Two newcomers will make their debut in the 2019 League1 Ontario Men's Championship Finals on Friday night, demonstrating the depth of talent that is brewing in the league following an exciting year of 40+ alumni signings into the Canadian Premier League (CPL).
FC London and Masters FA from Scarborough will take centre-stage in this year's Final, setting up a battle of two teams that had very different stories in the 2019 regular season.
The 2018 regular season champions, London started out the 2019 season in mediocre form, dropping points for much of the first half before pulling themselves together and salvaging the campaign with a successful run of impressive results. London ultimately grabbed the seventh (and second last) seed in the 2019 Championship Playoffs.
The southwestern Ontario side then set about confounding the odds-makers with a series of strong performances over the two leg format in both Quarter- and Semi-Final stages to topple second and third seeded teams: Vaughan SC and Alliance United.
Perhaps there's something in the water in London? Head coach Mike Marcoccia will count Friday's Men's Final as his second this season after already piloting the FC London women's side to the 2019 League1 Women's Title just three weeks ago.
(Photo: Kevin Raposo Photography)
(Photo: F10 Sports)
Where London men had a patchy start on the 2019 season, the story of Masters FA, on the other hand, has been one of dominance from start to finish.
Under the leadership of head coach, Rick Titus, and Masters' owner, Junior Groves, The Saints, as they are known, gelled early in the campaign and ultimately only wobbled on three occasions - dropping losses to Sigma, Darby and Vaughan.
The 2019 edition of Masters combines some of the league's most exciting attacking talents with a well-marshalled defensive structure to devastating effect. Making short work of Sigma in Quarter-Finals, Masters then found a way through a tense two leg Semi-Final encounter with the 2019 regular season champs, Oakville Blue Devils.
As far as predictions, it's going to be very hard to even pick a favourite between these two sides. On the one and only occasion they met in the 2019 season, it was a breathtaking back and forth encounter and featured three comebacks over 90 minutes and Masters eventually emerging 4-3 winners.
Masters is an original League1 Ontario member that has finally made their way to the big show after years of showcasing some top players. Their attacking talents are now multiple and the team has shown they have the weapons to slice open opposing defences across the league at will.
In London, a club identity and playing style guides all teams and players within the organization and has led to deep ranks of players that head coach Mike Marcoccia can call upon without losing much of a step in tactical terms. Marcoccia is also well-versed in the one-game League1 Final model. On the women's side of League1, he's the most successful coach in league history, with the 2019 title already in his pocket and two others won in the past three years.
Expect London to look to manage the pace and tempo of the contest with their well-organized defensive structure and calibrated possession game, while Masters may well aim to blow the game wide-open with attacking options that would love an end-to-end battle.
What are the coaches saying?
Junior Groves, Masters Owner, Trainer:
"We started out the season struggling because we had some issues with players going back to school early, players with work commitments and couldn't continue, and so we had to create a new group that would go through to August and beyond to challenge for the title."
"We have got to the Finals by emphasising a theme or focus on unity and family within the squad. On that basis, we have built a real contender for the title although we will not be looking past FC London. We will take this one game at a time."
"We started out in League1 as an opportunity to promote our younger players to University. That has been a successful venture as we have over 250 players that have moved to post-secondary scholarships, and these players have started to come back and build a professional training environment."
"Our focus now is on gelling these players with senior players to compete and win leagues like League1 and look forward to CPL opportunities. Since doing this, we have been able to move players to Europe and to CPL as well, in the case of York9's Cyrus Rollocks."
What are the coaches saying?
Mike Marcoccia, FC London Head Coach:
"I think that this season for us has been a really example of why it's important to have set principles, a strong methodology and a way of playing, because when we started this season we weren't finding results immediately even though we saw some good things in our play. Not getting the results was frustrating obviously, but we continued to stick with what we believed in."
"We were all speaking before our the second leg of our Semi-Final and I believe June 24th was the last time that we lost a game, so we've gone ten games and several months unbeaten. To go ten games unbeaten in a league as strong as this has been something really special for us."
"It would be a fantastic thing if both our men and women could win the Final this year."
"Obviously I would be extremely happy but just the fact that our women won the Final and our men are now in the Final means we are definitely doing something very right at FC and this is already a massive success for us."
Projected Lineup (Masters FA Saints) - 4-3-3 formation: Spiros Kostanis; Shawn Brown; Eddie Debire; Adam Czerkawski; Atif Ali; Randy Missemiyenga; Akeem Priestley; Yasin Shahwan; Francis Ameyaw; Daunte Walkes; Shaquille Agard
Projected Lineup (FC London) - 4-3-3 formation: Anthony Sokalaski; Sean Fawsitt; Bradley Heath; Bilal Halbouni; Randy Ribeiro; Patrick Melo; Mohammed Reza Nafar; Chad GoPaul; Tomas Alvarez; Ethan GoPaul; Connor Wilson
HEAD TO HEAD
FC London (University/ College): Taylor Harris, Jeremy Arnold, Conor Dalton, Matthew Albert
Masters FA (University/ College): Terrell Spencer, Reshawn Walkes, Mark Blackburn, Jai Avila, Devonte Brown, Aaryn Massy, Donell Geirson, Jahsiah McLlegon
Masters FA (Unavailable): Triston Frankson (captain)
Masters FA (Suspended): Anthony Wright