Over the weekend, League 1 Ontario got underway. The league kicked off its inagural season with a slate of five games over three days all played at the Ontario Soccer Centre. There was some good soccer on display, some nice goals scored, and certainly no lack of drama.
Toronto FC Academy and Vaughan Azzurri were the first to take to the field in a game that pitted some familiar faces against one another. No less than four key members of the York University team that went to the National Championships this past fall were involved in the game with Dylan Sacramento and Mark-Anthony Kaye starting for TFCA while Jonathan Lao and Matt Stinson played for Vaughn. Vaughan also happen to be coached by the York Lion's head coach Carmine Isacco which helps to explained the strong contingent of Lions on his team.
Matt Stinson was not the only player involved in the first game to have spent time in the professional ranks and even represent the Canadian Men's National Team. On the roster for Vaughan was also former Toronto FC forward Andrea Lombardo as well as former CanMNT player Andrew Ornoch. In a league that will be mostly stocked with young talent having that kind of experience around to help out the younger players could certainly prove to be valuable.
The opening game was an exciting affair with the teams trading goals early on as Sacramento and Lao both found the back of the net. Sacramento scored the first goal in league history at the 10 minute mark but the lead did not last long as Mateo Restrepo was sent off for TFCA after making a tackle as the last man. Lao stepped up and blasted home the resulting free kick to level the score. After that TFCA were forced to change their shape but were able to hang with the physical Azzurri the rest of the way. It was an exciting affair between two teams who should be right near the top of the table come the end of the season that ended up 1-1.
Action resumed on Saturday with the only lopsided match of the weekend as Masters FA were able to secure a dominant 3-0 win over the Cataraqui Clippers. There was even a familiar name on the scoresheet for Masters as Jonathan Osorio, apparently not that one, scored their second goal of the game.
The second game on Saturday was a thrilling affair between Internacional de Toronto and the Windsor Stars. Windsor got first half goals from Gino Berardi and Patrick Lepera but Noberto Solano's side answered back with with two goals of their own to finish level in one of the most exciting matches of the weekend.
Sunday saw some more familiar faces with Sigma FC taking on Durham FC. On the Sigma side was former Toronto FC forward Emery Welshman as well as some of the top Canadian players from the NCAA. Their attack was led by the potential first overall pick in next year's MLS SuperDraft, Cyle Larin while his UCONN teammate Kwame Awuah anchored the backline. Their roster also included University of Syracuse standouts Chris Nanco and Alex Halis as well as Penn States Mark Wadid. It is certainly a team that has the talent to compete with anyone in the league and could do so playing some very attractive soccer.
The game saw Sigma trying to play a possession style with plenty of short passing on the ground but they had a hard time picking out the right pass to open up Durham who did well to limit the options in the middle of the park. Both teams certainly had their chances to score with Larin and Welshman both getting looks on goal in the first half. It was Durham who opened the scoring though as Tristan Grant was on the spot to finish off a cross. Sigma would manage to draw level in the second half though as Nanco set up a chance for Jordan Stoddart who made no mistake with his finish. It was another tightly contested game that could have easily gone either way but in the end both teams had to settle for a share of the spoils.
The weekend wrapped up with a few more familiar faces taking to the field as Woodbridge took on ANB Futbol. Woodbridge's roster includes Christian Cavallini, younger brother of Canadian international Lucas, and former Toronto FC midfielder Oscar Cordon and they looked a quality side on the day. Woodbridge got a pair of goals from Nicholas Chiarot which was enough to see them through to a 2-1 win to wrap up the opening weekend of play.
On the whole, it was a first weekend with plenty to be excited about. There is no lack of talent in the league and their are plenty of names that fans will already be familiar with. More importantly though it was good to see so many of the teams making a real effort to play quality soccer and not just rely on physical skills. As the teams start to come together and have more time to gel that effort to play passes on the ground and build from the back should result in some very attractive soccer being played.
With only one of the first five games being decided by more than a single goal the league is shaping up to be very competitive. There certainly seems to be a number of teams that have the talent necessary to win the whole thing with TFC Academy just being one of a number of strong sides. It should be an enjoyable season and is certainly worth watching some games online or heading down to support the team closest to you when you get the chance.
Hopefully, what we saw this weekend was the start of something big for Canadian soccer and years from now we can look back on the launch of League 1 as a key step in developing our local talent but for now it will be key to get out and support the league in any way you can.