After the cancellation of League1 Ontario’s 2020 “summer season” was approved, co-commissioners Carmelina Moscato and Dino Rossi spoke to CanPL.ca’s Marty Thompson about the decision, its ramifications, and what a Fall L1O competition could look like as the Ontarian soccer landscape continues to grapple with COVID-19.
Question: Explain this decision – what were some of the factors?
Carmelina Moscato: We came together as a board back in March. As we all know, this has been a very fluid situation. We knew we needed to weather the storm and we needed to wait to make a final decision. The principle guiding it was health and safety, of course.
But possibilities changed so frequently.
Every day we’ve learned something new, but one day you have to draw a line – and here its June 5
Dino Rossi: Several municipalities around the province have ruled large group gatherings on city-owned fields won’t be permitted until September. That was kinda the final straw for us. There’s no way for us to have an appropriate L1O season that starts in September.
Question: This announcement cancels the L1O “Summer” season, but leaves an option to return to play in the Fall. What could that look like?
Moscato: We’re willing to entertain whatever is possible. Tournament formats as we’ve seen in the NWSL, they’ve given everyone a nice model. Every league is working on amended tournaments and competitions and we’re willing to do the same.
There are some key pieces missing about the university and colleges; Will they run, will they not run, for how long and how many players will be affected.
Rossi: Carm and I will be working on a variety of contingency plans. Obviously everything hinges on facility owners to give the green light in addition to Ontario Soccer and Canada Soccer as we go through the multiple stages of return-to-play.
Right now we’re going to be working in hypothetical mode, but we want to have a variety of options ready once we have a clearer picture, and work with our licence holder and actively seek for a launch date when we’re comfortable.
Question: If L1O plays this Fall, what would need to change? Increase age limits? University players?
Moscato: Our licence holders are predominantly youth academies and teams. So first thing would be to check in with them and see how they’re doing and we all know there have been a lot of temporary layoffs. So what is the state of their team, let alone the players at that time.
We’re looking to create whatever is possible to get people playing. Whether that’s removing age barriers and that sort of thing, no decision has been made and we need to think deeply about this.
Like most leagues, the 2020 solutions might just be for 2020 – an adaptation of our context that year. We need to get to the heart of the matter, which is getting people back to enjoying their football again.
Rossi: We don’t know what cohort of players we are going to be able to serve. The Canadian university and college soccer system is still up in the air about whether they’ll play this Fall.
There will be a large number of university players who will have gone 10 or 11 months without high-level competition. We feel we have a responsibility to give some level of platform.
Question: How have, and how will, clubs be affected by Friday’s announcement?
Rossi: This has been a very devastating time for the Ontario soccer landscapes and I’m sure it’s the same across the country.
Clubs have had to temporarily layoff and furlough employees, they are in a stasis mode. They’re not sure what the future holds... It’s a very stressful time for leadership for many of our clubs.
But one thing that’s come out in all the conversations we’ve had is they want to retain their connection to League1 Ontario in 2020. That is what drives us to not throw in the towel this year and to keep working to create some kind of plan to allow us to take the field in some capacity.
Just to keep that connection and provide those players something from a competitive standpoint.
Question: We’ve seen Ontario-based CPL clubs return to training this week. What makes L1O different?
Moscato: We’re governed by Ontario Soccer. Amateur sport has not returned to play in any way.
Professional clubs have very different resources – and the ability to keep consistent testing masks, daily protocols that include medical oversight. As a league, we haven't been able to provide that, plus the fact that most of our players are working and have responsibilities to their families and work. The incentives at this level... this isn’t their primary work.
We want to respect our players and the levels we’re delivering to. There are some resources at this level of the game that can't be provided and those are the harsh realities.
Rossi: We still await formal return-to-play protocols from Ontario Soccer that need ot be approved by Canada Soccer. Once we have a better idea of what return-to-play looks like, we’ll work with our clubs to try and help them implement safe strategies, including training.
Moscato: There’s a lot to do with insurance, too – they don’t cover pandemics. The language around the insurance policies… we’re still growing into that reality.
We’re fully committed to masks, too. Even sourcing those masks and trying to help where we can.
Question: Has L1O thought about what a Fall competition would look like?
Rossi: The NWSL Challenge Cup provides a model, we’ve bounced some ideas around. We hoped play could start in September or August, but those hopes have been dashed.
It makes a short league style hard to do, so a tournament makes the most sense. If we do a tournament, we want to maximize the amount of games we play in the period.