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Countdown to FIFA 2015: A family’s friendly feud

By Dylan Barnabe on March 9, 2015

As a countdown to the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Apartment613 is embarking on a six-part series that will take a look at women’s soccer in and around the city. Our inaugural piece focused on Pilar Khoury, star striker for the University of Ottawa’s varsity squad. But what about the city’s other resident university women’s squad? Part two delves deeper into the rivalry between the uOttawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens. But after speaking to head coach Raz El-Asmar, we were surprised to find out that the two opposing teams share a much closer bond than we thought.

Raz is well-known throughout Ottawa’s soccer community. In addition to his position as head coach of the Ravens, Raz is the head coach and Technical Director of Youth Development with Capital United Soccer Club—and has been for more than 20 years. It goes without saying that he is a longstanding advocate for the Beautiful Game and is passionate about taking the sport to the next level in Ottawa.

“There have been many years of inconsistencies and misleading approaches to identify the priorities of the Canadian soccer game,” he says of the state of soccer in Canada. “But I think we are entering a very exciting chapter. There’s lots of buzz surrounding the game, especially with us hosting the FIFA Women World Cup in June, as well as the recent growth in professional league play.

“The approach to long term player development is finally being adopted through a grassroots movement and promoted at all levels with qualified and professional coaching. The long term benefits may not be seen in the immediate, but with consistency, the future looks promising.”

Since entering the Ravens’s nest—first as an assistant coach in 2012 and then as head coach in 2014—, Raz has helped the team find great success. Most notably, in 2013, the Ravens beat the uOttawa Gee-Gees for the first time in history. In a stunning 4-1 victory, the win was a moment that defined the team’s renewed focus and determination.

“My philosophy is to ensure a positive and a nurturing environment where all players can develop to the best of their abilities and maximize their potential,” says Raz. “Winning is important, but my priority is first on player development on and off the field in the hopes of instilling confidence, discipline, motivation, caring and—above all—humility.

“The keys to success are first to develop cohesiveness and a family environment among players, then work on building trust in one another. Also, work ethic, sincerity, focus and a winning mentality.”

Speaking of family environments, did we mention that Raz’s daughter regularly takes on his team as a member of the uOttawa Gee-Gees?

Vanessa El-Asmar, the youngest child of four, plays for the cross-town rivals as a midfielder.

“On the outside looking in, I can see how others could perceive the situation as a conflict of interest, but we truly have a great deal of fun with it,” says Vanessa. “We tease each other about our respective teams and always try and argue about who will do better.”

While it’s common for many people to take part in a good sports rivalry, it’s another thing entirely to bring one home. But the father-daughter duo are good sports about their unique situation and often poke fun at it.

“We try and playfully get hints on game plans, lineups and formations,” Vanessa says about the nights prior to derby games. “But always to no avail.”

Though he may not be her coach at the university level, Raz has coached his daughter at the club level for many years. The two are very close and share a special connection through soccer. Over the years, Vanessa has taken away many valuable insights from her father.

“To explain all I’ve learned from my dad would take an insurmountable amount of time, so I’ll try and give you a couple of key points that will always stay with me,” says the young midfielder. “Compete, work hard and be the best version of yourself every day, while always staying humble and respectful of your teammates and the opposing team.”

True to her word, Vanessa only has respect for the opposing team—and its coaching staff.

“I cheer for him to win every single game but the ones against me,” she says with a smile. “When we have the chance, we go to each other’s games and cheer each other on.”

And as for dad?

“Although Vani would look much better in a Ravens jersey, my immediate desire is for her to have her greatest performance,” says the head coach and proud father. “I’m grateful and feel blessed to have the opportunity to coach and enjoy watching my daughter play and perform—even if it’s for the opposition.”

Sounds like a win-win for both sides.

Stay tuned for part three in the series.