As the League1 Ontario 2017 season winds to a close, several fixtures with serious implications on the respective title races catch the eye in Matchweek 20.
Men's Division (East):
Durham United FA v Woodbridge Strikers @ Kinsmen Park, Pickering (Fri Sept 8 - 8 pm)
Only four teams remain in the running for first place in the men's east division, and two of the top four will clash tonight in Pickering.
Durham United currently sits in fourth position on 27 points, and if they are to launch a last gasp charge for the title they will need to win all matches and, in turn, take some points off those ahead of them. Tonight's chance will be one of only two chances to do so, with third place team North Toronto Nitros approaching on Friday September 29.
At the top of the east division is Woodbridge Strikers, with 37 points and the best defensive record in the division. Woodbridge has a game in hand on their rivals at the top, Vaughan Azzurri, but that game in hand can hardly be considered free points as the opposition will be west division leaders Oakville Blue Devils. Woodbridge needs to sink divisional rivals like Durham in order to maintain pole position in the standings.
Dylan Carriero, Woodbridge Strikers (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
These teams played to a near stalemate in their only previous meeting back on May 7 at Vaughan Grove, Woodbridge, when a brilliant free kick by Strikers midfielder Dylan Carrierro broke the deadlock and handed the hosts all three points.
Woodbridge's form has been steady in the last ten matches, with a typical pattern of win-draw-win, but a 5-1 defeat to west division powerhouse Sigma FC on August 12 has shown a chink in the Strikers' armour.
Durham United has gained points from six of their previous ten matches - dropping home losses to TFC III and Vaughan Azzurri and away results to FC London and Windsor - but are among the best in the league when the team is in the groove. Tonight will be the last chance to prove it.
FC London (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Men's Division (West):
FC London v Sigma FC @ German Canadian Club, London (Fri Sept 8 - 8pm)
Over in the men's west division, another massive battle is playing out with Oakville Blue Devils, Sigma FC, FC London and Toronto FC III still in the hunt for the single playoff spot.
FC London currently sits in third position with 34 points from 17 matches - five points behind Sigma FC and 11 points behind Oakville. FC London's home form has been potent in 2017, only dropping points at the German Canadian Club on three occasions, and after coming off a 3-1 home win over Toronto FC III the local mood will be buoyant. With Sigma, North Mississauga and Oakville ahead, and an always tough road trip to Windsor before an end of regular season tilt with Pro Stars FC in the offing, FC London can still take much of their destiny in their hands with a win tonight against Sigma.
Elvir Gigolaj (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
With their first game in almost a month beckoning, Sigma FC will be well aware of the late season stakes and head to Southern Ontario with the foreknowledge that a win is a must. Oakville Blue Devils currently have a six point lead on the Mississauga-based academy, and although Sigma has a game in hand on the leaders - there is no room for a slip-up. Sigma must win all remaining matches and hope Oakville lose at least one match to go level on points at the top. Oakville will face some stern tests in the form of TFC III, FC London and Woodbridge Strikers, but Sigma must do their part to continue as a contender.
Neither side could find a breakthrough on June 10 at Hershey Centre when Sigma and FC London last met, but no goals and no winner would be near catastrophe for both teams at this stage in the season.
However, both teams have an attacking player of exceptional pedigree that they will expect to produce the goods.
Former Toronto FC first team player Molham Babouli has been among Sigma's best attacking moments in recent matches, while the defending League1 Golden Boot holder, Elvir Gigolaj, has eight goals in his last four matches and 16 on the season.
Could this potential west division title-decider come down to a shoot-out-the-lights goalfest? We can only hope...
Molham Babouli, Sigma FC (Photo: Martin Bazyl)