Inner city club North Toronto Nitros joins the 2016 League1 Ontario's men's division with a host of talented U21 players, a revamped professionalized club model, and an exciting partnership with the University of Toronto varsity soccer program.
"Our mission is basically to have a level for everyone in our club to play - a level that is suitable for each player - and League1 allows us to extend the levels on offer," said North Toronto Technical Director, John Hyland.
"For example, our '98 boys have gone from U17/18 OYSL to U21 OSL, and are now in the U21 Provincial Elite OSL. They've done well, and for the next step up we need to make sure another level is on offer and that is where League1 comes into it. We're not quite there yet with the girls but that will be coming too."
North Toronto have gone through a major initiative in recent years, overhauling the club's technical structure in the model of a professional club.
"In the last six or seven years we have seen our club move to a more professionalized model with the hiring of the general manager, and from there more full-time staff was brought in with myself as technical director and further technical staff."
"We're very lucky that our club as a whole has been very open-minded and progressive, and our board and general manager have shared a technical and player focus when making developments to the club model," he added.
"It has also allowed our coaching staff to get on with what they are trying to do, and I think that possibly we have one of the largest groups of highly-qualified technical staff in the country," Hyland said.
"We have ten nationally licensed coaches, and hopefully a few more this summer. We have seven or eight provincial licensed coaches, with two more on the course currently. This level of coaching allows us to make our sessions more professionalized at every level."
Hermann Kingue, Head Coach
It's the building of connections between the levels of development that North Toronto is most focused upon as it branches into the Pro-Am environment of League1. With an exciting partnership in hand with University of Toronto, playing out of the centrally located Varsity Stadium is one of the perks.
"We will be using Varsity Stadium as a training ground and home field, and it is a beautiful stadium," confirmed Hyland. "If you are going to have a semi-professional league in Ontario you want to have the best facilities and Varsity Stadium is at that level."
North Toronto will also have an impressive technical staff in place for the League1 side, drawing from both the club's coaches and University of Toronto.
"The staff is headed up by Hermann Kingue, who represented Cameroon at the U20 FIFA World Cup and played professionally in Europe as well," said Hyland.
"He has his CSA National A license and UEFA B license and has been coaching at the club for eight or nine years now, so has been a big part of pushing forward the professionalism that we are focused on. Hermann specializes in older age groups and bringing them through. He has been running our U21s for two years now, and so he knows the group well and provides some continuity from that period."
"In turn, through the partnership with the University of Toronto soccer program, the assistant U of T coach will be the U21 head coach and the League1 assistant coach. We'll be keeping the link together in that manner, as well as having the groups train together on a regular basis."
The link with University of Toronto will create an avenue for the varsity program to continue through the summer months, and North Toronto players to get a sense for the challenges of playing at both varsity and Pro-Am levels. It is a partnership Hyland hopes will yield dividends for all involved.
"Not every player will make it of course, but we want all players to have the opportunity to see happens at the next level," he said.
"Ultimately, we're trying to develop our players on a pathway towards provincial and national squads, and scholarships for university," he continued. "So being able to link and work with an established university program allows some of our younger groups coming through the opportunity to play exhibition matches and get scouted by U of T for those that are staying at home."
A tiered approach, North Toronto's unique model will at once allow players to move into the senior ranks of the club game, and get a sense for the unique challenges of being an elite post-secondary student and athlete.
"It takes the mystery away somewhat and allows our players to see what the environment is like at the next level, what the training and coaching is like, and meet some of the players that are in the varsity programs and can inform them of what it is like to play at varsity level," Hyland concluded.
"And, eventually, we expect to see some of the varsity players coming back up into the coaching ranks at our club and further build that link for the players of the future. There's a very valuable continuity of development in this project."