League1 Ontario released their 2018 Schedule yesterday and there are big changes from the year before. The league has done away with the two conferences and thrown all the teams into one big table. There are seventeen teams this year (one more than last year) and it will make a clean sixteen-game without an uneven conference. Each team will play eight home games.
The season kicks off on April 28 and ends September 23. That would be their all-time shortest season (last year was 22 games per team — home and away against your own conference and one game against the other conference — two conference winners played off for the championship).
This season for the first time the top eight teams then move on to a group stage (I’d assume two groups of four) for another round and the two winners then play for the championship and the right to be the league’s entrant to the 2019 Canadian Championship.
This second season sounds intriguing. Past seasons have had some teams just play out their schedule. Windsor TFC Stars would come to the GTA with 10 or 11 players when their main squad returned to university. Sigma FC would often start off their season with nine wins in a row but then have to reorganize when their older players return to the NCAA. They would finish the season with high schoolers.
This would also eliminate the quirk of the late season game (rescheduled from months earlier because of lightning) that had the best in the west vs best in the east Oakville and Woodbridge play to a 0-0 tie as the only way they could both ensure they finished first. Neither team crossed over their own end line the last half hour of the game. Even soccer parents were shouting for their sons to pass the ball back to ensure the result. The two teams played a match of the year final the next week with the game going to a shootout.
I expect older players like I saw at the team they rustled together to give Ottawa Fury FC (USL) a game last week will stay with their teams for one last year before they catch on for the new Canadian Premier League. That will then free up the teams to play their younger players and give more of a chance to a team like ProStars FC, who are a majority of teenagers showcasing for foreign placements and scholarships.
I have no rosters this early in the year so I’m not going to speculate who may be the final eight.
There are three new teams this year (they’re up only one because two teams are out).
Darby FC will play in Whitby. They have had a team in the women’s league for a few years now although that team has struggled for results. Darby is a partnership of Darlington Soccer Club and Whitby Soccer Club.
Unionville Milliken SC (who also had a L1O women’s team last year) will play in Unionville (Markham) at Bill Crothers Turf Centre. This is a high school for athletes. I flew over it by Google Maps looking for a track as Bill Crothers was a famous Canadian track athlete who won a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 in the 800m at a time when four medals earned by the entire nation made him a hero.
Rather than starting from scratch I read a tweet announcing five signings already, with two players from Vaughan Azzurri (Joe Di Chiara and Tre Crosby), Michael Fayehun from Woodbridge Strikers, Basel Rashrash from Aurora FC, and Jalen Brome who played with TFC Academy then York Region Shooters in 2010-11 in the CPSL days. These aren’t necessarily trades as last year the MVP goalie moved from the Woodbridge team to the Oakville one because it was closer to his home and shortened his drive for games and practices.
Alliance United FC is the third new team. They have an appropriate name as it’s a partnership between Markham SC, Wexford SC and Centennial College. The team will play at Centennial College in Scarborough. Ilya Orlov has been announced as coach. I remember him years ago as a defender for Toronto Croatia.
Not returning for 2019 are Durham United FA who the press release lists as taking one year off and North Toronto Nitros who “did not renew their licence” which sounds like a more permanent arrangement. Nitros were the most downtown Toronto team starting their seasons at the U of T then getting bumped up away North York when varsity teams (football, soccer, track) pushed them out. Durham United sitting out now explains why a month ago their head coach Sanford Caraban jumped over to Darby FC as an assistant coach.
Besides the new teams a few of the established teams have changed facilities. OSU Force from Ottawa are now playing at Quinn’s Pointe. Aurora FC are moving again, this time to Stewart Burnett Park as part of a new state-of-the-art facility. TFC Academy will play at the BMO Training Ground, of course. I expect that is just going to be new signage as they must have pushed KIA cars off the marquis. I wondered if BMO not giving us fridge magnets at the TFC home opener meant they needed to save their money for the renaming rights?
I’m not clear yet whether there will be a cup competition for teams in the league (well they have a trophy for it). There are a few holes in the schedule but games were poorly attended because sometimes there was less than a week’s notice by the league office and they were played at whatever facility could be booked on short notice.
I’m looking forward to the season. This is a league that has more than 95% Canadians on the field at the same time and offers fine entertainment.