Can anyone stop the champions?
Vaughan Azzurri produced a near-perfect season last year, winning 20 of their 23 games and maintaining an undefeated record. They haven’t lost in a regular-season game since 2019.
Trying to replicate such an achievement will be Sergio De Luca after former head coach Patrice Gheisar stepped up to the Canadian Premier League following more than ten years with Vaughan. He also took with him the likes of last season’s joint top scorer Massimo Ferrin, Ferrin’s attacking partner partner Kosi Nwafornso, and defender Riley Ferrazzo.
Despite these changes, you wouldn’t put it far beyond the Azzurri to secure their fourth Men’s Premier Division crown in 2023. The champions get their title defence under way on Wednesday, April 12 against North Toronto Nitros who made it to the playoffs last season, winning their opening five matches in the process.
Blue Devils finished the campaign as runners-up with their excellent defensive record a key part of their route to the final, conceding just 16 goals in the regular season. On paper the former champions have a favourable start to the season with eight of their first nine games against sides outside of last year’s playoff places. Alliance United host them in Week 4 in what will be a repeat of the 2022 playoff semifinal.
For Alliance the challenge will be to maintain their division-leading defensive record while turning more ties into victories. The side from Markham shared the points more than any of their playoff rivals in 2022.
Just a point behind them in the standings were Simcoe County Rovers; a narrow playoff defeat to the eventual champions concluded their inaugural season. Although key players such as Kahlil John-Wentworth and Ethan Beckford have moved to the Canadian Premier League, the club’s early success has attracted other personnel who could ignite the league in the right environment.
The final side to reach the knockout phase last year were ProStars. Head coach John Yacou took the club to their best-ever Men’s Premier Division finish as their attacking play saw them end the regular season with 58 goals. Top scorer Ameer Kinani earned a switch to Vancouver FC via the CPL U-SPORT Draft, so it will be exciting to see who steps up to keep ProStars firing.
Guelph United will have been extremely disappointed to miss out on the playoff places by a final-day defeat to Darby and a single point in the standings. Barbados international Zach Ellis-Hayden joined from rivals Electric City in the offseason, and if Guelph can repeat the winning form they found in the second half of 2022, they’ll be ones to watch.
Will new teams join the battle for the playoffs?
An 11-point gap separated the top seven clubs and the chasing pack last season, so mid-table teams that want to solidify their place in the top division in 2024 have ground to make up.
Hamilton United and Electric City demonstrated qualities last season that could see them challenge the division’s best in 2023. Led by forward of the year Miles Green, Hamilton scored a very impressive 50 goals – but their defensive record needs improvement this year if they’re to climb the table.
For Electric City it was the reverse problem in their debut season, scoring fewer goals than any other team in the top 12. They have however been strengthening in the offseason and will be looking to make a statement in the opening game against Scrosoppi.
Sigma finished eighth last season and they appear to have a favourable start to 2023, facing none of last year’s playoff teams until the end of May. Scrosoppi and Darby ended last season 12th and 13th respectively and open their new campaigns against Electric City and Woodbridge Strikers – the latter will be looking for inspiration from their Women’s Premier Division counterparts who reached the playoffs last season.
Is there a lifeline to the top division?
Ten points separated the bottom seven last year with BVB IA Waterloo just ahead of that pack in 15th. Unionville Milliken, North Mississauga, Master’s FA, and Burlington all ended 2022 with only four wins, yet the latter made a statement of intent in the offseason by snatching the talented Jace Kotsopoulos from rivals Guelph United.
For the Windsor and St Catharines teams, it was five wins apiece in 2022 with a lack of goals being the Achilles' heel for both clubs. The two sides come face-to-face in their third match of the season on April 30, with the hosts adopting their new Windsor City name and logo.
Meanwhile, for FC London the only way is up in 2023 with new head coach Yiannis Tsalatsidis who has been given the task of turning the team’s fortunes.
As soccer in Canada continues to go from strength to strength, this season promises to be one to watch. Not only will there be fireworks at the top of the table as Vaughan look to defend their title, but every point is crucial ahead of a new era on the horizon. You won’t want to miss it.
Make sure you keep an eye out for the Women's Premier Division season preview dropping next week.