work ethic.” The teacher said it was clear the young man “had the dedication to become a professional soccer player.”

Laryea’s personality, said Ongaro, made him an endearing figure around the academy.

“He was always very kind with teachers and other students. He was always very well-liked by everybody. That’s what stands out,” said Ongaro. “He was always very inclusive with everyone too. He was always one of the guys. He never thought of himself as anyone bigger. He was very humble.”

The school is planning on gathering as a complete community in the auditorium to watch at least part of Laryea’s games on the big screen.

All told, eight of the national team players attended a Catholic elementary, secondary or postsecondary institution along their journey to the soccer world stage.

Alphonso Davies, the Bayern Munich star, widely regarded as the premier player on the Canadian team, is one of the eight. The 22-year-old fullback attended St. Teresa of Calcutta Elementary School in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Amundson is a reporter for The Catholic Register, Toronto.

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