Vaughan Azzurri will be entering their fourth season in League1 Ontario with high expectations – the 2016 season saw them not only capture the league championship against Western Conference champions FC London, but also saw them victorious in the League1 Ontario Cup after a 1-0 hard-fought decision against their cross-town rivals from Woodbridge.
Their silverware collection from the 2016 season reflects just how strong a team they were – there were no fluke calls or lucky bounces that led them to these victories. Vaughan lost only one match in 26 season & cup contests last year, boasting a staggering +46 goal differential and finishing the season eight points ahead of their nearest rival in either conference. The team also laid claim to various individual milestones during 2016; the team supplied three starters to the Eastern Conference squad for the league’s inaugural all-star game, their head coach – Carmine Isacco – was named the coach of the year for the second year running, and five players who competed in Vaughan’s colours last year were named to the league’s all-star teams at the end of the season.
Were it not for a 67th-minute penalty given to CS Mont-Royal Outremont in the final edition of the Inter-Provincial Cup, there would be nothing more this team could have asked for.
Well, almost nothing. I’m sure they’d love a shot at winning the Voyageurs Cup, and thanks to the changes made by the Canadian Soccer Association earlier this year, they’ll have a chance to do so if they can re-capture the league championship.
If it ain’t broke…
I spoke with Vaughan’s head coach, Carmine Isacco, and he indicated that most of the team from last year has been kept together for another run at the championship – opting for the stability of a known winning formula, though with the introduction of some younger players to make an impact and have opportunities to shine as the season progresses.
A particularly noteworthy addition to their roster this season is Chris Mannella; a name some will recognize from his days in the Toronto FC system. This 23-year-old midfielder won the inaugural L1O championship with Toronto FC Academy in 2014 before being named captain of their USL affiliate the next season. While his contract with TFC was not renewed after 2016, I’m sure he’ll be a prime target for any teams from the Canadian Premier League looking to sign players (and rumour has it that we should hear more about that league after the CSA’s Annual General Meeting, taking place May 6th. Stay tuned!)
Keeping that solid team core together will be a priority should Vaughan become League1 Ontario’s first entry into the Canadian Championship. The timing should work out in Vaughan’s favour; the typical spring schedule for our national cup means that many players would not be on NCAA or CIS duty for that tournament – something that Isacco believes will put the team at an advantage compared to November’s Inter-Provincial Cup last year.
Vaughan can’t afford to start this season flat-footed, with their season starting off with a home match against Durham United FA, this Saturday, April 29th at 3:00 pm. If you manage to get there with time to spare, you’ll be able to catch the trophy presentation to recognise last year’s league championship.
The Azzurri know they have to start strong – “the whole league is improving,” Isacco said, adding that the extra incentive of a birth in the Canadian Championship means that every team has that much more to play for. Vaughan remains up against strong competition in their division this year, with matches against Woodbridge (June 10th & August 9th) and Durham United (April 29th & August 18th) sure to be amazing battles that could tip the balance at the end of the season.
Even with Vaughan’s strong presence on the field, Isacco knows they can’t take any matches for granted. Teams across the league have been improving and building for this year; the 2015 league champion Oakville Blue Devils have brought Matt George – League1 Ontario’s 2016 Goalkeeper of the Year – over from the Woodbridge Strikers, while even ProStars FC (who I usually write off after two years of disappointing results) has been pegged as one to watch. Another added variable is the rebranded Toronto FC III – how players move between that team and K-W United (TFC’s new PDL affiliate) will have to be seen as the year progresses.
Vaughan’s home pitch at McNaughton Park lies next to St Joan of Arc Catholic High School in Maple, in the heart of the community just northwest of Keele & Major Mac. Getting there is relatively easy; if you’re coming from the south, your best bet is to take Highway 400 to the Major Mac exit – the same one you’ll take for Canada’s Wonderland. From there, it’s about a five minute drive eastbound until MacNaughton Road (it will be on your left). Major Mac would also work if you’re coming along Highway 400 from the north, but you could probably shave a few minutes (and a few traffic lights) off the trip if you took the earlier Teston Road exit. From the east, take Major Mac until you hit MacNaughton Road just past Dufferin, take a right, and then follow that past Keele until you get to the field. Be warned – there’s not a lot of parking on site, so you may be forced to park on MacNaughton’s gravel shoulders and cross the road (there’s no crosswalks).
If you really feel like taking an adventure, McNaughton is about a ten minute walk from the Maple GO Station. Be careful though, train service isn’t exactly regular after 8 PM on weekends, nor is it all that frequent, either – trains pass by less than once an hour. Another option is to take a bus; YRT’s route 4 runs east/west along Major Mac every half hour on weekends, while the TTC’s route 107 runs north along Keele from York University at about the same frequency.
Once you get there, ticket prices are still $5 – this is the same price as last year, and certainly one of the better value ones in the league (especially when you consider the skill that you’ll see on the field). If memory serves me correctly, they do have a small concession booth there as well. Seating is provided by a pair of metal bleachers which can probably sit a couple hundred. Kids wearing Vaughan gear get in for free.
This is Vaughan’s third year hosting League1 games at McNaughton, though the team may be moving in the future. I spoke with club president Tony Bartolomeo, who said that the Azzurri may take advantage of a new city-built park east of Keele Street, between Teston and Kirby Roads – just in behind the current location of the current VSC clubhouse. Tentatively called the North Maple Regional Park based on city documents, the new location will contain two turf fields; offering a better facility and one which is more conducive to League1 play & standards. Proposed seating capacity appears to vary by a factor of ten depending on which source you read (anywhere between a hundred and a thousand), so I wouldn’t hedge my bets on any specific number just yet. The fields are supposed to be constructed during 2018.
I’ll be covering Aurora FC and the Woodbridge Strikers along with Vaughan this year, and I hope to catch about a half-dozen of their matches this year. Come and join me at any of the following:
Sunday, May 21 @ 4:30 PM – North Toronto Nitros (@ Varsity Stadium)
Saturday, June 10 @ 3:30 PM – Woodbridge Strikers
Sunday, July 9 @ 1:00 PM – Toronto FC III (@ Kia Training Ground)
Sunday, July 23 @ 2:00 PM – Oakville Blue Devils
Wednesday, August 9 @ 9:00 PM – Woodbridge Strikers (@ Vaughan Grove)
Sunday, September 17 @ 3:00 PM – North Toronto Nitros