It’s Wednesday July 11 in the early afternoon, and I’m sending e-mails back and forth with Osmo Bimba, one of the standouts for the University of Alberta Golden Bears soccer team. We’ve been planning to meet for several days now, and have decided on 5 pm for an interview. At 2:30, Osmo asks whether we can reschedule for Thursday; he’s just come off the field at Campus Saint-Jean, where he’s been helping lead a kids soccer camp in the blazing 35-degrees Celcius heat. I write back “No problem,” and we reschedule for Thursday.
What catches my attention, though, is the last part of Osmo’s final e-mail: Just don’t wanna be in too much of a rush. Gotta give you the full bimbacious style and sport experience.
The forecast for Thursday calls for another Houston-esque scorcher, but that doesn’t matter at this point; I’m looking quite forward to learning about the bimbacious experience, first-hand.
* * * * *
Fast-forward twenty-four hours, and I’m walking across the vast soccer pitch next to Campus Saint-Jean, one of the University of Alberta’s five campuses. As predicted, it’s burning outside, but that doesn’t deter a large group of youth soccer players from taking to the field. I watch from afar, and see several Golden Bears players, including Osmo, scrimmaging with the youngsters. By the time the scrimmage comes to an end, the players are drenched in sweat. They’ve been at this for several hours, and the reward is a chocolate popsicle stick, not to mention the endorphin high that comes from a grueling training session in the heat.
As the last of the players leave the field, I make my way to Osmo, shake hands, and begin the interview. I’m not one to sit down for long periods of time, so we choose to walk around the Bonnie Doon neighbourhood, stopping at 7-11 on the way for a slurpee. From the outset, I’m impressed that Osmo’s willing to wander around for another hour, after having played outside with a raucous group of soccer players. We’re just ten minutes into the conversation, but I’m already impressed by the bimbacious experience.
* * * * *
It’s November 6 2011, and the Bears have just claimed the Canada West title, pulling off a last-minute victory on a goal by Marcus Johnstone. In the eighty-ninth minute, Johnstone makes a clinical touch forward on a long ball from Christopher Roberts and smashes it past the University of British Columbia keeper. The goal sends the Bears into the CIS Nationals tournament on a high, following a season where the team battled tooth and claw, simply to secure a Canada West playoff berth.
Even to this day, Osmo regularly watches the video, drawing on it for inspiration. “I love that video… it’s one of the best shots that I’ve ever seen. I still watch that video all the time.”
The 2011 season contrasted markedly with the 2010 campaign, where the Bears dominated the regular season, but then lost steam in the Canada West tournament and subsequent CIS Nationals. In 2010, the Bears routinely drubbed their Canada West opponents in the regular season, but then fell to the Saskatchewan Huskies in the semi-finals round of the Canada West tournament. The regular season title, however, had already ensured Osmo and the Golden Bears a spot in the CIS Championship. In the first round of that championship, the Bears fell on a late goal to York, leaving the team just short of its envisioned national title. One year later, the Bears squeaked into the Canada West tournament, but peaked at the right time, besting Victoria and UBC en route to the tournament win. The CIS tournament would see the Bears progress to the semi-finals round, only to fall in extra time to Saint Mary’s.
* * * * *
As we make our way out of 7-11, slurpees in hand, we get to talking about the Golden Bears squads of recent years.
In his three years at the University of Alberta, Osmo has experienced the trials and tribulations of these Bears’ seasons first-hand, as one of the key members of the back line. Over this time, his role on the pitch has evolved markedly, from a player whose minutes were sparse in 2009, to a Second-Team Canada West All-Star in 2011. In 2012, he is a virtual lock to make the Canada West First-Team. If the Bears capitalize on their concentration of talent and experience, he might just find himself earning CIS-wide recognition, as well.
Though Osmo plays central defender, he is not one for sitting back throughout the game. Instead, he has developed a reputation as a strong attacker, forcing opposing strikers to drop back and defend. Perhaps this is not a surprise, for Osmo notes Thierry Henry as his favourite player, one of the foremost strikers in recent soccer history. Still, defense is the Golden Bear’s preferred position: “[Striker] seems like it’s easy, but I would rather be coming to the defender, than having my back towards him.”
We make our way past Campus Saint-Jean, toward La Cité Francophone, and I start to see how Osmo has matured as a player over the last two years. Even though he excelled in 2011, for example, it’s clear that Osmo expects more out of himself, not only in terms of his skill level, but the leadership that he exhibits on the field.
“As you go on, you learn from guys like Brett Colvin. At first, I would just love to win, but they would love to win for the Golden Bears, for the university itself. They have a real attachment to that.”
And just as Osmo developed a loyalty to the Golden Bears and the university, he became a more vocal leader on the pitch. In particular, he notes a Canada West regular season game from 2011, when coach Len Vickery told him following a match that he expected more out of the third-year player. The moment shook the defender, who assumed that his play on the field was already at a high level. However, it was not necessarily the skill that eluded Osmo – he already possessed plenty of that. Instead, it was the leadership, the ability to man the back line that Vickery alluded to.
Since that day, Osmo’s composure on the field has improved. Today, he matches his finesse with an equal ability to command the defense.
* * * * *
Make no mistake, though, Osmo knows how to have a good time. Although focus and strong performance on the field make up one part of the bimbacious experience, there’s a time and place for letting loose – Sundays – when back-to-back weekend games come to a close. But before we delve into where and when he parties, there’s one thing that I’m interested in learning about: his style.
There’s a sense of style that separates the central defender from most of his teammates. While many student-athletes are content sporting sweat pants and other stereotypical university attire, Osmo is known for his skinny jeans, black v-neck shirts and the classic New York Yankees baseball cap. It’s a simple yet timeless look that all men should be able to pull off. In fact, it is one of the reasons why The Wanderer Online, a publication that blends sports with fashion, contacted Osmo for an interview in the first place. (Note, if you’re a guy and you’re reading this, and you don’t yet own a few crisp white and black v-necks shirts, go buy some. Like, today.)
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Golden Bear doesn’t receive flack from some of his teammates.
“I always wear skinny jeans, and all of the guys on the team make fun of me for it. But they don’t actually understand that I look so fresh.”
As one of the top players on the Golden Bears, and a charismatic guy apart from that, Osmo is bombarded with invitations to go out on weekday nights. However, he’s quickly learned that this sort of fast-paced routine doesn’t jive with the requirements for sustaining energy on Saturday and Sunday game-days.
“Right away you play on a Saturday, and then you have to play on a Sunday again… You’re training all week, you have to focus on one team. Then you gotta turn it off, switch, and get ready for the next game. You have to take care of yourself. On Fridays and Saturdays I don’t go out. Usually, after I’m done a game, we might go out for a lunch, then just go home, rest up and not do anything too strenuous.”
To put things in perspective, Osmo trains all throughout the week, from Tuesday to Friday, and then plays a full ninety-minute game on Saturday. On Sunday, the team has to do the same all over again, playing a second ninety-minute game. Without proper discipline and recovery, injuries can develop with little notice, on a quick sprint to the ball or sharp change of direction on the field.
On Sundays, however, the commitment to rest and relaxation is tossed out the window, and justifiably so. That’s when the Bears – often accompanied by their “Sister Pandas” – hit Hudson’s on Whyte.
“We’ve just embraced Hudson’s. After a big weekend, on a Sunday, we just all go to Hudson’s. We take over; we literally know all of the waitresses. It’s gotten bad; we should be the poster for them.”
But the shenanigans don’t end there.
On road trips, the bus brings its fair share of laughter, where Osmo and teammate Igi Broda serve as ‘hosts,’ asking first-year players a series of questions that puts them on the spot and improves team chemistry in the process. Throughout our walk across campus, one of the major themes that pervades our conversation is the closeness of the Golden Bears squad. The strength of the bond between players is palpable. Whether it’s Osmo, Igi, captain Scott Gilroy, stalwart Cam Schmidt, returning all-star Zenon Markevych, imposing keeper Jay Vetsch or the energetic Andrew Hood, the Bears are a tight-knit bunch.
“[The team] is always together, and it’s literally like a family… You’re always with these guys, and you can’t help but like all of them. If you don’t, then you’re gonna have a problem!”
As we make our way past Maurice Lavallée, Bonnie Doon’s francophone high school, there is one thing that I must learn about. About one year earlier, I was looking at the Bears and Pandas Facebook page, and came across a video entitled “Backstreet Bears.” It had garnered over 600 likes, which is a considerable feat for a student-created page. Within twenty seconds of observing the video, I burst into laughter. The music video, which features Golden Bears athletes (though soccer players in particular) lip-syncing several songs by the once-popular Backstreet Boys, could be a YouTube sensation.
Osmo erupts in laughter, exclaiming, “I thought you might ask about that.”
The three Backstreet Bears videos have over 10,000 views. Based on the quality of the video editing – in all honesty, it could be mistaken for something professional, the sort of music video seen on Much Music – this number should be closer to 100,000. I would not be surprised if the video catches on in the near future, and sees its viewership rise exponentially.
In any case, the Backstreet Bears prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the team’s chemistry is in a league of its own.
* * * * *
As of July 12, the Golden Bears home opener is just under two months away. The majority of the team plays for the Green and Gold squad in Edmonton’s Major League Soccer division, and on July 11, they finally click as a unit. In a game against rival Croatia FC, Green and Gold emerges with a convincing 6-1 win. Osmo still debates Croatia’s lone goal – the striker supposedly dove in the box – but he doesn’t let the single goal affect him.
When September hits, Osmo will anchor a Bears line-up that has every reason to deliver a CIS Championship. Many of the team’s players captured a U-18 Nationals title several years ago, under the banner of Southwest United, arguably Edmonton’s most prestigious soccer club. But more important is the fact that Osmo leads what should prove to be an impermeable back line. With three years of experience under the wing of coach Len Vickery, unwavering family support at home, a dedicated mother and a loaded line-up around him, the alluring CIS ring might just find its way to Edmonton come November 2012.
And if that happens, it’s guaranteed that Osmo and the Bears will celebrate in style, black v-neck and Yankees cap included.
Emerson is a third-year Sciences Politiques student with an addiction to running, writing and reading everything from Neil deGrasse Tyson astrophysics books to GQ and Sharp Magazine.