By early 2017 - only three years into the lifetime of League1 Ontario - a list of 50+ grads had already moved from the province's senior standards-based pro-am league to professional contracts around the world. Those numbers were certainly impressive at the time.
Incredibly, now in early 2018, over 100 players - 89 men and 14 women - have migrated from the podium of League1 Ontario to be picked up by professional clubs all over the world. The future is definitely bright for the province's elite U23 players with pro standard ambitions.
"From the outset, one of the primary planks of the League1 Ontario mission statement was for this league to serve as a viable stage from which our top talents would be able to make the jump to fully professional opportunities, whether those are found in North American or abroad," said League1 Ontario Commisioner, Dino Rossi Jr.
"To have reached 100 players is both amazing and humbling," he continued.
"It is a testament to how much quality we have in this province and also the hard work done by our clubs to provide the preparation and opportunities needed so that players can realistically strive to achieve their dreams."
The list of pro destinations has been impressive as well, with examples such as Olivia Lukesewich (Charlton Athletic), Oladapo Afolyan (West Ham United) and Marcus Godinho (Heart of Midlothian) finding homes in the U.K., and the likes of Kwame Awuah (NYCFC) and Mark Anthony Kaye (LAFC) heading south to compete in the MLS. One can view a full listing of League1 Ontario players that have moved on to professional environments in the document at base of this article.
"The wonderful thing about our sport is that opportunity can present itself almost anywhere in the world," said Rossi.
"Football is truly the global game and one never knows where there might be a professional club that will value the abilities of a League1 player."
Olivia Lukasewich (Charlton Athletic/ Vaughan Azzurri)
One can learn more about the experiences of some of League1 Ontario graduates at North American, European, and Australian clubs in our 2017 Pro Directions series.
The production line hasn't been restricted to one source over time either, with 23 different teams chipping in and graduating League1 players into these professional environments.
One can also learn about the origin points of some of these players in our special Origins piece - the finale to the Pro Directions series. These locales will doubtlessly be of great interest to future Canadian Professional League (CPL) scouts as they build for the division one pro league's debut season in 2019.
"Ontario Soccer is very proud of the organizations that are developing these young players into emerging professionals," said Ontario Soccer Technical Director, Gary Miller.
"The youth training grounds from which they are evolving, are building a stronger foundation for our National Team squads. The CPL will definitely tap into the League1 male teams and the top young players in the league to build their player rosters," he added.
"This will continue to provide more opportunities in the game at the local level."
Marcus Godinho (Hearts/ Vaughan Azzurri/ Toronto FC Academy)
The impressive number count continues when one considers the players that are also cracking the international level tier, or those that are finding their way with top Canadian and American post-secondary programs.
For example, 40 League1 Ontario players (including alumni) represented Canada at the highest level in 2017. Added to the 49 League1 current and former players were selected to represent Canada in 2016, there is a welcome consistency in evidence since current CMNT and former CWNT head coach, John Herdman, put on a League1 and OPDL focused clinic in late 2015.
Over 150 League1 Ontario players (men and women) made their mark in the NCAA Division I in 2017, receiving numerous awards of distinction. This built on a fantastic impression made by League1 Ontario men and women in the NCAA during the 2016 season.
In addition, League1 players had a massive presence in the 2017 year end lists for Ontario University Athletics (OUA) competition and Canadian U-Sports play.
Click here to see how the men fared. Click here to see how highly the women rated.
Kwame Awuah (NYCFC/ Sigma FC)
"As excited as I am that we have achieved this milestone after just four years, I am even more enthusiastic about what the future has in store," said Rossi.
"With the launch of the Canadian Premier League in 2019, we anticipate that many of our stars will find opportunities in that league and it will become a critically important part of the talent pathway for Ontario's top male players," he added.
"As such, my emphasis over the next 12-24 months will be to help identify more opportunities for our top female players to find professional opportunities."
"While I recognize that those opportunities are not as plentiful at this time, the landscape is improving every year and I know that we have players who can thrive in the right environment."
Sarah Stratigakis (CWNT/ University of Michigan/ Aurora FC)
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