With only one day before the League1 Ontario 2017 Matchweek Two kicks off - featuring the five first matches in our Women's division - anticipation is at an all-time high for what the season ahead will hold.
It's the fourth season in the lifetime of this standards-based, pro-am, Ontario senior league, and every year brings a new level of quality of talent to the league.
The off-season has brought a number of changes, with two new clubs coming into the league from Ottawa, a venerable name added to the women's division in the Toronto Blizzard, and an exciting young women's team out of Unionville that looks stacked with junior national team players. These are only a few of the storylines in the league, and there are so many more...
The weekend of May 5-7 is all about the debut matches in the women's division, with a special women's kickoff event planned at the home of the 2016 Champions, FC London, on May 13 in London, ON, so stick with us as we sequentially preview these match-ups and the teams that will do battle over our opening three weekends!
2015 League1 Ontario title winners Durham United FA take on one of their biggest rivals to start the season, welcoming visitors Woodbridge Strikers for a test that will set the tone for the season ahead.
Durham utilize their state of the art Pickering Soccer Centre for this fixture on Saturday May 6 (3 p.m.) and as such won't need to worry about weather conditions spoiling this battle between two of the top sides over recent years.
Woodbridge and Durham finished second and first in the 2016 League1 season, with six points between them.
Woodbridge had a record of 11 wins two draws and three losses over the season, maintained the best defensive record in the league with only 13 goals against in 22 matches, and led the league's attacking stats as well with 65 goals for. Their only two losses were in London to the champions on the last day of the season, and to Durham - a 2-1 loss at their home ground Vaughan Grove, Woodbridge.
Durham had the fourth best defensive record in the 2016 season, allowing only 17 goals in 22 matches. However, their attacking stats were an issue, with only 38 goals for putting the team fourth in the division and within a pack of three or four teams around them in the standings that were equally as dangerous. Still, Durham drew Woodbridge 2-2 in their home fixture last season so had the better head to head record between the two.
Both teams - one from the east side of the city and one from the northwest - have provided fantastic displays on matchdays in the first two seasons.
Expect this match to be a cracker; regardless of result it will showcase some of the best the league has on offer. Note that if you can't make this match in person, it will be on the League1 Ontario LiveStream channel at League1Ontario.com.
Coaching staff on both sides of the Durham and Woodbridge divide will be brand new, so it's difficult to determine if these teams will continue with the systems that have brought them so much success in recent years or try something brand new.
On the Durham side, Chris Eveleigh joins the team for his first year. Eveleigh is no stranger to League1 followers though, having arrived at Durham from Kingston Clippers, where he was both technical director and head coach of the men's and women's teams at various stages. At Durham, Eveleigh is the High Performance Director. Eveleigh holds a UEFA B license and a UK LAD award.
Woodbridge also sees a change of regime, as previous head coach Joe Parolini heads off to lead Toronto Azzurri Blizzard and Dave Porco comes in to run the Strikers team. Porco has been with the Strikers as their Girls Development Director since 2012 and has won both indoor and outdoor Ontario Cup competitions with the clubs. Porco has a Canada Soccer National B license.
Both coaches come from a professional playing background - Eveleigh in England with Exeter City and Porco with the North York Rockets - so one can expect a professionally run environment and two well-organized sides that will be determined to make a mark.
(Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Durham United FA has typically had some of League1's top performers in their ranks, and this season the club sees some of the best return. Eveleigh gave some insight into names to highlight.
"Kayla De Souza is well known to followers of the league, but from mine and the club's perspective it is great to not only have Kayla as a player this year but she is also stepping into a coaching role and will help inspire some of our other younger players to coach within the club," he revealed.
De Souza has experience at the top level playing for Guyana, and the central midfielder has been a staple in Durham sides from day one.
"We also have Hollie Babut, who this year will be, like Kayla, playing a leadership role and will do most of her talking with her hard work rate and ability to finish!" added Eveleigh. Babut had the third highest minutes in the team in 2016, and finished second in the team's golden boot race.
"Also, we are obviously very excited to have Alex LaMontagne back in the team, and look forward to working with her," said Eveleigh.
LaMontagne was one of the top scorers during the League1 Ontario 2015 season, and most recently has been getting regular time at the U20 level and consistent call-ups to the Canada Women's National Team.
"Finally, there is Parys Kerr," continued Eveleigh. "She is a bright young talent coming through the club. She will surprise some people this summer with her pace and true potential to be a great player in League1 over the next few years."
Durham United FA 2016 (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Dave Porco also took time to pick out some of his best, many of whom will again be familiar with followers of the league.
"Forward Jessica Lisi returns," he said. "She's fast, technically sound, has a great shot and is a natural goal scorer." Lisi has been an All-Star for both the 2015 and 2016 seasons, was the League1 Ontario Young Player of the Year in 2015, and took the League1 Ontario Golden Boot in 2016.
"We have midfielder Alyshca Mottershead back as well," said Porco. "She's experienced, technically and tactically sound, and has a very high soccer IQ." Mottershead is also a League1 All-Star from 2015 and 2016, and is a former Canada Women's National Team player.
"Finally, we'll have Fallon Rodriques - a fast midfielder wholoves to attack 1v1 and is very strong technically," he added, "as well as midfielder Katalin Tolnai, a young talented player with a huge upside as she gains experience. She's got great vision and is technically and tactically sound," he concluded.
Jessica Lisi, Woodbridge Strikers (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
If you can't make it out to the match or watch it live on the day on League1 LiveStream, follow the minute-by-minute account on League1 Ontario's Live Match twitter account, or tune into the League1 YouTube channel and head to League1Ontario.com the next day for full match video, match recap, and post-match interviews with the coaches!
Alyscha Mottershead, Woodbridge Strikers (Photo: Martin Bazyl)