Seeking to tap into all soccer-related assets in their region, League1 Ontario licensee Windsor Stars have inked a number of player development deals of late.
On the youth end, a partnership has been forged with local district club Windsor Nationals this past week, creating a welcome pathway for elite Windsor-region players from youth to professional levels in the province of Ontario. On a senior level, the Stars have found a fruitful meeting-of-the-minds with Detroit City FC of the American fourth-tier National Premier Soccer League (NPSL), signing a number of players as the NPSL regular season wrapped up at the end of July.
We have to take advantage of our geography,” explains Vancho Cirovski, Director of Windsor Stars. “It's a limitation for us as an organization, with more administration and more cost, but we also have to take advantage of the fact that we are isolated out here, and should be using players that are available to us from the region, including the Michigan area.”
As elite players begin to leave for college, university or full-professional trials, League1 clubs alike are recognizing the need to manage rosters in order to maintain a focus on continuing success in League1. Stars have elected to follow a two-prong approach, with equal importance placed on youth and senior prospects.
“For us [competing in a semi-professional league],” adds Cirovski, “we need a very strong youth support system, in particular because of the late season changes to rosters due to players leaving to go to school – universities and NCAA div I programs. It's time for us to expand the scope of the program, and build stronger relationships with clubs that have the same mindset. As the structure of Ontario soccer changes, and the opportunities are different, we saw a perfect fit.”
Windsor Nationals have long been established as the regional, or district, club in the Windsor region – a hub for talented youth to be channelled into as they exceed the levels on offer at a community level. Cirovski points to a high standard of coaching, and a sound sense for youth development standards, as merits within the Nationals organization.
“FC Nationals have been that way for some time, and we're trying to build a rigorous technical model with them all the way down to U13,” he explains. “Their highest age level is U18, and the players have nowhere to play after that as Toronto is too far away for many of them to consider moving and playing in one of the teams. We saw an opportunity in that situation, one that needs to be organized in a pyramid, where Windsor Stars represent the highest potential of play, with youth development through a district club or academy – such as we have right now with the Nationals – and then a grassroots support from the youth clubs.”
“This is a model that has been exploited in different parts, and we need to tweak it here to meet all the standards, but there has to be a willingness from people who are like-minded to commit to it. We are slowly building that model.”
As the structure of Ontario soccer changes, and the opportunities are different, relationships between clubs at semi-professional and senior amateur levels are increasingly important. A final piece of the puzzle for Stars is a growing bridge between their club and Detroit City FC.
“We saw a perfect fit with them,” says Cirovski. “It's one part of a network of relationships and associations with common interests in our region that have been built over time, and that's the only way to grow. We have to be selective as we only have a certain number of international transfers that we can use, so we look for those ones that are not going to university, and can come in to support us immediately as our players transition. So, we have two opportunities to feed our program – the youth system with the Nationals, and the relationship with Detroit City FC.”
“At the end of it, it's just about recognizing our regional strengths and taking advantage of them.”