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 final match-up of #L1OKickoff2019, and for the finale we head up to Markham for a look at a men's side that made playoffs in their first season in 2018, and another side that has gradually built up a signature playing style over the years and has patiently developed some strong individuals.
Alliance United FC will host Toronto Skillz at Mount Joy Field, Markham on Sunday May 5 (7 p.m.).
Alliance United came out the gates very strong in 2018, with current University of Toronto head coach, Ilya Orlov, at the helm.
The team qualified for playoffs on their first run, and in turn had two of their stronger individuals picked up by CPL clubs.
League1 - You've lost a couple key players to pro clubs in the off-season, who are some incoming names to highlight?
Ilya Orlov - "Our captain this year is going to be Nikola Stakic, who is also the captain of U of T. He played for a number of years for Toronto FC Academy. He was with us last year and was a League1 All-Star and an OUA All-Star. He's a '98 born player and we'll be looking to him for his leadership. He's a good, technical holding midfielder. He'll dictate the pace of the game and start our attacks."
"We have a new goalkeeper this year, Praveen Ahilan. He was the Ryerson keeper for four years and just graduated."
"Kenny Liotas is an OUA All-Star and is one of the top centre-backs in OUA. He's going to join us this season and will be returning to U of T in the fall. He's a good quality centre-back."
"Jacob Maurutto-Robinson is a '99 born player that also came through Toronto FC Academy. He's a right back and very technical. He's also attending U of T."
"Milan Beader is back up top. He was with us last season and went to school in Vermont. With him will be Aleksa Markovic. He was a youth international for Canada and has played in the top division in Serbia and was on loan with a few teams. He's back in Canada now and I think he'll be one of our top attacking players."
"We have a core of returning players on top of that, and some other strategic additions."
A downtown based academy, Toronto Skillz has been gradually building up an attractive playing style and culture within their organization over the past four years.
In 2018, the team showed that owner Jake Doodnath's patience and clear philosophy in development is beginning to pay dividends after beating some of the top sides in League1.
League1 - You caught a lot of people's attention in 2018 with your style of play. Although it didn't always bring the result, it's clear a fluency and attractive game is developing with Skillz. Who are some players we can look for this season?
Jake Doodnath - "I want to start with four attacking players, two of which we are really excited about this year. They had some injuries last year and didn't get to perform so we look forward to see if they can start off well. One of those is Wadohi Fadul and the second is Anfal Ekhlas."
"We also improved our defence and will be looking to two players in particular back there - Esteban Carles and Tajmir Ashraq."
"We also signed two goalkeepers, Rodolfo Aguiar and the U of T number one keeper, Stefan Dusic, so I think we have got better in that position as well."
"One forward did really well with us last year for the final four or five games, and we're looking to him to have another strong year, Renat Kassimgeryev."
"Overall, I think we have a much stronger squad."
League1 - What is the objective for Alliance in the 2019 season?
Ilya Orlov - "For us the point of the league is to move players forward to professional. We were happy to see two of our players signed to CPL this year - Steven Furlano to York 9 and Lukas McNaughton to Pacific FC."
"We will look to Milan and Aleksa to fill in the goals and Kenny Liotas will open some eyes as well as he fills in for Lukas in the back."
"Our main objective, just as it was last year, is to make the playoffs. We don't really have superstar, marquee players but we prepare very well tactically and all the players buy into what we do. We will look to make the playoffs and see if we can push on from there."
League1 - What are the objectives for Toronto Skillz this season in League1?
Jake Doodnath - "There are two things we really want to improve upon. The first is goals against. We gave away a lot from bad breakdowns and we'll improve that for sure this season."
"I think we'll be a much fitter and stronger team this year. We signed most of our players early and have been working the whole group together for four or five months now."
"Our goal is to maintain possession of the ball more than the other team, and with good offensive actions. In our final four or five matches last year, I think we played quite well and were just getting into our stride. We've done a few things differently this year to hit the ground running and hopefully get into our stride a lot earlier."