Guelph United celebrates. (Paul Hendren/L1O)
2021 League1 Ontario Men's Premier Division Final
Guelph United vs. Blue Devils FC
November 7, 2021 at 4:00 pm ET
Ontario Soccer Centre Stadium, Vaughan, Ont.
Watch Live streamed on L1O channels // Tickets available at stadium
The next League1 Ontario side to compete in the Canadian Championship will be decided Sunday when Guelph United clashes with Blue Devils FC at Ontario Soccer Stadium in Vaughan.
It’s a clash of longtime contenders – and former winners – in the Blue Devils and L1O’s new kids on the block with Guelph United, who were stellar through their first regular season as a club.
The Blue Devils, led by longtime coach Duncan Wilde, are riding a wave of momentum after downing a previously-undefeated Vaughan Azzurri side 2-1 in the semi-final. Talismanic striker Leaford Allen’s brace was all the side needed to complete the upset after coming in second in the west division with 29 points and a 9-1-2 record.
“As the season went on with some experimentation we eventually arrived at what we have now – we’ve had the same mentality and preparation for the last six or so games which has been pleasing to see because we did struggle early season to find our form,” said Blue Devils coach Duncan Wilde. “I think we're in our best moment of the season – everybody's enjoying the football and looking forward to Sunday.”
Guelph, coached by Justin Springer and Keith Mason, have been the talk of L1O from their first match of the season – a 6-0 romp of contenders FC London in a bumper home opener at Alumni Stadium in Guelph. The club went on to dominate the west division, taking top spot with a 10-0-2 record and a +27 goal differential.
It wasn’t so easy during the playoff semi-final, though, when they were taken to penalties against defending champions Masters FA. It went 11 rounds before Svyatoslav Artemenko scored and saved the all-keeper final round. Golden boot runaway winner Jace Kotsopoulos scored to send the match to penalties.
Guelph is the only team to take all three points off the Oakville-based side on the season in a 5-0 thrashing in August. Coincidentally, the Blue Devils were only one of two teams to hand Guelph a loss on the season in a 1-0 takedown at Alumni Stadium in the reverse leg.
Tickets for Sunday’s match, which will be followed by the League1 Ontario Women’s Final to be played between Blue Devils and Woodbridge Strikers, is set to be followed at 7:00pm ET. It will be streamed live online, with details coming on League1 Ontario's social channels and here on the website.
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at the door.
Blue Devils celebrating their semi-final win. (Paul Hendren/League1 Ontario)
Kotsopoulos and Skublak: Guelph United have never played a game without a goal from either Jace Kotsopoulos or Thomasz Skublak... Except for against the Blue Devils.
Royal City’s power pair have been a revelation in L1O this season, taking key experience at the Canadian Premier League level to combine for a staggering 25 of Guelph’s league-leading 42 goals. Kotsopoulos, a legend in the Guelph Gryphons program, is L1O’s golden boot leader with 16 markers – including one in the semi-final – as a creative attacking force. The 23-year-old was drafted by Forge FC and later played for York9 FC, now York United. Tomasz Skublak, meanwhile, has added 10 goals of his own as the towering centre forward also maintains a goal-a-game rate. Toss in another CPL-U SPORTS Draft pick in Alex Zis of the Gryphons and you have one of the most fearsome attacking groups in men’s L1O history.
Blue Devils rounding into form: While the Blue Devils don’t have the big-name strikers atop the golden boot leaderboard, they maintain a strong core of players that are rounding into form at just the right time. Leaford Allen’s semi-final brace, which came on the same weekend as the OCAA championship which he captured along with Championship MVP, were his third and fourth goal in four games for the Devils. At the back, sturdy goalkeeper Luke Birnstingl has rounded into form, according to coach Wilde, who credits his fearless performance against Vaughan – including a clutch stop in the second half – as a reason to highlight...
Clubs reap dividends of veteran talent: A major element linking both the Blue Devils and Guelph is a sturdy group of L1O veterans, which were leaned on more heavily this season as it started just a few weeks before university-bound players would need to depart to school. Guelph features L1O mainstays like Jack Sears and Devante Walker while Blue Devils coach Wilde reveals his club’s commitment to older players were the key to their build in 2021 including Brandon Duante, who returned from an opportunity in USL, Allen, former CPLer Cyrus Rollocks and Khody Ellis: “Where we normally graduate some senior players and replace with younger talent, well, we didn’t do that last Fall,” Wilde said, projecting a later season and heavier reliance on year-round talent. “We've very much got a senior group this year and, if we’re successful. We’ll need to have those guys around for the Canadian Championship. Having done this before, we need a nice blend of senior players to help guide the younger ones if we’re going to play a CPL team – we had one eye on that all along but there’s one more hurdle to go.”