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The State of League1 Ontario with Commissioner Dino Rossi

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Waking the Red talked year two, the new women's division and the possibility of a new Canadian league with League1 Ontario's commissioner.

Canada Soccer- Mex Sports

For Canadian soccer players, there has never really been a clear pathway to the professional ranks. For many, it has meant moving overseas to Europe, others have tried to fight tooth and nail for the limited jobs on Canada's three MLS clubs. For most it has just come down to luck.

That lack of pathway is what League1 Ontario is trying to rectify, at least in Canada's biggest province. Without it, Canadians are going to continue to struggle to find a professional environment.

"Without a clear pathway the odds of [going pro] happening go down," explained league commissioner Dino Rossi, "and the odds of leaving a lot of frustrated athletes in its wake goes up significantly."

League1 Ontario wrapped up its second year of operations earlier this season, so Waking the Red talked to Rossi about the state of the league. 2015 was an important year for the league in many respects, and Rossi saw important growth.

"On the men's side we saw the level of competition across the board get better," he explained of the on field improvement. "There were very few games where you would say ‘there is no chance for team b to beat team a', that was good because that really wasn't the case in year one."

One of the reason's the quality was augmented had to do with the addition of the Oakville Blue Devils. The club brought a higher calibre of professionalism to the league, bringing with it several pieces from the Toronto Lynx PDL side.

For Rossi, however, it was not just what they brought on the field that was so important. Their knowledge of how to run a team was just as important.

"They also brought a level of game day operations that was outstanding and set a bar for the rest of our league to aspire towards," Rossi said.

Clubs like Oakville are likely to become even more common in the next couple of year for League1 Ontario. Reports indicate that the OSA has issued a notice to the Ontario teams playing the USL PDL that they will no longer be eligible to play in those leagues going forward.

This will mean clubs like PDL league champion Kitchener-Waterloo United, London and Thunder Bay Chill could all be joining League1 Ontario for upcoming seasons.

Further to the success they had in the men's division, 2015 was also important for League1 as it launched its women's division. It was always the OSA's plan to launch a women's league, but Rossi says they wanted to take things one step at a time.

"Just about 50 per cent of [the OSA's] members are female players," he said of the importance of establishing a female division. "to not make every effort to establish a league to serve the needs of its most talented female players just couldn't happen."

The women's division featured seven teams, including the powerhouse Durham United FC who were ultimately crowned champions. Most of the team's came from the same club as the league's men's teams.

"Like any first year league it wasn't perfect," said Rossi looking back, "but we were pleased with the outcome, we were very happy with the level of play."

An early measure of success is that three players who played in the inaugural women's season of League 1 Ontario were called into the Canadian Women's U-20 team for World Cup qualifiers: Rylee Foster, Martina Loncar and Alexandria Lamontagne.

Loncar scored in Canada's opening match against Trinidad and Tobago, and the team would go on to qualify for the U-20 Women's World Cup in 2016. The squad only allowed one goal in the process.

The individual player success could be seen on the men's side of the program as well. Molham Babouli, Raheem Edwards and Chris Mannella all had strong first seasons with Toronto FC II while Johnathan Grant did the same with FC Montreal.

Rossi says having success stories like this is crucial to the longevity of the league.

"It clearly establishes in the minds of all of our licence holders and the general public that there is outstanding talent in the province of Ontario that need a place to shine."

He strongly believes that given this place Canadians will continue to find the success they have already had since this league started. He hopes that this will be reflected on the rosters of both the men's and women's national teams.

There could also be a new wrinkle in the national league setup coming soon, with the CSA confirming that it has been working on a project that could develop into a national professional league. Rossi is optimistic about what this would mean for League1.

"We hope that the CSA are able to bring such a league to fruition," he says. "We believe that it is imperative for the long term success for our league that there is a domestic league for Canadian players. We want to be a key source of those players."

Whether or not League 1 Ontario can truly be considered a success story will be an easier question to answer over the next decade. For now, however, Rossi believes the early results are positive and that the league is headed in its intended direction.