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 the fourth match overall and first of Day Two, supporters will be in for a treat as two of the league's perennial heavyweights clash.
Vaughan SC will host FC London at McNaughton Turf, Vaughan on Saturday May 4 (noon).
Vaughan SC has been one of the top sides in both the men's and women's divisions, featuring a strong cast of experienced and talented players and distinct possession-based game.
In 2019, longstanding head coach Carmine Isacco is gone, having been brought into the York 9 fold as an assistant coach with the Canadian Premier League club. In his place is longstanding Vaughan coach, Jordan Feliciano, who will guide a new mix of veteran players and youth prospects emerging from the club's system.
League1 - It has been a year of transition for Vaughan, with Carmine Isacco leaving and word of some exciting young players coming through. To begin with, who are some of your players to highlight?
Jordan Feliciano - "Nour Ghoneim is back. Nour is a player that has been a major part of our team for some time, and she has top leadership qualities."
"Every training session she pushes the team to their one hundred per cent. A lot of the younger girls that might have been intimidated by the environment at first have grown to appreciate it because of her enthusiasm and intensity at practice. She has a lot of high level experience and that shows, especially when we are working on the tactical side of the game. She is able to relay that information to the other girls that are playing around her, which is invaluable. It's cliche, but it's like having another coach on the field, which helps a lot. She's a good goalscorer, good creator, we're very happy with her."
"Colleen Beesley is another veteran player that is an important part of our team. She has been around the club for a long time and contributed a huge amount to our program over the years. She has been a mainstay. A dynamic winger, quick, good with the ball at her feet, very good crosser, and a good finisher."
"She is another player whose leadership qualities have been emerging as well, giving good information to the younger girls and helping them along. We're very happy with how she has developed within our tactical structure."
"Jessie Faber is a super dynamic player for us in the middle of the park. She can play any of the central mid roles, either a six, eight or ten, seamlessly and not look out of place. Leadership qualities are all there as well but she is just more of a quiet leader."
"Any tactical information that you give her is immediately applied and I think that rubs off on the younger girls, who also look up to a player that has played a high level as well. I'm very happy with her quality and she will be a key piece of what we do in the final third."
"Sami Falkenstein is the poster child of our women's program and how it has helped a player develop her profile. She came to the club as a central midfielder with some skill sets but she has evolved immensely. She has taken on more responsibility through taking set-pieces, her range and movement has improved, makes a lot of penetrating runs now and her distribution is fantastic. Having a left footed attacking midfielder is a luxury and her vision and intelligence is key. Good, technically-sound, intelligent - we're very excited about her too."
"Leah Pais is a product of our OPDL program and has had League1 exposure as well. She came to us as a number nine and we've played her as a seven, an eight, a ten and a six and her quality and intelligence is exceptional for her age."
"Every time we go play a school in the States the first question anyone asks us is where Leah is committed. She plays like a professional already in terms of her demeanor, attitude and character. All the intangibles are there as well as the quality. She scored four goals in eight League1 appearances last year, which was pretty good for a girl that was 16 years old at the time. She will be going to University of Albany in August and we are hoping this is her breakout year."
FC London is the most successful women's team in the division in recent years, having won titles and cups galore over their three years in the league.
However, in 2019 head coach Mike Marcoccia will have to bring it back to basics as his mercurial leader and striker, Jade Kovacevic, went to Italy this past season on a professional contract with Roma CF.
League1 Ontario - London has always been right at the top of the women's team since joining the league in 2015. Yet you've lost a major piece of the puzzle with three time league-leading Golden Boot winner and MVP Jade Kovacevic. Who are some of the players that you are looking to step up?
Mike Marcoccia - "Once again we are excited for 2019. We have been fortunate over the last couple years to have some success in our program and we hope to continue that success. We have some new goals and objectives this year that we haven't necessarily had in the past and that comes from more of a development perspective."
"We made a decision in the off-season to start to integrate our U21 girls into the League1 program and we will feature a much younger look this season. Our U21 girls are actually born in 2003 and 2002 so they are 16 and 17 years old and you are likely to see many of those players in the lineup against Vaughan this weekend, which is a really exciting thing for our organization."
"From a performance perspective it will be extremely difficult for these players to find results quickly, specifically in the first match against a team like Vaughan, but we are now ready to initiate the same process we took three years ago with our young players. We still have some of our senior players to supplement them and provide leadership and guidance. We will have a little bit of a different look this year but we're very excited to take this next step in the women's program."
"First off, from our younger player set, we have some interesting story-lines going on. We have two or three players that have been in our U21 program and will make the jump immediately to League1."
"The first one is Nicole Neilsen, a '98 born player. She has featured in the League1 team often over the past few years but this season she will occupy a permanent and very important role for us. We're hoping for her to play big minutes off the bat and expect she will end up being one of the top players in our program by the end of the season. Again she is a younger player that is going to carry a much bigger role than in previous years."
"The next one is Kayla McQueen, who is also a '98 born player and has featured in the U21 and League1 program in the past. Again she will play a prominent role in our League1 team. She is an attacking player and has the ability to score, which we feel is an area we will need more players contributing to in the season ahead. We'll be looking to Kayla to step up and potentially fill some big shoes in our League1 squad."
"The third one will hopefully be our most exciting story, and that is a 2003 born player named Madeline Mackenzie. She will most likely feature against Vaughan in our first game and is a product of our academy. She has been with us since we actually started our academy and this will be her first time featuring in the League1 squad."
"On the senior side of the roster, we have had a pretty consistent back-line for the past few years and that will continue to feature our experienced players."
"We have Meaghan Scott, who will return from Indiana and play a pivotal role in our back-line and hopefully be able to have the same success she has had in past years."
"Another senior player is Daniella Strano, and she is playing a huge leadership role at the minute by helping directly with training and preparing a lot of young players for the defensive phase in the game and potential involvement in the back-line with her."
"Marisa Oliveira will return for her fourth year with FC London, and is someone that has been a top player in the league for two or three years now. We expect her to have another big season for us. She has been the playmaker for many of our goals in the last few seasons and it is important to have that continuity."
"Chelsea Zavitz is another player to highlight. Chelsea has been with us for four years now and was sidelined with some injuries in recent seasons. She is a big player, and she showed that this past college season by leading Fanshawe College to Nationals, and she is going to play a much more prominent role in the midfield. She is a goal scorer as well and we'll need that."
"In goal, we have Emily Gillet returning. She has been our keeper for the past three seasons and she will be our keeper again this year. She provides some seniority at the back and stability as the starting keeper."
League1 - It's your first season in charge of the first team here in the women's program, but of course you are no stranger to these players having been a key piece of the technical staff over the years. What is your objective for the team in your first season at the helm?
Jordan Feliciano - "The objective for all the teams across our club is to be competitive. Whether that competitiveness leads you to first place, second place, third place - at the end of the day I think we are still focused on developing the player for the next level, whatever that next level is."
"At the senior level of course we want to win every game and if that winning leads us to a Cup, leads us to a league title, then great - those are bonuses and achievements. At the end of the day though we are focused on the developmental aspect of improving our team and improving our individuals every day."
"This year will be an interesting year for us as we expect to see the fruits of our labour with the OPDL girls coming through. I started in 2016 with the group and since then we have been bringing the players up to the U21 and League1 environments and now they are at a stage of youth soccer graduation and I'm just happy and proud to be a part of that. This is the stage we were working towards for some time."
"For me, myself, I'm a soccer fan as much as I am a soccer coach and so I coach my teams the way I like to see the game being played. We will play this season in a way we consider "the right way." Every club has a philosophy and our philosophy is we want to have the ball, we want to build out of the back, we want to be able to go from our keeper to our forward line and create chances. I think we have a good base in that philosophy and I think we've worked a lot on adding to that by working on the transition phases, which are crucial in the modern game."
"The continuity piece would be when Carm was head of the women's, I had the U18 OYSL girls in 2018 and in 2017 had the U16 OPDL girls. Carm and I have already worked closely on both the women's and men's side in the past three years, so I think the club philosophy bleeds into our coaching staff and that is where myself and Carm and Serge De Luca have had a great working relationship."
"Luca Forno, Patrice Gheisar, Anthony Vadori have all played key roles in the program and I think all of us are cut from the same cloth. We have individual ideas but share the same basis regarding players being able to play our brand of football."
"I'm excited for May 4 to come around so we can see the fruits of our labour from our training and our pre-season."
League1 - You have a big spot to fill in the squad with Kovacevic gone and all the goals that she would regularly create or score. But maybe this represents opportunity at the same time - creating a brand new project for your club and changing the objectives somewhat from past seasons?
Mike Marcoccia - "With Jade Kovacevic having signed for Roma in the off-season, this was a massive thing for our club. She has gone there and done the same thing, scoring and setting up goals. In the short run we are preparing players to play in that position."
"We know there will never be another Jade, but we have other players that are really good and we believe they can score and lead the team to success. We can't replace Jade but there are other players and they are ready to carry the load."
"It's not out of the question that Jade may make some appearances for FC London this year. She is out of contract following the end of the European season in early May, but she is pursuing professional opportunities and would only be involved with London with the focus of staying sharp ahead of those opportunities. If that were to happen, we would need to manage it carefully."
"Our objectives on the women's side are about finding success and improving the individual, but we have some young players and we need to focus on that stage of development."
"We are looking to prepare these players for college and university and a third pathway, which is to go on and play professionally like Jade. Success for us would be if all the individuals have improved tremendously by the end of the year and as a team."
"We have been accustomed to winning on the women's side, but we have been very fortunate to have some top players and leaders in our team and organization. We know that it is not going to be easy this year and we are going to have to fight twice as hard for every point."
"Our overall objective is not to win the league, but to start with a good starting point and to finish by playing good football every single match and improving from where we are now."