The Premier Development League title is coming back to Canada for the third time in the competition's history. On Sunday afternoon, KW United joined FC London and the Thunder Bay Chill as Canadian clubs to win the top amateur competition in the US soccer pyramid.
In just their second season since relocating to Kitchener-Waterloo from Hamilton the black and blue of KW United really impressed. Under the leadership of first year head coach Chris Pozniak they finished the regular season with an 11-2-1 record which was enough to take home second place in the tightly contested Great Lakes Division. That set them up for a playoff meeting with FC London who they comfortably dispatched by a 2-0 scoreline.
Having knocked off London, United moved on to the conference semifinals and a match against the Des Moines Menace. A late game winner from Ben Polk was the difference in that one as KW came away with a 3-2 win setting up a date with one of the two teams that managed to beat them this season. A strong first half was enough to allow United to hang on for a 3-1 win and book their first ever trip to the PDL final four.
Their semifinal opponent was a team that will be familiar to MLS fans as they were drawn up against the Seattle Sounder's U23 squad. Playing on the Sounders home field with the likes of Sigi Schmidt in attendance the pressure was really on KW United but that did not seem to phase them as they remained defensively tough and got the only goal they needed in stoppage time thanks to a Julian Buscher free kick.
The win over the Sounders meant a date against another MLS team's development squad. On Sunday, KW United took to the field against the New York Red Bull's U-23 team and rode a dominant first half all the way to the PDL title. The team from the twin cities scored three times before the break which was just enough cushion for them to hang on through the second 45 minute.
It was certainly a fun second half though as the smaller sized energy drinks put up quite the fight to try and come back from a three goal deficit. They made it 3-1 and 4-2 but a late game penalty save by Ingham was enough to ensure that their comeback bid came up short in this one. Even a late Red Bulls goal and a stoppage time red card only served to ratchet up the drama
While Toronto FC did field a team in the PDL this season it is hard to view KW United as a rival given all the connections that they have to TFC. They are the team where Jay Chapman played last summer, their head coach sported TFC colours for one season, and they have a few players on their roster who were once part of the Toronto FC Academy system.
The Championship winning team would not have gotten anywhere close to that title without the contributions of Nathan Ingham in goal as the former TFCA shot stopper was a key part in a very strong defensive record for the club. The team also leaned heavily on a dynamic midfielder who once put in a solid half for TFC against Liverpool as Sergio Camargo was a big part of making the team's attack go. There was one more TFC Academy alum on the roster as well as the team also featured Dylan Sacramento.
KW United are certainly a team that makes it easy to cheer for them. In their first two years they have played a lot of good soccer, developed a small but loyal group of fans, worked closely with the local soccer community, and most importantly have given some crucial development minutes to plenty of Canadian players. Chapman may be the first player to reach the pros after playing for them but the way things are going he certainly will not be the last.
Canadian soccer is not always full of good stories and teams finding success doing things the right way which is why this KW United team is one that should be celebrated. Their accomplishment should be an example to other Canadian clubs looking to fill the wholes that currently exist in our development pathway.