The sixth League1 Ontario season rolls out this weekend, featuring 15 matches across both men's and women's divisions. Come and see if you can pick out future Canadian stars!
In Game 1 of Matchweek 1, we get west v east GTA - both featuring a fresh look under new management:
North Mississauga SC host Unionville Milliken SC at Paramount Fine Foods Centre, Mississauga on Friday May 3 (7:45 p.m.).
Incoming North Mississauga SC head coach, Aleks Balta, spoke with League1 about how his side is coming together and what objectives are for the season.
League1 - Describe what the project of assembling the North Mississauga SC League1 team has been like thus far and who are some of your players to highlight?
Aleks - "At the start of this project, I thought we were going to be very young but now as we've played some preseason matches and trained for a while, I'm starting to see that our DNA is going to be a mix of youth and experience."
"We have a number of returning players, but it feels a bit like an expansion team this year in some ways. In the end, I think our goalkeeping is rather young, our top is also a bit on the young side, but in the back and through the middle we will have some older, experienced players."
"As part of the U23 set, we have a young player named Ali that is an individual with great ability to create chances around the box, has fantastic one v one ability as well, and has the overall work-rate to get up-and-down the wing as needed."
"Another key younger player for us can play a variety of positions in the back - central, wide or even as a wingback - is '99 born Luke Rankin. I've actually coached him from the age of eight and he's just gone to University of Guelph this past year. He has a great work ethic, technically strong - he can strike the ball with both feet - and very brave in the air. He's not a huge guy, but he can win a lot of headers. He's very confident on the ball and I think he's going to have an excellent season in League1."
"An older player that I think will provide great experience to the team is Chris Simm. He played last year for North Miss and will be in the middle this year. I think he's going to provide a lot of leadership to the young players. He's 31 years of age I believe, and I'm looking to him to anchor the midfield and give us some balance."
"Another guy I would highlight is named Ivica - a centre-back for us that is also experienced. Very vocal, good leader, and a great example for the younger guys in terms of how to approach the game in terms of mentality."
"Sundin Esperance is a player that was recently highlighted by CPL Performance Analysis department as having great potential. Sundin will be playing out from the back or as a wide back that gets forward. He has an exceptional long ball; he can switch the point of attack very easily. His strike of the ball is class. Great decision-making and with limited touches he can find options very easily."
Unionville Milliken SC had an experienced and strong side during their first season in League1 Ontario in 2018. The club adopted a professional model in their debut season and qualified for playoffs.
In 2019, Unionville has brought in a new head coach in Sanford Carabin, who has had previous League1 head coach positions at Durham United FA and Darby FC.
League1 - Tell us a little about your new position as head coach at Unionville Milliken? Who are some of your key players?
Sanford - "Part of the allure of working with the Unionville group is that they have a lot of young players coming through their final stages of their development stage - they are 17, 18, 19 years old - and the one common trait with those players is they are all very good technically."
"We're walking into a situation where there is a lot of young players and last year unfortunately not many of those players were ready yet to jump into the player pool at League1. We're a year on now and the club has made a decision to move away from the older, established players and open up spots for the youth coming through. That decision was part of the allure of joining Unionville."
"Having a completely young team is a different kind of initiative, so what we've done is fill in some of the gaps with some older, experienced players."
"There are three or four 2001 and 2002 players that will make up the young group, while there is a group between '95 and 2000 that we've got to round out our player pool. We have a young team mixed with a seasoned team."
"Players from the young end include 2001 born Cale Loughrey that played 6-7 games in League1 last year."
"At Unionville we have two young players: 2001 Lucas Teixeira and 2001 Nicholas Andersarrian that have come through the club's OPDL program."
"In the 2002 set we have two exciting young players to highlight: Oliver Onya and Trevinius Spree that have also come through Unionville's OPDL program."
"The two 02s are midfielders and the two 01s are centre-backs."
"There are not a lot of the experienced players retained from last year, but there are a few and it just so happens that they came through the Unionville youth program as well. Tre Crosby, Jalen and Jarek Broome and Isaiah Prentice-White are players that we have retained. I think it is important that we have some consistency and link with last year and as well a link with the club."
"We are going to try and do our best to get as many players that have come through Unionville into the team, because that is what we think our League1 program should be about."
"The club has switched their philosophy from trying to be a semi-pro club as they did in the first year, to trying to be a structure where League1 is the top level for youth products in the club."
"We have some older players as well. Keeper Eugene Alves has come over, he will also be part of the coaching staff. Midfielder Taylor Lord will also come on in a player coach role. He was injured last season but has worked hard in the off-season to get fit. He will work with our U21 squad as well."
"We've also brought Tristan Esprit and Tim Flynn, both of whom have played some League1 in the past. I think we've made some good signings to fill our gaps. Our signing of Jonathan Parolini is another good example of that experience."
"One signing that I think the league hasn't seen before is Byron Knowles - Ramierez. He's a left-back that played the last two years in Costa Rica. Ex-University of Tulsa player that has come back to Canada and is a very exciting talent."
League1 - What is your objective for the team, yourself and club in the 2019 League1 season?
Aleks - "What I'll say is when I look at the squad and where we're at, we have some work to do at the beginning but I think we'll improve as the season goes and our goal is to make the playoffs by finishing top eight. That will be a great achievement for the club as well."
"We've signed a lot of youth and former North Miss players. We don't have a huge influx of players that haven't played with the club previously. We are trying to develop and give opportunities to our younger players coming through OPDL. We want League1 to be a clear goal for our youth to strive for and provide a pathway for the homegrown player."
"This is my first season with North Miss. I worked at Burlington SC for many years as a staff coach, and then moved to Mount Hamilton as Technical Director, which is where I am currently. I'm also working with Hamilton United with the OPDL squads. This is a new challenge for myself as I've only dealt with youth football, though did coach U21 for a few years."
"Our focus is to develop these players into focal points in the coming years. This is step one in a two or three year project where we get the club to a position where it is highly competitive in League1 year after year. As the years go, we want to have full first teams in League1 that are comprised of our youth graduates."
League1 - What is the objective for the Unionville men's team, yourself and club in the 2019 League1 season?
Sanford - "I don't think there is any reason why we can't jump out of the gate and be competitive right off the bat."
"We have enough players that have played in the league in the past, and the players we have added on the young side I think will be able to adjust to the league right away in a technical sense. However, they will need to adjust to the speed of the game."
"We are building a new team and it takes time to get the team on the same page and build a culture, so I think we will really hit the ground running in mid-summer. Our objective is to be thereabouts in the top three or four in the league and be in every game."