The Oakville Blue Devils are one of three new League1 Ontario men's division clubs for the 2015 season. Over the last ten years, the club has been competing as the Toronto Lynx in the United Soccer League's PDL and Pro Leagues, but before this time the Blue Devils were a staple in the Oakville soccer community.
Originally built, coached and developed by Phil Iafrati, the Blue Devils were a part of the Oakville Soccer Club and won U19 provincial and national championships in 1998. Reinvented under the name "Oakville Blue Stars," coach Iafrati remarkably repeated his earlier achievements by winning a U-14 provincial and national championship in 2004.
In 2005 the Blue Devils moniker was reprised, as the club returned to the Peel Halton Soccer Association, this time partnering with the former owners of the Scarborough-based Canadian Professional Soccer League (CPSL) club, Metro Lions. During this year the Blue Devils competed in the CPSL and won the Western Conference title, as well as the CPSL Championship - known at the time as the Rogers Cup.
Coaches Duncan Wilde and Billy Steele went to the Toronto Lynx in 2006, but have recently returned to recreate the Blue Devils as a new member of the Peel Halton Soccer Association. Coach Brett Mosen joins Wilde and Steele in the head coaching team, and goalkeeping coach Glenn McNamara completes the technical staff.
With years of experience at the USL PDL and Pro league levels, the Blue Devils can be expected to provide a stern, physical, and robust test for their League1 Ontario opponents. The team should take little time getting up to speed, as the technical staff remains unchanged from their time at Toronto Lynx, while much of their pre-existing squad will be returning under the Blue Devils banner.
"The key story for ourselves is that we are the former Toronto Lynx PDL club, and in fact we still own that club, which is now a junior club while the senior club is the Oakville Blue Devils," explained coach Duncan Wilde. "My ambition as a head coach for the season ahead is to construct as close as possible a PDL-level team to compete in League1. We've been used to recruiting from NCAA, bringing back our Lynx alumni from NCAA, NAIA, CIS, and junior colleges, and basically we've just continued the same model while changing our name and uniforms."
"Our squad building has been based along what we have done over the last few years building PDL squads, and we've had very competitive PDL teams in that time. My belief is that if we can prepare, present and display PDL level soccer, we will be in good stead in League1. We are hoping to be a really competitive addition to the group of League1 teams, because we have got a core of last year's PDL team, a core member of boys that have been with us since 15 years old."
"I think we will be a vibrant addition to the league, and it's to be interesting to see how we match up with the quality that is in the league already."
"Another key change for us in League1 is the limit on the number of import players, which we agree with and is one of the reasons we are coming into the league because it is more about Canadian content and is designed to follow the player's development path as set out by the CSA. We're happy that we can give more Canadian players a chance in this league."
"However, we are used to having as many as nine import players, and now the restriction is three, so that has opened up more spots in our roster for Canadian players, which is the area where most of our recruitment has been focused. We've also had to replace our entire goalkeeping section as the ones we had previously have turned full professional, and our younger keepers need a little time at the U21 level to get up to speed."
"The length of the season will be a challenge as well, because it obviously starts a lot earlier and ends a lot later than the leagues we have been involved in, which in turn requires us to have a different type of recruitment and method of approach within the season – as to when to bring through young players etc."
As the club is just joining League1 Ontario, their recently elapsed "off-season" was spent in preparation for the transition to a new league. Arrangements have been made with Sheridan College to host home matches, and the club has re-established its presence in the Oakville area as a premier outlet for elite players.
"We're playing out of Sheridan College campus in Oakville. We've discussed things with the head coach at Sheridan, and signed three or four of their players into our roster, and are looking at a few more. In turn, we have a few of our Lynx academy boys that we have recommended to the Sheridan program."
"We will use our U21 reserve as depth when the university players we have return to school, and we have also got an affiliation with the Toronto Lynx academy and will be using 97s and 96s that are in the U18 program there. The Lynx academy will play in the midwest region of the USL Super Y League, and the U21 boys will play in the OSL U21 provincial league, which has a division entirely comprised of reserve teams from League1."
"We're hoping we can get our U21 team playing before our League1 team when they are at home on a Sunday, which is a new feature this season that I think will be pretty interesting."
"It's a very involved process as we want to be able to move the players up and down, and it's important where we place them in the structure. If I put a quality U21 on my first team Blue Devils roster, he can't play U21 Ontario Cup or in the reserves. We have to get the younger ones on the younger roster and use the affiliation mechanism properly. I think we're getting through that process now, but it has taken time. We're looking forward to getting into the season now."
The Blue Devils recently announced their first two official player signings, and these signings certainly give a sense of the club's pre-existing stability and quality.
The first signing is former Toronto Lynx PDL captain, Taylor McNamara, who played two years for USL Pro side Dayton Dutch Lions. He is the product of the Toronto Lynx Academy program and had a successful four-year NCAA tenure at the University of Albany.
The second signing is Macca Wilde, another former Toronto Lynx PDL captain, as well as a Toronto Lynx Academy graduate. Wilde recently returned from NCAA play with Tennessee's Lincoln Memorial University, and is a former member of the Canada U20 pool.
"We've actually got a player pool of over 30 right now," said coach Duncan Wilde. "We've got to be constructive about the way we register our players as well, as we have an affiliation with the Oakville Soccer Club and they are going to field our reserve team at the U21 level in the Provincial Ontario Soccer League (OSL). What we would do is sign our younger players to the U21, and call them up by affiliation and populate our Blue Devils roster with those 22 years and older. We want to make sure we have access to the biggest possible player pool in order to be well prepared for a relatively long season, running from May-November."
"Taylor will remain our club captain for the season ahead. Taylor was one of our very first Lynx Juniors, going back to about 2005. Taylor's been a Toronto Lynx academy captain all the way through our Super-Y League years, and in the Super 20 USL, as well as in the USL PDL for the past three seasons. Following his graduation from Albany, he signed with Dayton Dutch Lions and returned to Ontario last season to become a school teacher, and is a leader on and off the field. He has such a history with our organization, and has been through all the levels, so we are expecting big things from Taylor. He either anchors the midfield for us, or plays at one of the fullback spots. He's a great role model and leader in our organization so we're pleased to have him as our first signing."
"I would say we have about 30% is returning from PDL, and then we've tried to blend our U20s from last year as well, so about 50% will be returning Lynx players and 50% would be new recruits and former Oakville soccer club players that are returning to play for the Blue Devils."
"We ran four weekends of open trials, and probably looked at over 100 players. I think out of that number we are in the process of signing seven or eight."
"I've resigned Anthony Novak from Pickering, he's been with us since he was 14. He plays NCAA DivII and he's a left sided attacking player. I've resigned Adrian Butters, a former Lynx Junior that has played U20 and PDL. The last two years he has been in Singapore and Sweden playing professional, but has been reinstated as an amateur. He sees this as a pathway to NASL, MLS etc. He's a left sided defender and a very experienced player. We've resigned Al James, who just graduated Cleveland State University in NCAA Div I. I've another boy named Raj, who is a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in NCAA Div I. I've resigned Macca, my son, who is a long time striker for us. Another returning PDL player is Anthony Doran, a former Lynx PDL player, who is a wide midfield player."
"Of our new signings, we have Nick Huth, an all-American from the University of Tennessee. The second import that we have signed at this point is a returning Lynx player from last year, Gary Giffin from Scotland. Gary has been playing NAIA University of Midland, which I believe is in Idaho."
"The background and history of the Blue Devils dictates that we're going to try and win the championship, our main focus is certainly to win League1 in 2015."
"The thing that drives us is that the Oakville Blue Devils have only competed twice in past history, and in both cases we won a national championship, so it's only natural that everybody in our organization talks about winning a championship."
"We come from a very good league, and I'll be very disappointed if we don't compete with the top teams, but again there are a lot of good teams out there. It's a very high-quality group, and I'm looking forward to an extremely competitive season. However, we are still in the player development business, and we're not afraid to blend our youth with our senior boys. I look very closely at what Vaughan did last year, and think we'll be a very similar structure. Sigma did the same thing, it seems to be the model for this league. We hope to compete with the best teams in there with what we've put together."