On Tuesday afternoon, the Ontario Soccer Association held a press conference to announce details of the new League1 Ontario. The league will be semi-professional and the teams included were chosen following a standards based application process.
For the inaugural season the league will have 10 clubs and the season will get underway on the final weekend of May. One of the 10 teams included will come from Toronto FC Academy who will be fielding a team intended to bridge the cap between the academy and the professional ranks. They will be joined by ANB Futbol, Durham Power FC, Internacional de Toronto, Kingston Cataraqui Clippers, Masters FA, Sigma FC, Toronto FC Academy, Vaughan Azzurri, Windsor Stars, and Woodbridge Strikers.
Toronto FC Academy will take place in the league's first ever game as they are scheduled to meet Vaughn Azzurri in the opener on May 30th (8 PM) at the OSA Soccer Centre. The full schedule for the season has yet to be released but should be available in the coming weeks.
The press conference held to announce the details of the league confirmed just what place League1 is expected to play in the Canadian soccer landscape. It is intended to be a key step in the development process for the most talented young players in Ontario.
"We believe that League1 Ontario is critical in following the Canadian Soccer Association's Strategic Plan which calls for provincial semi-professional leagues across the country," OSA President Ron Smale said.
"This league is designed to bridge a gap in Ontario's talented player pathway on the men's side," League1 Ontario Chairman Dino Rossi said. "To this point we have not been able to adequately address the needs of our top players once they have exhausted their opportunities at the highest levels of youth soccer. League1 will go a long way to correcting this issue."
It is a gap that was clearly noted in the Easton report which the CSA commissioned to study the viability of a Canadian professional soccer league. That report concluded that a national U-23 league would be more viable and would fill a large need in the current soccer pyramid. While League1 Ontario is not a national league it does fill that void for the province of Ontario and could hopefully be part of a national setup down the road if something similar to the Canadian Hockey League does take shape.
There is still a long way to go before we could see League1 really filling the void in the development pathway. Having a 10 team league is a good start but even that will not be enough to service the most talented players in the province. The bulk of the teams are in the GTA which makes sense from a logistics and population perspective but it leaves several major talent pools such as Ottawa or London without a local option outside of the existing PDL clubs.
It is a good first step though and it will be worth watching to see how this first season goes and what steps they take to continue to grow the league. With the Ontario Player Development League launching as well this season there is plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the direction of soccer in the province of Ontario but there remains a lot of work to do before it yields any tangible results.
Like we saw with the launch of the OPDL there will probably be some negative reaction to the teams that were selected to take part in the first season of League1. That will always take place though as it was never going to be possible to include all of the clubs and many would have been ruled out due to an inability to meet the standards and the financial commitment set out by the league.
No matter how you look at it the launch of a new semi-professional league in Ontario has to be considered a good thing. It provides another option for young players outside of the existing pathway and should help more talent reach the professional ranks.
It was also confirmed that the press conference that League1 does plan to expand to include a women's division in the future with the possibility that it could be implemented by as early as 2015. That would fill another major void in the soccer landscape giving females an option outside of the W-League.