(Photo: Martin Bazyl)
With a handful of matches remaining in the 2017 League1 Ontario men's and women's seasons, the race to the top is still being hotly contested by two teams in the women's division and four teams in the men's divisions.
On the men's side, Woodbridge Strikers and Vaughan Azzurri are neck and neck in the men's east division standings with 43 points each. Woodbridge holds a slight advantage with three matches left to play, while Vaughan have only two.
Oakville Blue Devils have a six point lead over Sigma FC in the men's west division, with three matches left to play. However, much like Woodbridge in the east division, Sigma hold a game in hand with four more chances to build points.
In the women's division, the race was recently reduced to two teams after FC London found a late winner over Vaughan Azzurri in Matchweek 21. FC London's win shot them to the top of the table as previous leaders North Mississauga SC were toppled 3-2 by West Ottawa SC. FC London currently holds a one point lead over North Mississauga, and has three matches left in their season. North Mississauga has two matches left to play.
With several outcomes still possible in the final three matchweeks, there are six key match-ups in Matchweek 22 that could go become "the one that won/ lost it all" depending on how results fall. There is no room for a slip-up.
Head out to your local club to see it in person!
(Photo: Martin Bazyl)
L1OM - Saturday September 23 - Sigma FC vs Sanjaxx Lions @ Hershey Centre Indoor, Mississauga (4 p.m.)
This match-up between second in the west and seventh in the west may not seem like a tough one in which to pick a winner, but dig deeper and there are variables here that make it interesting.
Sanjaxx have only won four matches during their 2017 campaign, but two of them came in the last three matches and the Lions are coming off a 3-2 away victory in Windsor. The team's defensive abilities have caused big teams some difficulty this season, but errant finishing has been their downfall. However, the Lions may have this problem licked with a season high three goals scored against Windsor last week. If they do, they could turn the title race on its head with a strong performance this week against Sigma and/ or next weekend versus Oakville (Oct 1).
Sigma beat Sanjaxx 6-1 in the away half of this match-up against their west division counterparts, but that scoreline didn't tell the full story. A late rally was needed by Sigma in the final ten minutes as Sanjaxx's Nathaniel Rodney-Scarlett scored a marker for the Lions just after the hour mark. Sigma will want to put these points in the bag quickly, especially as their upcoming two fixtures involve a Mississauga derby (Sept 29) and a date with Toronto FC III (Oct 5).
(Photo: Martin Bazyl)
L1OW - Saturday September 23 - FC London v Unionville Milliken SC @ German Canadian Club, London (7:30 p.m.)
With one point keeping their noses in front of North Mississauga SC, FC London will know that a win in their Matchweek 22 fixture against Unionville Milliken will go some distance to securing back-to-back League1 Ontario championships.
In fact, if London were to win this match and North Miss lose to Toronto Azzurri Blizzard the following day - London has won the 2017 League1 Ontario championship.
On the other hand, if London drops points with a draw or loss to Unionville - a door opens for North Miss ahead of the enticing match-up between London and North Miss (Sept 30) in Matchweek 23.
To make this situation even more interesting, Unionville - a team that had their table-topping early season winning streak halted by FC London - will be relishing the chance to get revenge on the Londoners.
London may be forgiven for being confident in their form (the team has lost only one home match in 2017, and only two losses in the entire season), but complacency at this stage would be lethal.
Jarek Whiteman (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
L1OM - Sunday September 24 - Vaughan Azzurri v OSU Force @ McNaughton Turf, Vaughan (noon)
With only six points left for Vaughan Azzurri to collect, and Woodbridge breathing down their necks with the same amount of points and a maximum of nine points remaining, the defending men's League1 Ontario champions will know winning is imperative if their hopes of repeating as champs can be realized.
The Azzurri pounded OSU at their away fixture in Ottawa back in May, getting five goals and keeping the clean sheet, and star forward Jarek Whiteman continues to lead the league in scoring with 25 goals.
OSU has not managed to stitch together a win since mid-July, but the results don't tell the full story. The Ottawans have battled everyone from TFC III to Masters to tight scorelines, usually falling short in the final third of the match.
Although OSU's debut season hasn't been anything spectacular (the club currently sits in sixth position), a strong start to the season could be matched up with a strong finish and create a solid foundation to build upon in 2018.
OSU has the chance to play a giant-killer role in the late season; Woodbridge Strikers (Sept 30) await in the club's penultimate match next weekend.
(Photo: Martin Bazyl)
L1OW - Sunday September 24 - Toronto Azzurri Blizzard v North Mississauga SC @ Azzurri Village Main, Toronto (3:45 p.m.)
Speaking of giant-killers, Toronto Azzurri Blizzard have already shown their mettle this season with big results to the current champions FC London, handing them their only home defeat and then taking points again after a 1-1 draw.
The Blizzard also had Vaughan Azzurri's number, beating them on both occasions in the regular season, and as well held North Mississauga to a scoreless draw in their previous meeting.
The Blizzard will hope they can end North Mississauga's campaign for the title in Matchweek 22, knowing that a loss for North Miss combined with a possible win for London the night before would hand the Southern Ontario side the title. Even a draw in this match would set up drama; a potential loss for London combined with a draw here puts London and North Miss on equal footing heading into next weekend's epic clash.
(Photo: Dave Chant)
L1OM - Sunday September 24 - Oakville Blue Devils v FC London @ Bronte, Oakville (4 p.m.)
With six points clear at the top of the men's west division, Oakville Blue Devils will be breathing a little bit easier than their counterparts in the men's east division, but the 2015 League1 Ontario champions will know how important it is to stay focused in the final stretch.
The Blue Devils take on the west division's fourth place side in Matchweek 22, and although London manager Dom Kosic has put out a much younger first team of late - the team is still capable of putting together top shelf performances. London has beaten TFC III and held Sigma FC to a draw in two of their last three performances, and will hope they can serve up a plate of revenge to Oakville after falling 3-0 to the Blue Devils earlier in the season.
Both teams can unleash some serious firepower, so given both sides have been fielding makeshift defensive lines of late - this one could be a high-scoring affair regardless of the outcome. 2016 Golden Boot winner Elvir Gigolaj from London is currently second in the league scoring table with 17 goals, while Oakville has three players in the top ten: Mathew Santos (14 goals); Anthony Novak (9 goals) and Felipe Vilela (9 goals).
Jared Agyemang (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
L1OM - Sunday September 24 - Woodbridge Strikers v Aurora FC @ Vaughan Grove, Woodbridge (7pm)
Woodbridge Strikers have a game in hand on their local rivals Vaughan Azzurri, with whom they share first place in the east division, but that match is by no means a guaranteed result as Strikers must travel to Ottawa to play OSU Force (Sept 30) and then face west division leaders Oakville Blue Devils (Oct 4).
Strikers will want to ensure that this match adds three points in their column, and given Aurora's position at the base of the east division with only two wins to their name - Woodbridge manager Peter Pinizzotto will know a slip-up here would be disastrous.
But Pinizzotto will also know that Aurora's form of late has been impressive, if not completely consistent. The black and amber clad Aurora side beat Pro Stars at the start of August before dropping narrow results to Oakville and Durham. A thumping at the hands of North Toronto followed, but Aurora rebounded quickly with a 3-3 draw against a talented Masters side last weekend.
Woodbridge's top-of-the-league defensive record will be important here, but attacking contributions from team leading scorers Lucas Baldassarre (7 goals), Dylan Carrierro (6 goals) and Christian Cavallini (6 goals) are obviously vital if the Strikers are to avoid a catastrophic draw scenario.
Player to watch: Aurora's Jared Agyemang has scored three goals in his last five outings (including a highlight reel solo effort in Matchweek 21) and could give the Strikers backline terrors with his speed and power.
(Photo: Martin Bazyl)