Master's Futbol Academy Saints is an academy based in Scarborough, Toronto, run by Director-of-Operations, Junior Groves.
Through its youth ranks, from U7-U21, the academy is dedicated to the development of players first and foremost, and promotes a “no-cut” policy – whereby a guarantee is in place by MFA to develop any player that is brought in to their youth ranks. Over time, Master's FA has shown that rare and remarkable ability to both follow through on the guarantee of development of every player, and still register results in competition, as demonstrated at the standards based youth levels with Soccer Academy Alliance Canada (SAAC).
At the League1 Ontario level, Master's looks to combine the best talent of the Scarborough region with the top graduates of their youth program. The team is managed by Andrey Savlav, a coach that has been with Master's Academy for some time, after early experiences developing youth players in the Russian FA U21 division.
During the League1 Ontario 2014 season, Master's FA struggled to find consistent form, but put together several results against top sides throughout the season, notably defeating fellow powerhouse academy Sigma F.C in fall 2014 L1 Cup play. The academy also showcased a number of talented young players that are coming through their system.
In the season ahead, Director Junior Groves says Master's FA will present an even greater exhibition of the work the club has done at youth levels for the past number of years, speaking in particular to the quality of the academy's 1997 generation, many of whom became key core players in the latter half of 2014.
"Our main challenge of last year, which is I'm sure will be the same with most other organizations, is that the cohesion of the team you have breaks up somewhat with the university players coming and going. Also, a large number of the players are of course working at various jobs as well, and this leads to their work commitments get in the way of key training dates. We found that to be a struggle last year, and had to work through that struggle. At the end of the year, when we got cohesion back in the middle of the season, the university players went back and we had to regroup again. Our biggest issue was learning the players, and learning quickly how to bring them together, and then the hiccup again of a mass departure for university."
"However, we did use this situation as an opportunity though, and even as an advantage, in the sense that we could bring through more of our young players to play. It may have been a disadvantage to developing consistency of play, but became advantageous for our future development. As a result, this year we have far more players that are experienced and ready-to-play at this level. We now have a core of players that are committed to the full season, and we have built upon that core."
"Our style last year was a little different than we would typically favour in our development programs, as we were unfamiliar with the competition out there. This season we pretty well know that competition, so we are looking at a two-way discipline where we could both play in a counter-attack system, and adjust to the challenge of the matchday. We have a very versatile squad of 25 players now, and a solid core of youth after that. I think we are adequately prepared in terms of personnel."
In the academy environment that Master's FA Saints participates, an “off-season” is simply not in their vocabulary. The winter development and indoor leagues that the academy competes within are, according to Director Junior Groves, as competitive as their summer program, and can even be more taxing on the individual athlete.
"SAAC, particularly the U20 division, is a very good environment to prepare for League1, as it is also standards-based and there is a professionalism and discipline involved."
"When the young players go to the venues in SAAC, everything is done professionally, from the presence of physical therapists to detailed organization of matchday. Of course, the level of play may vary in that league, as its focus is development, but there are still things we can do with our team to put them under pressure and make them play the way we need them to play."
"This preparation is very helpful for the player coming into League1, and with the return of the same coaching staff, a stable core of players that featured last year, and a strong crop of youth – we are far more prepared than in 2014."
Master's FA Saints, as with most academy systems, has a wealth of young players coming through the ranks. Standouts of 2014 were forward Alex Dimitriu, and backstop Shane Lopez, both of which featured in the League1 player-of-the-week column, and both players will return to take on key roles.
In addition, the academy has a host of 1997s that will be unknown outside the SAAC environment. Director Junior Groves speaks to the quality coming through the academy's system, and the importance of establishing their presence at the League1 level in the second season.
"One of the standout young players is certainly attacker Alex Dimitriu (1997), who despite his age was featured in a full-time role last season due to the changes we had to make in the squad. He was League1 player of the week last year on at least one occasion.
A second young player that we featured in ninety minute games last year, was Farzan Mirzazadeh (1997), who is a central defender that has come through our SAAC program.
In midfield, we have a third young midfield player that only played once or twice last season, whose name is Sam Gardener (1997) and is another graduate of our youth program.
Another young player who will feature for us this year is Turell Spencer (1998), who is a creative #10.
Our standout returning senior players would be goalkeeper Shane Lopez, who was player of the week a couple times last year, and midfielder Jude Alanwoko."
"I'm a realist, when it come to football," said Junior Groves, "so if I had all of our college/ uni players involved than I would say we would be contending for the title."
"However, as we are focusing more on enhancing the youth that are coming through that environment., I think we will be somewhere the top of the league – I think a top four finish is realistic to that ambition."
"I'm a true believer that if you want to build a certain level of football, you need to have the entire complement of your players with you all the time. Until we figure out that model, which we aspire to in a fully-professional model for 2016 via a variety of community and sponsorship ventures, it makes far more sense to enhance and develop our youth core. Long term, I think we will see the benefits of all of these efforts."