Canadian professional and semi-professional soccer has long been tied to the development of the game in the United States. In 2013, the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) received the results of “The Easton Report”, which outlined a need to create regionalized soccer, separate from the American pyramid. With the Premier Ligue de soccer du Quebec (PLSQ) filling the niche in Quebec, League 1 Ontario (L1O) took to the field in 2014 as a fully sanctioned 3rd division. Entering its second year, L1O is contributing to the growing competition of soccer in Canada.
3rd division soccer is the place to find the future stars. Following the first season, players have been drafted to the National Team and to the MLS. Cyle Larin, who scored 4-goals for Sigma FC in L1O’s inaugural season, was the #1 pick in the 2015 MLS Superdraft. 19-year old Larin is now training alongside Kaka at Orlando City FC. Sigma FC’s Emery Welshman trialed for Real Salt Lake, and scored during pre-season against Sporting KC. With Jonathon Grant, also from Sigma FC, currently playing defence with the National Team, L1O has already contributed greatly to the Canadian growth.
In its first year, L1O finished a 70-game season with 9 teams established using a standard’s based system. By having a set standard of play, L1O sought to ensure competitiveness throughout the league, and largely succeeded. With only a 12 point difference between 3rd & 7th, the middle was a hard fought. All leagues have teams that over and underperform. In this case, the honours fall to the undefeated TFC Academy and the winless Kingston Cataraqui Clippers. Unlike most North American Leagues, L1O has no playoffs. This grants the League Champion title to the team with the highest number of points during regular league play. In 2014, TFC Academy claimed the title with an 11 – 5 – 0 record.
L1O, like its Quebec counterpart, also features a cup competition. The L1O Cup featured two qualification groups engaged in round robin play. The top two from either group advance to the cup semi-finals. TFC Academy and Durham United advanced from group A, while Vaughan Azurri and Sigma FC were group B champions. The Cup final & semi-final rounds consist of single-game knockouts. Shockingly, TFC Academy was defeated 4 – 1 in their semi-final by Sigma FC. Vaughan Azurri took the L1O Cup in the final, thanks to a goal in the 77’ from Di Charia.
With 3rd division Canadian Soccer left out of the Amway Canadian Championship, 2014 also produced the first Interprovincial Cup. Consisting of a home and away series between the PLSQ and L1O league champions, the Interprovincial Cup recognizes the top 3rd division team in Canada. In 2014, TFC Academy competed against CS Longueuil of the PLSQ. They destroyed the Quebec team 4 – 0 in Brossard, Quebec. The second match, held in Pickering, Ontario, was a 0 – 0 draw. As a result, TFC Academy became the Interprovincial Cup champions in the cup’s inaugural year.
With the schedule yet to be released for L1O’s second season, teams are busy with tryouts. All nine inaugural teams have returned for the second season, and welcome the addition of the Oakville Blue Devils, Pro Stars FC, and Sanjaxx Lions. Pro Stars FC and Sanjaxx Lions have extensive academies that will feed their L1O ambitions for years to come. The Oakville Blue Devils is the third reincarnation of the club. The renewed interest in semi-pro soccer in Oakville is very promising for the future of the sport. With the initial tryouts for the L1O team yielded an astounding 40 trialists aiming to impress and make the first team, Oakville looks to be a major competitor in the 2015 season.
League 1 Ontario has paved a new path forward for Canadian soccer. With success in producing quality players and teams in its first year, the potential for future growth and development is immense. A new season & cup run start late May or early June. League officials promise to livestream at least one game each week, and upload the others for later viewing. As a result, there is no reason for soccer fans to ignore the upcoming talent L1O can produce.