Geneva Winterink (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
It's part-way through their third season in League1 Ontario, and Durham United Football Alliance (DUFA) has grown with the league to the point where both their men's and women's teams are among the best in their respective divisions, setting a high standard for teams to follow on and off the pitch.
Last season - the first year League1 had a women’s division - Durham United came out on top, dominating the division and only losing twice all year. They also had three players that finished near the top of goal-scoring list: current Canada U20 player Alex Lamontagne, Ashford University alumni Hollie Babut, and former track star Geneva Winterink.
And Durham has managed to move players on to higher levels as well. Two of last year's League1 all-stars, Nora Abolins and Joe Zupo, have since left to professional opportunities in Sweden (QBIK Karlstad) and Australia (Devonport Strikers). Who will be the next DUFA product?
Joe Zupo (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
So far this season, both the men and women team’s have been consistently in the top three of their standings and have been able to showcase some very talented players indeed, in many cases players that have been locally developed.
Players like York University’s Eddie Lay, Humber College’s Joshua Parades, former Robert Morris fullback Bruce Cullen and Vermont Catamounts' Stefan Lamanna.
In addition, the team can rely on players with international profile, including Taylor Lord (Canada U23), and Jacob Sooklal (Trinidad and Tobago U20).
And Durham United is wearing its heart on the sleeve, literally, with a new identity cultivated in recent years.
When Durham United had to renew their licence for 2016, general manager Corrado Roccasalva, along with his board members, thought it would be appropriate to rename the club as a "football alliance" rather than a "football club."
"Our thinking was to try and include as many as the clubs in Durham region to try and work with us. We thought it was important that we just not associate with Pickering, but make sure everyone from the region saw us as an inclusive project," said Roccasalva.
He also mentioned that the club's colours are a tribute for all the club’s involved with Durham United, (West Rouge FC and Oshawa Kicks).
Photo: Martin Bazyl
Even though the club is no longer a "football club" their strategy hasn’t changed.
"Our mandate is still the same, we are still looking to make soccer the best it can be in the region and we're willing to work with anybody in the region who wants to participate," said Roccasalva.
"Our strategy is to promote the program. Our elite player pathway is first, which starts with OPDL and U-13 and lead into our League1 program."
Having locally developed talent is important for Durham United and something that all the coaches think is key for showcasing players that have gone through their youth ranks.
"The idea for Durham FA was to create a team in the region that all the clubs aspire to. Whenever a male or female are finished with the youth club at 18, they can all funnel into one senior team if they were looking for an elite pathway," said men's head coach Sanford Carabin.
Photo: Martin Bazyl
Carabin also mentioned that having youth players on the League1 game sheet is important, since it gives them an outlook on what can happen with Durham United. The club always has at least two players that have been called up from their youth ranks.
On the women’s side, head coach Ron Clarke is one third into his first season with a team that won the league title in 2015. Clarke mentioned that the job has its challenges, but the key of it all is to know your players and what they can achieve.
In the case of his current squad, they are clearly capable of great achievements. No less than six players have been or are currently involved in national programs, including sister duo Kayla and Brianna De Souza (Guyana WNT), Keona Simmonds (Jamaica U20), Diarra Simmons (Trinidad and Tobago U20), Madeline Iozzi (Canada U17) and Lamontagne (Canada U20).
"As a new coach coming in, I think the challenge is always the players have to get to know you, and you have to get to know the players," said Clarke.
"Luckily I was the men's assistant coach previously, and the men and women used to train together once and a while, so I know a lot of the players."
Kashiff De Jonge (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Being a part of the men’s team last year, Clarke mentioned that both teams have the same philosophy, which pushes the players to fight for a spot in the starting lineup.
"We've created an environment at the men and women's side that say "we always pick the best eleven, you're always in a competitive environment, and at the end of the day we're looking to get ready for the next match."
This is Carabin's second year with the team, and one thing he knows his players will do, is give it their best every game because they know their team and coaching staff will give them the best opportunity to develop their game and grow as players.
"They know that if they come in and develop well, that the club and myself will do our best to reach out to our network and get them an opportunity at the next level," said Carabin.
Taylor Potts (Photo: Martin Bazyl)