York 9 forward Ryan Telfer and Forge FC midfielder Giuliano Frano clash in September (Photo: Kevin Raposo Photography)
The Canadian Premier League was littered with countless feel-good stories in 2019.
A lot of those stories were about young players who signed their first pro contracts with CPL teams, and how they made the most of the opportunities granted them by announcing themselves to the soccer world after toiling in relative obscurity.
One such story was authored by Tristan Borges, the Toronto native who emerged from League1 Ontario to win league MVP honours in the CPL en route to helping Forge FC hoist the North Star Shield.
Borges wasn’t the only L1 Ontario alum to make a smooth transition to the CPL. Several other players, including some of his former Sigma FC teammates, also stood out during the league’s inaugural season.
Here’s a look at the best XI of former L1 Ontario players who made their mark in the CPL in 2019…
Triston Henry (Forge FC) – 27 appearances
Henry was a mainstay for the 2019 CPL Champions Forge FC, leading the Hamilton-based side to the second best defensive record in the league. A pair of clean sheets against Cavalry FC in the two-legged CPL Final said everything about how Henry found his groove at the next level after backstopping Bobby Smyrniotis’ Sigma FC in League1 from 2016-18.
Morey Doner (York9 FC) – 29 appearances, 1 goal, 4 assists
Recently re-signed by York9 for 2020, Doner made the right fullback spot his own from the beginning of the season. A willingness to get up and down the flank, to provide a wide option for the attack, as well as a stalwart defensive presence on the other side of the ball defined his game. Previously a player with Aurora FC in League1 under Jimmy Brennan, Doner’s selection for his first pro contract certainly paid off for Y9.
Dominic Samuel (Forge FC ) – 32 appearances, 1 assist
Another graduate of Smyrniotis’ Sigma FC side, Samuel provided a solid presence in the back line for Forge FC. Although lacking the stature of a typical centre back, Samuel demonstrated a positional intelligence, a physical strength and a never-say-die attitude that made him incredibly difficult to beat. A key piece in the Forge FC machine, and the 2018 League1 Defender of the Year.
Kwame Awuah (Forge FC) – 32 appearances, 5 assists
Widely considered one of the best left fullbacks in the CPL, Awuah arrived from MLS club New York FC with great expectations. After taking a short period of time to settle in, he began to demonstrate exactly the type of qualities that Forge would become known for: positional versatility, technical and tactical acumen, and a game-winner’s sense for the big moment. Awuah picked up in 2019 with Forge just as he left off in his League1 years at Sigma FC – as a high-flying modern fullback with a high ceiling.
Malyk Hamilton (Cavalry FC) – 20 appearances, 3 assists
A young graduate of the Toronto FC III program who made a big impression in League1 from 2014-18, Hamilton showed his chops at Cavalry. Much like Kwame Awuah at Forge, Hamilton possesses all the modern qualities of a fullback – the speed and skill of a winger, and the positional integrity and man-marking ability of a defender. This allowed him to earn Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s trust and regular playing time for Cavalry.
Forge FC's Chris Nanco in duel with York 9's Morey Doner in CPL September fixture (Photo: Kevin Raposo Photography)
Giuliano Frano (Forge FC) – 31 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist
A rock in the middle of Smyrniotis’ Sigma FC teams that regularly dominated in League1, Frano showed in 2019 that he could provide precisely the same level of return in the CPL. His tactical insight allowed Smyrniotis to deploy him as a fullback, winger, centre back or in his preferred role in central midfield. In some matches, he even played a hybrid role that was key to Forge’s shape-shifting philosophy, freeing up the dynamic attacking abilities of Kyler Bekker and Tristan Borges, while still keeping things secure in the defensive phase.
Joseph DiChiara (York9 FC) – 27 appearances, 2 goals, 1 assist
A giant during his days with Vaughan SC in League1, Di Chiara reunited with his old manager, Carmine Isacco, at York9 in 2019. Di Chiara’s leadership (and gamesmanship) were evident from the team’s first match of the season, often wearing the captain’s armband as he propelled Y9 from central areas of the pitch with the ball and got in amongst his opponents to break up attacks.
Tristan Borges (Forge FC) – 33 appearances, 13 goals, 5 assists
It’s already a matter of official record that Borges was the top player in 2019 after winning Player of the Year, U21 Player of the Year, and the Golden Boot. However, this was no surprise to followers of League1 who had seen the diminutive midfield maestro line up for Toronto FC Academy in 2014-15 before returning to the league with dramatic effect for Sigma FC in 2018.
York 9 midfielder Joe Di Chiara and Forge FC midfielder Tristan Borges clash in CPL September fixture at Tim Horton's Field (Photo: Kevin Raposo Photography)
Kadell Thomas (Forge FC) – 19 appearances, 3 goals, 1 assist
Only dedicated followers of League1 would have known about Thomas’ blistering speed and incredible skill for Sigma FC, not to mention his flair for scoring highlight-reel goals. Now the whole world knows after his slaloming run and slinky finish against Valour FC went viral and got millions of online hits. Capable of producing exceptional moments, Thomas also represents the depth and calibre of Canadian talent that is just waiting in the wings for a shot.
Ryan Telfer (York9 FC) – 32 appearances, 10 goals, 2 assists
A loan signing to York9 from Toronto FC, Telfer certainly made a big impression in the CPL. League1 supporters were already familiar with his breadth of ability following a 2016 campaign with Vaughan Azzurri, where he was managed by current York9 assistant coach Carmine Isacco. Where will he end up next?
Anthony Novak (Forge FC) – 22 appearances, 6 goals, 4 assists
The 2018 League1 Ontario Golden Boot winner had been producing for Oakville Blue Devils before getting his shot in the CPL with Forge – he bagged 28 goals in 39 games for the Blue Devils from 2015-2018. At Forge, he regularly offered target-forward hold-up play, an eye for goal, and a sense of timing for movement that would kickstart Forge’s patented fluid attacking moves.
Chris Nanco (Forge FC/Sigma FC); Jonathan Grant (Forge FC/Sigma FC);Ndzemdzela Langwa (Halifax Wanderers FC/Kingston Clippers); Lukas McNaughton (Pacific FC/North Toronto Nitros); Matthew Arnone (Halifax Wanderers/Vaughan SC); Simon Adjei (York 9/Aurora FC)