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!
It's our first match-up of #L1OKickoff2019 Day Three, we get things started with a dynamite east-GTA derby between the defending champs and a greatly improved rival.
Durham United FA will host Darby FC at Pickering Soccer Centre, Pickering on Sunday May 5 (1 p.m.).
Durham United FA won their second League1 Ontario title in 2018, taking down an unbeaten Woodbridge Strikers side in a dramatic round of penalty kicks.
Now half a year on, Durham have seen some of their key players get snatched up by professional clubs in Scandinavia. Head coach Paul DeBreau must look to defend the title while at the same time reforming the roster.
League1 - A title-winning season adds great expectations in the follow-up, but you've also had to bring in some players to fill in gaps left by those that have gone pro.
Who are some of the top players you could highlight for 2019?
Paul DeBreau - "So I'm bringing in Brianne Desa, she plays with Brock. I'm also bringing in Farkhunda Muhtaj, she plays with York. Another player I'm bringing in is Fallon Rodrigues."
"The players that I've lost... well, obviously with Tamara Brown being Player of the Year - that was going to be a tremendous loss for us."
"We've got to adjust somehow in the midfield to compensate and help us in the back. We also lost Kendra Prince in defence, and they were two very fast players."
"I think it's going to be more of an older team, more experienced, and I think we've got a bit more speed up top this year."
Darby FC put a project into place four years ago to stick with a side homegrown in founding clubs Whitby SC and Darlington SC and build it over the years.
Now the team is full of players that are still young but have years of League1 experience, as well as some new key signings. The future looks bright for Darby and women's head coach, Graeme Burns.
League1 - In looking at this roster, one can see a large group of players and many that have really grown as individuals over Darby's time in the league.
Who would you highlight ahead of your first match?
Graeme Burns - "We have a massively different team at Darby this year. There are a lot of new faces coming in and all the girls have experience at either the Canadian or U.S. university level."
"We have our returning captain in Tori Chia. This is year four for her in the league. As an 18 year old, she will be a calming presence for us on the pitch and a great leader on and off the pitch. She is now into year three at Trent University so we're going to be leaning heavily on her."
"We're excited to add a couple players from Ottawa that also have international experience - Mollie Eriksson and Olivia Cook. Really excited to add them, they are both playing division I down in the U.S. They are top quality. Olivia is versatile and can play numerous roles. Mollie is definitely going to push our starting keeper, and we're excited to have her."
"Two of our backs return from last year. Alexis Wilson and Abigail Hubble are two calming presences on the pitch. Experienced and older players, and with great potential to solidify our back line."
"One more of our homegrown products is Lauryn Arruda. She has just finished high school and is off to Kent State in Ohio in the fall. This is her third year at Darby and she has a tonne of potential."
League1 - Winning a title changes things. It adds expectation and pressure. What are your objectives after a year when Durham took the title?
Paul DeBreau - "Our objective this year is really to be as professional as we possibly can. We want to at least get to the top four again and if we can make the playoff final game than that would be a bonus for us."
"I think we have a strong team coming in that can do that again this year."
League1 - It looks like 2019 could be a massive season for Darby. The project you guys put into place years ago appears to be coming to fruition.
What are your team objectives in this situation?
Graeme Burns - "We hoped it would be a much quicker process, and we've taken our lumps in the standings over the years of the process, but we know this was going to be a long-term project."
"We are certainly seeing much bigger and brighter things now and in the future. All of our girls have high-quality experience at the university level and it is time for results to really be the focus."
"We would be disappointed this year if we didn't make the playoffs. We've gone through the process and you can see some of the other teams are going through that now. We are looking at the professional pathways that some of the other players in the league have gone down and we would like to see that for some of our Darby players if possible. We're as excited this year as we were in our first season."
"We have 21 players at university level and they are going to push each other to get time on the field. We are striving to be the best League1 franchise for men and women. Results speak for themselves and we haven't had those in the past, but this season we expect we will be pushing the other teams at the top."
"We'll start with the reigning League1 champions, and we'll see on Sunday where we are at."