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Vaughan Azzurri crowned Men's Premier Division champions

By Jonathan Cheng, 09/04/22, 3:30PM EDT


Vaughan Azzurri book their place in 2023 Canadian Championship with 5-1 victory over Blue Devils at the Ontario Soccer Stadium.

(Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)

Vaughan Azzurri capped off a historic 2022 League1 Ontario season by cruising to a dominating 5-1 victory over Blue Devils in the Men's Premier Division Final on Saturday afternoon at the Ontario Soccer Stadium.

Kosi Nwafornso had the Midas touch on the day as everything he touched turned to goals. The Azzurri striker bagged a hat trick and added an assist, all before the hour mark, with a performance that earned him MVP honours for the final.

Vaughan exacted some revenge over their rivals after Blue Devils eliminated the Azzurri in the 2021 playoff semifinals. This time, the Azzurri solidified their invincible reputation, as they finished the season without losing a single match in the regular season or the playoffs.

Blue Devils looked to be an even match for the Azzurri on paper, with an experienced squad that has won the league title twice before. However, trouble started to brew for the Oakville team early when their talisman, forward Taha Ilyass, rolled his ankle in the sixth minute. Although the team's leading goalscorer demonstrated incredible fortitude, playing with clear discomfort for the rest of the match, Blue Devils were unable to press with sufficient intensity, leaving Vaughan with time and space to control possession and build attacks from the back.

The Azzurri struck first in the 16th minute when Nwafornso received the ball into the left channel. His hold-up play drew multiple defenders in, leaving space for Jason Mills to take the pass and fire it into the top corner for the opening goal of the match.

Vaughan continued to be relentless in attack, finding numerous gaps to make runs and passes into. They doubled their lead in the 30th minute when Alejandro Portal Oliva broke through the defensive line with a quick one-two with Dylan Carreiro, cutting back to Nwafornso to tap it into the open net.

(Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)

Things went from bad to worse for the Oakville-based side when their defence was caught too high up the pitch, and Nwafornso burst into the gap in the 42nd minute. The Azzurri forward got a touch on the ball before Blue Devils's GK Lucas Birnstingl brought him down in the penalty area.  Referee Ryan Schwenger gave the penalty after receiving confirmation from Assistant Referee Jason Vaillancourt. Vaughan's leading scorer Massimo Ferrin stepped up to the spot and rolled it to the corner to extend the lead to 3-0. 

As the match inched closer to the half-time break, both teams found the back of the net. Andron Kagramanyan caught the Blue Devils' back line flat-footed, placing a perfect pass into Nwafornso's path in the 45th minute. A chip over the keeper extended the lead to 4-0.

However, moments later, Blue Devils found the net themselves, just before the half-time whistle. Mathew Santos fired a cross from deep into the box, and Ilyass controlled it at the top of the Vaughan 18-yard box. His first touch gave the striker enough space away from the defender, and he then fired a perfectly placed strike into the corner past the outstretched arms of Azzurri 'keeper Gianluca Catalano to make it 4-1 at the interval.

(Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)

Blue Devils didn't get the lift that was hoped from Ilyass' goal as Vaughan continued where they left off in the second half, applying wave after wave of pressure on the Blue Devils defenders.

In the 48th minute, Mills found teammate Justyn Thomas on the right flank, who rolled a neat ball across the box. Nwafornso ran onto the pass and made easy work of the tap-in to earn his hat-trick, putting his team ahead by a 5-1 margin.

The two sides exchanged chances over the final 40 minutes of play but Vaughan held firm to earn the win and the right to hoist the Men's Premier Division championship trophy.  The Azzurri also raised the supporters' trophy after finishing the regular season with an 18-0-3 record and a whopping 76 goals scored.

The win in the final earned Vaughan a berth in the 2023 Canadian Championship and they also become the first team to win three League1 Ontario titles.

Blue Devils finished the season as runners-up with a signature strong defence that only allowed 16 goals in the regular campaign.  The Oakville team will look to bounce back in next season before the highly anticipated restructuring of the league's competition model in 2024, which will see the league introduce a three-tier competition pyramid with movement between the tiers governed by a promotion and relegation system.

(Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)