The 2017 Men's #L1OAllStar match between League1 Ontario All-Stars and the Premiere Ligue de Soccer du Quebec (PLSQ) ended in a 1-0 result for the Ontarians at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
Sigma FC midfielder Giuliano Frano (43') sent the 900+ person crowd into a frenzy following his right-footed cannon before half, capitalizing on a ball into the box that PLSQ keeper Gabard Fenelon couldn't clear before Vaughan Azzurri's Jarek Whiteman nodded the rebound into the path of Frano.
Both sides set up initially in conservative 4-2-3-1 formations, with the hosts looking more and more the side to take the attacking initiative, playing through a single midfield pivot of Chris Mannella of Vaughan Azzurri.
2017 League1 Ontario Men's All-Star Starting XI (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
"There are a lot of reasons for a slow start," said League1 Ontario All-Stars technical staff coach, Peter Pinizzotto of Woodbridge Strikers.
"First of all we played against a decent team and whenever you talk about a slow start it depends on who you are playing too. It seemed like we played against a team that was organized and at the beginning we were moving the ball a bit slow. I think with time it got better."
Mannella consistently stretched the play with long diagonal balls to Whiteman and Woodbridge's Chris Cavallini on the flanks, and the League1 All-Stars soon made their presence felt with overlapping runs by fullbacks Johnny Grant of Sigma FC and Bruce Cullen of Durham United FA.
2017 PLSQ All-Star Starting XI (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Quebec were content to soak up some pressure by the Ontario attack at first, before seeking to release their pacey striker trio of Frederico Moojen, Dex Kaniki and Mitchell Syla. All three forwards ran the channels well, with Moojen in particular causing headaches for League1 All-Star centrebacks' Jamar Kelly of Windsor TFC and Aaron Schneebli of FC London.
Both sides traded chances in the early going, before Cullen found himself with a golden chance, free in the box and going towards goal, but again Quebec defenders recovered to unsettle the finish at the last instant.
Frano's goal - a swivel and blasted finish that lit up the crowd just minutes from the half-time interval - sent the League1 All-Stars into the break with a one goal pad, but the Quebec side would not be deterred and immediately were on the front foot to start the second frame.
Giuliano Frano (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
"After the first ten minutes of the match we began to see some of the simple things that we asked for in the training sessions," said League1 Ontario technical staff coach Bobby Smyrniotis of Sigma FC.
"They kept the ball well, stretched the play and tried to get into open spaces as the game went on, especially from the left side coming out to the right side with Johnny Grant and Jarek Whiteman."
"That's what you want out of this. They guys aren't familiar with each other and all their movements, but for a large part of the first half it was very good."
Frederico Moojen (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
A high defensive press from Quebec and several early offensive chances signalled a renewed vigour after the restart, with both teams also taking the half-time break as a cue to bring through the subs. The youth and enthusiasm of the substitutes, combined with the growing involvement of the crowd, injected new life into the contest.
"We had a plan going into the match on how we were going to rotate the players," revealed Smyrniotis.
"We wanted to get everyone some time on the field and you know when you put in four or five players at a time you lose a bit of tempo. I felt we just had to be a bit patient, and after the first ten or fifteen minutes we created some good chances on the counter-attack."
"We had some good opportunities and I think if the final ball was a little better we would have had more goals on the day."
Triston Henry (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
As the match opened up in the second half and chances became more regular, it was the work of the keepers that took centre-stage. Incredible gymnastics were required from the net-minders at both ends - now Sigma FC's Triston Henry for Ontario and Horace Patient Sobze Zemo for Quebec - to keep the score unchanged at the final whistle.
The pitch flooded with supporters at match-end, in a reflection of the truly celebratory atmosphere at this Canadian division III exhibition, and players stayed to give autographs and pose for photos with fans throughout the grounds.
2017 Men's All-Star MVP: Aaron Schneebli (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
MVP of the match was centre-back Aaron Schneebli of FC London, who adeptly marshalled the League1 Ontario All-Star side to a clean sheet.
"It was a lot of fun," he said.
"We were here for three days. We had three sessions before we played the game, and we are all familiar with each other - we've seen each other play and have played against each other for a while so it's kind of nice to get all the best players coming together, play together, and see what we can do."
2017 League1 Ontario Men's All-Star Team (Photo: Martin Bazyl)