Vaughan Azzurri is a well-established club in the Greater Toronto Area, with a reputation earned over many decades for developing quality young players for post-secondary and professional ranks, as well as many championship winning sides.
In the first season of League1 Ontario, the Azzurri were one of the league's stand-out performers. Although they ultimately finished fourth in League1 Ontario final standings, they took the L1 Cup at the expense of Sigma F.C. in a brilliant exhibition at BMO Place.
The Azzurri return to the field-of-play this year with a relatively intact returning core from 2014, and a host of promising young talents. Highly-regarded head coach Carmine Isacco returns to lead the Azzurri.
"We're going to continue with the same set-up as last year, with OSL men's, U21 and League1 as levels to bring through and develop players," said Isacco. "We don't want to tie players down to one level, and if we have to sacrifice a small aspect of our competitive structure due to rules – for example, this season we will not participate in the Ontario Cup due to restrictions we had at nationals last year – then we will do that."
"Our purpose is to ensure the player development, and our main objective is not to win a national championship at club level but to develop the players and get them as many minutes as possible. It was probably our mistake for entering Ontario Cup and Nationals last year, but our focus was getting our youngest opportunities to play at that level."
"We believe in putting our players in various high-quality, competitive situations, and that is the only way they will grow and go to the next level of high-level amateur or semi-pro. Our finals team was primarily made up of U21 players in the Ontario Cup, and although administrative issues can sometimes get in the way – we're trying to do things the right way. The point is that the rules exist, and we need to respect the issues, but the only change we're making is that we won't enter the Ontario Cup competition, which will hurt us because it's another good level of meaningful games and that is what players need. If we stop our players from having as many meaningful games as possible, that is a problem, but we will stay focused on what we can do. I think we need to be player-centric when we develop the administrative end of things, not win or lose-centric. That's our focus."
"The thing we were happiest about last year was that we were able to get our young players in," said Isacco. "We used a group of our U17s and U18s at key parts of the season, and it was a great springboard for these players to bigger and better things – that was our greatest accomplishment as a club."
In the off-season, head coach Carmine Isacco was able to keep a core of the Vaughan Azzurri at York University, where Isacco is also the head coach. The fruits of having trained and played together all summer in League1 was quickly apparent, as York romped all the way to a CIS championship.
Coach Isacco has also been involved with the Canadian national team structure, including the youth section, and has a number of Canadian U17 players involved in the League1 Ontario Azzurri 2015 side.
"Obviously, in our partnership with York University, where I am also the head coach, it was good to see a group competing together at a high-level and obviously taking that momentum and winning a CIS National Championship."
"From a Vaughan perspective though, we are most interested in proper development, in getting the players from U15 through to League1 the appropriate opportunities. Last year, in our League1 team, we were second most of the year trying to fight for first with TFC, but had to make a decision at a certain point to ensure that our kids get games, and we might again have to sacrifice the winning of the league to ensure our U17s and U18s get important games at that level."
Outgong Vaughan players include Joseph Di Chiarra, who was the team's MVP in the L1 Cup final, who was signed into Okzhetpes in the Kazakhstan Premier League, and young Azzurri player Daniel Fabrizi was picked up Toronto F.C. Academy.
However, Isacco points to the return of the team's core, featuring a number of experienced players that will mentor a young set of incoming Azzurri prospects – many of which are already involved in Canadian national levels.
"The purpose as we see it is to develop the next phase for our younger players, and keep our aspiring pros at a high-level and hopefully move them along, as we did with Joseph Di Chiarra, who is now in Kazakhstan playing professionally."
"We lost Daniel Fabrizi to Toronto F.C., which is not a loss but rather a promotion, and something that we want to do – getting more exposure to our players. We have good relations with the staff at TFC, and a large number of our youth players go there every year. Otherwise we are pretty much the same squad, despite losing Joseph, but our philosophy and focus will be to prepare the players to go back to school, and prepare the younger players."
"We're going to have a good group of '98s coming through, and we want to make sure they get the proper development. League1 is part of that development, but so is the OSL Provincial Elite men's team, and the OSL U21 Provincial team. Our main focus is to get them as many competitive games as possible, and make sure they get to the next level."
"Obviously you need proper pros to ensure the development of our younger players, and while their main role is that, they are obviously competitive players and they want to win. Players such as Henry Moody, Dena Ieazady etc. will all still be a big part of the program in that respect."
"Of our 97s, we had a number get invited to U20 Canada camp, and Dane Sinclair (signed with University of Maryland), Kamal Miller (signed with Syracuse University), and Dejan Harris (signed with Penn State) will be part of the U20 pool for sure. I think we have a good chunk of players on the fringes of the national pool, and some that could potentially be part of the Pan-Am picture."
"We had a couple young players with us last year that were very good, and have been playing in Greece, or in NCAA in the States, and should be back. I would expect that these players have grown as individuals, but also as mentors for our youngest players coming up. We're looking at a full perspective of things, and yes it will be hard work, but the mentors that develop our culture is key to making our goals are achieved."
"We're going to do the right things regardless of the result, and we're going to play and teach without fear of making a mistake, so the likes of Kamal Miller, Dejan Harris, Austin Ricci, Jake Cooper, Lucas Piteo – those kids that were mentored by the likes of Matt Stinson and Henry Moody – are some of our older players now and will have to step up, lead properly, and not be afraid to make mistakes in the pursuit of that goal. This is our main focus."
Ideal outcome for Vaughan in 2015 League1 Ontario season?
"I'd like us to be as competitive as possible. We could go out and play our best eleven every game, and I think we could win the league, but that's not the purpose of what we're doing," said Isacco.
"In the club system our main focus is the development of our U17s and U18s, and eto xpose as many players to that level that have worked for and earned it – that is our main goal. We want to ensure that we are developing our young group, and keeping our existing aspiring pros at a high level as well, and getting results as much as we can."
"Last year, for example, we took our U17 group to Windsor, and they lost in the ninetieth minute, but the experience of playing at that pace and in that atmosphere was irreplaceable. That is the ultimate goal. Of course we are at a competitive level, and there is the expectation to do well – and accountability if we do not – but we would like to do that in tandem with the development of our young group as well."