The 2017 League1 Ontario Men's Final between the Woodbridge Strikers and the Oakville Blue Devils is just a few days away.
And with that in mind, we begin focusing on the defensive teams on both sides, which have been impressive to say the least in 2017.
Just as the old sports saying goes, "defence wins championships," and this is a key reason why both Woodbridge and Oakville have been so successful this season.
Peter Pinizzotto (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Woodbridge finished the regular season with 18 goals against, the lowest in the league.
Meanwhile, Oakville allowed the league-wide third lowest goals against with only 22 conceded.
The last three years for Woodbridge have seen their defensive play consistently rank at the top of the league. In 2016, the Strikers ended the year allowing a league low of 17 goals, seven less than league champions Vaughan Azzurri.
One big reason why Woodbridge have dominated in the defensive categories has to do with head coach Peter Pinizzotto's style of play.
"I keep saying to the guys that defence is what wins you games," said Pinizzotto.
"I have always said that in order to have the best defence. You basically have to believe in defending as a team."
Quillan Roberts (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
Starting from the very back end of the field, both Woodbridge and Oakville have two of the league's best keepers in net.
Woodbridge keeper Quillan Roberts finished the year with the lowest goals against average of 0.79 in 19 games played, while former Strikers goalie and current Oakville keeper Matt George finished second with a 0.92 GAA in 20 games played.
Pinizzotto mentioned that having a keeper like Roberts has been one of many reasons why his club finished first in the east.
"It starts from the back, it starts from your goalie," said Pinizzotto.
But the Strikers coach quickly added that having a strong backline in front of Roberts cannot be ignored.
"If you don’t have a good defence, the goalie can only do so much. I think it's a combination of a good goalie and the back four being very solid."
Matt George (Photo: Chant Photography)
For Woodbridge, their backline has changed throughout the year. But one player that has cemented his spot in the middle of the backline has been veteran Kyle Watson.
Watson lead the league in minutes played with 1,928 this season, appearing in every match for the Strikers.
Pinizzotto explained that having a player like Watson — who has played for Woodbridge for the last couple seasons —has lead to him trusting him more due to his familiarity with the club's philosophy and knowledge of the game.
"He brought in that experience that we needed… and he has been pretty consistent, steady [and] has played the most minutes."
Lining up next to Watson has been a rotation between newcomers Michael Fayehun and Quante Abbott Hill-Smith - who is a previous winner of the League1 Ontario title following his involvement in the Toronto FC III side that won in 2014.
Pinizzotto also mentioned that he has been thankful for the full back roles that both Stephen Almeida and newcomer Michael Krzemenski have occupied this year. Krzemenski's contributions even attracted the attention of the Canada Men's National Team head coach, Octavio Zambrano, who recently invited the fullback into the national team camp.
Al James (Photo: Martin Bazyl)
As for Oakville Blue Devils, the 2015 League1 champions went into the off-season looking to strengthen their backline after giving up 43 goals in 2016.
With that in mind, head coach Duncan Wilde turned to two strong defenders in Victor Gallo and Connor McNamara.
McNamara featured in 16 matches for the Blue Devils this year, and played a key role as a central defender, while Gallo brought in versatility for Wilde's team, playing as a centre-back, full-back and a holding midfielder this season.
Don't forget to add the veteran experience of full back Al James, who finished third in minutes played with 1,862.
"He's Mr. Reliable," said Wilde. "He's very quick and very consistent… and just a good all around player for us."
(Photo: F10 Studio)
Just like Pinizzotto, Wilde has expressed his gratitude at having a goalkeeper like George in his lineup this season.
"We had no consistency in our goalkeeping last season," said Wilde.
"This year we've pretty much had a number one all season, and I think that's one of the differences in our year."
Wilde went on to mention that "it's just been an all-round good season for us. We've scored lots of goals… we are one of the least conceding teams, and I think that all comes together to be an all-around performance."
You can catch Woodbridge taking on Oakville on October 20 at the Ontario Soccer Centre in Vaughan at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available through Oakville Blue Devils and/ or Woodbridge Strikers and as well at the front gate.
You can also catch a live broadcast of the game at league1ontario.com.