FC London joins League1 Ontario men's division 2016 with a very impressive staff, a skilled and experienced set of local and imported players, and the backing of a region with a fantastic pedigree and record of success in the game.
On the business side of the club, CEO of FC London Ian Campbell was previously the owner of Forest City London, a team that made waves in 2012 after winning the North American Premier Development League (PDL).
FC London has made smart moves on the technical end as well, bringing in ex-Dynamo Zagreb academy coach Mario Despotovic to guide the Londoners.
A UEFA Pro licensed coach - the highest license available in the game - Despotovic is undoubtedly a major acquisition.
Further, London, Ontario is nationally recognized as a hub of talent in the senior end of the game. Of the past eight Ontario Cup champions, a remarkable five (3x London AEK, 2x London Marconi) are from London. Finally, London Marconi are currently two-time defending champions at the senior amateur level as national champions.
League1 spoke with Campbell and Despotovic to get a sense of how things are shaping up for FC London's ahead of their Sunday May 1 debut vs. 2015 League1 Ontario champions Oakville Blue Devils...
Head Coach Mario Despotovic (Photo: Craig Glover, London Free Press)
From your tech staff, to the availability of top players, to the fully-licensed home grounds of the natural grass German Canadian Club stadium - FC London organization appears to be a well-oiled machine!
As a new team to League1, what are your immediate goals and challenges for the 2016 season?
Campbell - FC London has brought a European professional coach to Ontario. Our goal is to extend the reach of modern soccer into the very fabric of the SW Ontario soccer community.
Previously the London area had no local representation in pathway and FC London is proud to be working with youth clubs in order to provide a pathway to soccer excellence.
Despotovic - Our goal for the season is to implement the playing style and that the players stick to the principles of it for the whole game. This requires a lot of detailed training and that is what we will focus on.
As a new team in League1 Ontario, and one based in a region well-known for producing top talent, many will wonder - what is your squad comprised of in terms of player experience, level etc.?
Despotovic - FC London enters League1 with an entirely new roster of local players. Our club has recruited local talent previously playing in local clubs and has amalgamated them into a cohesive unit of motivated players focused on a playing style which is not common in Canada.
It will be a challenge for the coach and the players to successfully implement it during this season against good opponents in the League1.
Campbell - The majority of players have come from London based youth clubs so we have a real homegrown element in the team.
Players such Brian Pistor, Max Marsh, Petar Karan, Antony Sakalski - these are all players that have come through the youth systems in London, and played college or university levels in the States. Karan has even been playing in Serbia recently. These local players are the experienced edge of the squad.
In addition, Mike Marcoccia has played professionally in a Canadian professional league, as well as in Italy, and is the current FC London League1 women's head coach. He will be in the team and playing a mentor role with both the League1 team and the younger players.
Who are some of the younger players that you have in your team?
Campbell - Elivir Gigollaj is a local player that has been playing premier men's soccer in the Western Ontario Soccer League (WOSL) with London Croatia. Although he is quite young, we have hopes for him as he is one of those players that can really find the net. He finished second in scoring in 2015.
Despotovic - Our players come from a wide spectrum, including former European talent returned to London, university players, and young talents eager to break into competitive soccer.
I think that all of the players are very important and each of them has an unique role to play in this squad.
The team is aware that everybody has to do his job to make our appearance in League1 a success story.
While we expect challenges, we feel the soccer community will immediately recognize the quality of soccer we are bringing to League1.