It was a cold grey day that reminded me of home as I ventured out of my downtown bubble to experience not only my first Sigma FC game, but also League1 Ontario fixture, at the home of the Oakville Blue Devils at Sheridan College. Oakville have experienced success in the past but were coming off of a poor season last year and hoping to get off on the right foot. Sigma on the other hand had a good 2016 and hoping to go one better this time round.
I had no idea what to expect when I got there, but was pleasantly surprised to see a good 100 or so people in attendance including the League1 commissioner and Ontario Soccer Association President Dino Rossi and Ron Smale respectively. It was also nice to see the Blue Devils youth team players, whether they were made to or not, to welcome the teams onto the pitch and watch the game for the team they would like to play for at some stage. Also in attendance was a couple of guys from the Barton Street Battalion, the supporters from the to be Hamilton CPL team coming down to support Sigma after partnering with them for the upcoming season and swapping scarfs with a Sigma fan.
So to the game itself, it was almost one of those, ‘game of two halves’ type matches. It started of pretty scrappy with neither team getting a foothold for the first 5-10 mins, but then Sigma really stepped it up. Returning Faisal Ghaffur and newcomer from the USL, the headband wearing captain, Giulano Frano really took hold of the game. Ghaffur martialing in front of the back four looked calm and composed on the ball, playing everything simple and keeping possession, and Frano starting counter attacks at pace bursting form the midfield and spreading to the wide men.
I say back four, but in the first half it was pretty much only three. Right back Johnny Grant, returning to Sigma from USL teams Swope Park Rangers and FC Montreal, was almost another forward he was so far up the pitch, but it worked. His skill and pace were a constant threat, along with Justin Stoddart were almost double teaming the Oakville right back Al James, who desperately needed more help from his midfield.
Once Sigma got going they really controlled the half, moving the ball well, defending in numbers and hitting Oakville on the counter on numerous occasions. One of those occasions led to the first goal just after 20 mins played, with Frano playing a 1-2 with Noah Jensen in the centre of the park, breaking past the midfield and playing in Stoddart, through on goal when he was brought down by the Oakville defender Konnor McNamara for a definite penalty. Frano then stepped up to calmly place the ball the right of the goal keeper as he dived the other way.
Then, just a few minutes later Sigma doubled their lead after some great play from Grant down the right, taking advantage of the mistake from the left back, driving infield before cutting back and driving a low cross into the 6 yard box for striker Mike Matic, who was unmarked in the middle to poke home. Well worth a watch, and if you don’t believe me, take Dino Rossi’s word for it, tweeting about it after the game.
This is a goal we need to clip for our weekly highlights.
What an incredible individual effort from Johnny Grant to set that goal up https://t.co/NxGYb4yjsz
— Dino Rossi (@_VPjr_) April 30, 2017
Nothing was coming off for Oakville. Every attack was being thwarted by a solid Sigma defense. Even when they did get a sight at goal after a scramble after a corner, they beat the keeper but the ball was cleared off the line by Jensen and then the rebound saved by Triston Henry in goal before being blasted way over the bar.
Oakville were ‘trying not to score’ as one home fan declared to me.
Towards the end of the half the impressive Grant once again beat his marker, cutting in on his left foot at the top of the box and curling and sublime shot towards the top corner, only for it to hit the cross bar.
The second half was a completely different game, Oakville really put the pressure on the Sigma defense and midfield, closing down straight from the off all over the pitch. There was a period of 15 to 20 minutes where Sigma just couldn’t get it out of their own half, the rain had started and the game began to get a little scrappy. Oakville were winning corner after corner and putting a lot of balls in the box, forcing Henry to make 2 or 3 fantastic saves in goal for Sigma, but weren’t really creating too many clear cut chances. Brandon Culver seemed to have a lot more space and it seemed like everything good for Oakville was going through him in the centre. Grant and Frano were a lot less influential, with Grant being held back from going forward from the pressure and Frano not allowed the room he had in the first half.
With just over 20 minutes to go in the game, Oakville got one back to make it interesting. The ball bounced around in the box before coming to Hitesh Joshi alone at the back post who had the easy job of passing the ball into an almost empty net.
Both teams freshened it up, making multiple substitutions each (TIL, you can make more than 3 subs in League1 Ontario), but toward the end it seemed that Oakville tired and Sigma got back into the game, creating a couple of chances of their own and able to keep the ball a lot better and hold on for the win.
All in all, a great first experience watching the league for the first time. Reminiscent of games I’ve been to before in the lower leagues of England. Complete with kids high fiving their ‘idols’ on the way back down the tunnel after the game despite the loss and of course the cold and the rain. Fortunately for me, the rain stopped just as the game finished. So I was able to make back to my bubble dry, ready to do it again next week, where Sigma will be away to TFCII off the back of a huge 6 nil win in their first game.