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 2 of Matchweek 1 we get another intriguing men's match-up, with the 2018 regular season champions travelling to an east-GTA side with a new look and management.
Darby FC will host FC London at Whitby Soccer Centre on Friday May 3 (8 p.m.).
Darby FC brings a new look to the team in 2019, with a fresh face on the bench in head coach Chris Reilly, and a refreshed focus on building the League1 side out from the ranks of players coming up through the club.
League1 - Every new coach brings something different and unique to the team. What are some of the changes that you're making at Darby FC, and who are some key players to highlight?
Chris Reilly - "We do have a number of returning players from previous seasons, as well as a number of players that are returning to the club that were with Whitby or Darlington in the past. We are looking to offer top players from our region a place to play top level football without leaving the area."
"We had a number of inquiries from players that were just finishing up school in the States that realized we had a high-level place to play now. We've seen players graduate from the OPDL as well, getting ready to begin their University careers, and having the League1 team and the U21 reserve will provide a great resource for our pathway. We're very excited about this program."
"Jack Sears is a player we want to highlight, but not over-expose at the same time. He is a great level-headed player with a lot of potential, but he is still a young player. He is not alone in that group of young players we have coming through as well."
"Another player I see having great potential to shine in the league is 2001 born Nick Spittle. He is another OPDL graduate and since the age of 15 he has just been getting better year after year."
"In general, we have a number of other 2001s that will be in our reserve group and will be worked into training and I see them coming through in matches towards the end of the season. I would say that we have a better mix of players than we have previously. We have a strong group of U23s and a strong group of senior players, so we have been able to put together a really good overall mix."
"In terms of returning players, we have brought some players back that were familiar to supporters in the region."
"One example of the senior returning player is Joe Zupo. Joe played at Durham United in the earlier years of League1 and played professionally in Australia and New Zealand. He's returned and brings a wealth of experience and knowledge, which is really important to add to this group."
"It's important to have players with character and are good role models as people. That's one of the factors for us when evaluating players because we want to see that spread out to the younger players as well. A player like Joe certainly has it in spades so we're really happy to be able to have him with our group. I think he'll have a really strong season."
"We have another player named Alfred Hess, who is from Australia. He's just come from Canada and he has the experience of playing high-level football in Australia. He's a senior player with great character again and so we see a positive influence from him on our younger players as well."
"Another senior player that has been around our club for a while is Aldo Mariorano. He's a player that coaches within our club in our LTPD program. He played College in the U.S. and was also a leader at UOIT when he played there. He's one of our older players but again he's got great character, great leadership, great voice. We're really trying to mould the younger players coming up as you can see, so he's a great addition."
"One of the players that is returning is Bayley Winkel. Bailey is a player that played with Whitby in the LTPD years and he played in the States up until last year. I think he was at FC Buffalo. He's a local player as well and again - we have a club and a team that is attracting local guys back and keeping the other ones here to play, develop and grow."
FC London's men's team return in 2019 ready to build on a very strong 2018 campaign.
Under head coach Mike Marcoccia (in his first year with the men's team), FC London finished the 2018 regular season at the top of the single table going into playoffs. Marcoccia returns with a squad that includes even more depth and a refined focus the team's objectives.
League1 - The 2018 season was an excellent showcase of the talent in FC London, both as a team and with several key individuals. Who are some of the key players that you're either bringing back or introducing to the roster this season?
Mike Marcoccia - "Our men's team this year will have many familiar faces, as almost everyone is returning. I think this puts us in a good position to have a strong start and pick up where we left off in 2018."
"We generally had some top younger players in our squad last year - guys who were born in '99 - so five or six guys that were under the age of 20 last year will return this year stronger and more experienced, which puts us in a position to keep developing players."
"Unfortunately this year nobody has made the jump to CPL, but we feel we have some really good parts that will attract some of the CPL scouts and put them front row centre to be recognized due to their quality and age."
"Our U21 team did quite well in 2018 as well, and what we have done is met with those players and determined who is ready to make the jump and we're happy to say we have several that are ready and will supplement the senior side throughout the season ahead. So rather than getting rid of players, we have put together a fairly big group and we're excited about that. We will have more depth than we did last year and that is important because we had a big problem in the playoffs with our numbers."
"From our U21 set, one player I would highlight is our centre-back, Marko Maletic. Marko was a player that was frequently in the team last year and is returning. He's a strong player with a great future in this country I believe."
"We also have Ethan Gopaul. Ethan was just recently featured in a League1 Prospects article and was training in the off-season with some CPL teams. We believe that he is just about ready to make that step and hopefully this year will push him over that threshold and allow him to be seen at the top level."
"A third player from the U21 set is a 2000 born player, so very young, and his name is Taylor Harris. Taylor was part of our U21 program and he only featured there last year, but will make the step this year to the League1 side. At 17 years old, he will be the youngest player in our first team. He's a central midfielder that will compete for a position with some of our top players and hopefully push and motivate them until he gets a prominent role, which I feel he will."
"Of the returning set of older players, I have five names to mention:
Our captain Randy Ribeiro is back and we're very happy about that. Randy has been a regular in the side for several years, he's a former member of the Toronto Lynx, and has played in many top competitive matches. He provides stability and roster and is still motivated to take the next step in his career so having him back is a very important step for our organization.
We have Parker Seymour, who has been with FC London for some years and is also a valued coach within our organization. He will continue to play this year, which will provide seniority and leadership at the back.
We have Connor Wilson, who finished second in the 2018 League1 Golden Boot category. Connor is a top player and I believe didn't get enough recognition for his achievements last season. He finished second in the scoring charts and wasn't put on one penalty shot, which is quite impressive. He did a really good job of scoring from open play and a player like that is always exciting to have in your team.
Mohammed Reza Nafar is also returning, who we believe at FC is one of the top talents in the league. He was very close to moving to the CPL this year but I think if he is able to put the same effort forward this season it will be inevitable for him to move on to the next level. Nafar is another guy that has been with the organization for some time and is a little bit younger than the other players we've discussed, but is a true leader.
Last but not least we have our first team goalkeeper, Anthony Sokalski, back in net. Anthony is in his fourth year with FC London and has been our starting keeper since we joined the league. We are more than confident in Anthony's leadership and quality in the back."
League1 - You're entering a new league as a head coach, but it sounds like you've done a lot of work within Darby FC previously. What are your objectives for the 2019 season?
Chris Reilly - "I've coached in one of Darby's two founding organizations, Whitby SC, for 15+ years, and have coached at all levels from house league, competitive, through to OPDL and now into the men's program."
"A lot of these players are players I coached at the younger level and are now seeing a place where they can come and play and they want to be here, which is fantastic."
"The other assistants on our staff are also long-term Whitby SC coaches. We have Jens Kraemer, who played in the old Canadian Soccer League and was the captain of the North York team. He was a player within the Canadian National player pool and a former head coach of one of the Canada women's junior national teams."
"The other coach that has also been a long-term Whitby coach is Billy Pachis, who also had a lot of experience in the national player pool when he was younger. So the assistants have a great body of knowledge and talent to impart to the players as well."
"The club has made a real investment in the Whitby facility: we have two domes; a fitness area set up that is partnership with an outside company; and a school that's adjacent with a gym we can use as well. So we look at the tools available to us and it's difficult to say there are clubs that have as much as we have at our disposal."
"The next step for us is to show that quality with performance and teams. Our goal is to keep players here at the club and help draw and keep our younger players."
"We look at what Vaughan, Woodbridge, Oakville, London and other strong programs in the west have been able to create, and we want to be that ambitious to offer that east side option. We want this to be the place to be. We see the consistency that those clubs have had with players, their on-field performance and we want to be considered one of those groups. It doesn't happen in an instant but that's our big picture goal - to be in the conversation with those types of teams."
"One of the components that we've added is doing proper fitness testing with ETS, a local fitness organization. We thought some of the players that were coming from professional environments would have experienced this in the past but they said no - they only saw it in some cases at the CPL trials."
"We start the season schedule with three good teams and it's an exciting challenge. We're diving into the deep end of the pool. The players and staff are pretty excited about seeing those teams."
"One other thing I would highlight is we have brought on a performance analyst coordinator, Evan Gilbert, so that is another thing we are looking forward to this season - digging into the performance analysis tools that are being offered by the CPL to League1 teams."
"We want to dig into that as well to help improve the team and the players. We're very excited about exploring that end as well, and all opportunities afforded to us by the CPL partnership."
League1 - After such a strong regular season in 2018, have your objectives for FC London changed at all?
Mike Marcoccia - "We are very straight-forward and clear about what our objective is this year."
"I've spoken with our players, board and president about this subject, and our main objective this year is to improve the team and improve the individual players. Obviously, with a professional league above us now in the CPL, our main objective is to develop players to play in this league."
Winning games is a very important part of that objective as the individuals need to be achieving success on a team level to help get them there, and ultimately we would like FC London to have a successful year and continue to win games, but it is not the primary objective."
"We would consider a successful season if we improved as a team, that we played very good football within our style and principles, but most importantly if some of our players are ready at the end of the season to make the jump to the professional league - this would be success for us."