Ryder Rattee has a formidable reputation.
The 10-year-old soccer prodigy from Spruce Grove, Alta., a city just west of Edmonton, strikes fear into the hearts of his opponents and their coaches.
Antony Bent, a coach for an opposing team in the Spruce Grove Soccer Association, SW Sting U-12, told CTV Edmonton on Thursday that his team is one of the best teams in the league and that Ryder is by far the best player they’ve ever had to play against.
“We saw little Ryder come on. Number 13. A little skinny kid with curly hair and he didn’t look like much,” Bent recounted of the day his team first encountered Ryder. “And he tore us to pieces in the first half.”
Bent’s assistant coach, Richard Demers, agreed.
“He’s an athlete and he’s going to do very, very well,” Demers said. “If he chooses to make a career out of this, he’s probably got a legitimate chance and that’s the saddest part about what he’s going through.”
Demers was referring to Ryder’s ongoing battle with cancer.
The young soccer star’s father, coach and former professional soccer player, Todd Rattee, recalled that dark day on Aug. 21, 2015 when his son was diagnosed with the disease. He said Ryder had been at the hospital for a routine visit to have a swollen lymph node checked out.
“They went to take it out and the surgeon said, ‘Oh it’s probably nothing,’” Todd said. “He phoned us 10 days later and told us what it was.”
Tammy Rattee, Ryder’s mother, said that all she could feel was fear when she first learned of her son’s diagnosis.
“You hear cancer and you think…the worst things,” Tammy said as her voice trembled.
Even though Ryder regularly took Bent’s team to task, the soccer coach said they were all heartbroken to hear about his cancer.
“We learned to hate this little boy. Every time we played Spruce Grove all the parents would say ‘Oh not this guy again’ so we didn’t really like him for that and then we found out the news and we felt terrible,” Bent said.
Tammy said that since Ryder’s diagnosis became public, the local soccer community has rallied together to support their family.
“We’ve become friends with our enemies,” she joked.
Other soccer families would provide the Rattee family with meals when they were coming home from treatments and send baskets filled with things for Ryder to do while he was bored in the hospital, Tammy recounted.
When Ryder lost his curly hair due to chemotherapy, his soccer team held a head-shaving party to show him that he wasn’t alone in his fight with the disease.
The support from his team and community has helped the determined young boy keep playing the game he loves. Ryder wears a protective cover on his abdomen for the area where his chemotherapy is inserted so that he can continue to compete.
Ryder said he feels his best when he’s on the field. His parents said they believe playing soccer is therapeutic for their son and for them as well.
A little over a year ago, Ryder went into remission and was granted a dream trip through the Children’s Wish Foundation to see two of his soccer idols go head to head. The Rattee family travelled to Barcelona, Spain to watch soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo play against Lionel Messi in the El Clasico last spring.
Ryder said they were sitting close enough to the players that he could even hear them speaking. Todd said seeing his son’s ecstatic reaction when Barcelona scored a goal was the most memorable moment for him.
“It was so exciting for him,” Todd Rattee said. “I’ll never forget it.”
Even though Ryder relapsed in June and has been undergoing another round of treatment for his cancer, he’s still playing soccer. And he’s still not making it easy on the opposing teams.
In addition to his goals on the pitch, the young soccer phenomenon has another goal in mind - to become a professional soccer player like his father.
“I want to be like him,” Ryder said.
With 83 goals in only 19 games already this season, it seems like Ryder is well on his way to filling his dad’s soccer cleats one day.
With a report from CTV Edmonton’s Adam Cook