The second annual BMO Champions Cup wrapped up at the BMO Training Ground on Sunday when the two trophies were handed out.
In the U-13 age group, Pro Stars FC defeated Toronto FC Academy 1-0 in the final, while at the U-15 level, TFC Academy were victorious, beating Rush Canada Blue 6-0 – full details of the final match day, and all previous ones, can be found at torontofc.ca.
Waking the Red caught up with TFC President Bill Manning and U-15 coach Jon Mondino this week to get their reaction to the conclusion of another successful tournament.
“It was really good,” said Manning. “We got a lot of great feedback, brought together the top teams in the area for those two age groups. A scout from the Canadian national team was here, John Herdman specifically sent him. [And it was] a chance to see teams that don’t usually play against each other.”
Where the 2005 group lost in the final after winning both group matches under Terry Dunfield, Mondino’s 2003 group won emphatically.
“It was a successful weekend for us,” said Mondino. “Three meaningful games. Three results; three wins. The boys showed well.”
“It was a nice end of the year event; to see the things we’ve worked on, the building blocks we’re putting in place with the group rolled out,” continued Mondino. “The boys stuck to our game model, continued to build our identity in the academy. It was a good opportunity to put it in games.”
That identity, their ‘principles of play’, is a key feature for the academy. Mondino summarized it as, “possession with a purpose.” And in the one match your correspondent was able to catch, the 2005s dominant win against Sigma FC, it was clearly on display.
“We have certain principles that we need the players to understand as they graduate through the academy so they have the best chance to be a first team player: the creation and usage of space, things of that nature, that we really dive into,” further detailed Mondino. “And we link it to our game model, in terms of how we play. [It] makes for a much richer development experience.”
With the final matches of the USSDA fall schedule also played on Saturday, the Champions Cup marks the conclusion of the calendar year for academy players.
“We’re going to train for two more weeks,”explained Mondino. “Then give them December off, some family time, then they’ll come back mid-January.”
Not that the development stops once the sessions end.
“There are individual plans,” added Mondino. “We don’t need them to be competing, they need that cognitive under-load, need to recharge their competitive batteries. We use this time to develop physical things: some need speed work, some agility, some power. Our medical staff rolls out four-to-six week plans for them that they can do at home.”
When they return in the new year, new challenges await.
“We’ll get some sessions under our belt,” said Mondino. “Then we’ll look to target some events: showcases or tournaments and prepare them for the USSDA.”
Since TFC Academy moved into the USSDA, this year’s cup had to be reconfigured, from four age groups to two. For the next edition, Manning expects it to remain in this format for the foreseeable future, though some change is coming.
“It will be these two – U-13, U-15, so the ‘04s and ‘06s [next year],” said Manning. “Eventually, TFC will only have one age group [in this competition]. We’re going to start at U-14, so eventually it will just be the top OPDL and OASL teams, but we’ll stick to these two age groups.”
Greg Vanney talked about that change at the lowest reaches of the age structure as far back as last fall.
“The talent level at the younger ages is spread out,” explained Manning of the rationale. “At the older ages, there is an evolution where the top, top kids come to TFC. At the younger age groups there is so much development, so much change from year to year based on physical development.”
Pro Stars becoming the first non-TFC-related side to lift a trophy in the six competitions to date is exemplary of that fact.
Added Manning: “There are still a lot of really good players out there that we will keep our eye on for the future.”
Trophies aside, the event is intended to bring the best sides in the respective age groups to one location for an end-of-season showcase, one that brings the entire Ontario youth soccer community together.
“We hope,” said Manning, asked if the cup is achieving that aim. “Last year was a great first step in that evolution. It’s about bringing people together. [That’s] how we’ve tried to operate, be inclusive.”
Added Mondino: “That’s one of the best parts about the event: different leagues represented. Any time you get different styles of play or different experiences coming together to compete, it’s enriching. We achieved that this weekend.”