(Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)
(Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)
A quick pass to the edge of the box had Vaughan Azzurri central midfielder Matthew Arnone taking the ball in stride, plunging into the heart of Frosinone Calcio's defence in July.
The Vaughan veteran hit the ground as he was tripped by Frosinone vice-captain Cristian Molinaro, earning the Azzurri a penalty in the 21st minute.
Midfielder Dylan Sacramento proceeded to open the scoring for the semi-pro Canadian-based club from Vaughan, confidently tucking his spot kick into the corner of the net as Frosinone goalkeeper Marco Sportiello dove the opposite way.
Remarkably, the Canadian semi-pro club from Vaughan had taken the 1-0 lead over the freshly-minted Serie A club from Italy.
The lead was short-lived as Daniel Ciofani and Stipe Perica scored two unanswered, giving Frosinone the 2-1 victory over the League1 Ontario side, but the opportunity to play - and hold their own - against the Italian fully-professional outfit proved to be invigorating for Vaughan.
"All it did was facilitate the winning culture even more," Arnone told League1 Ontario.
"The confidence that we took from that, seeing how they carried themselves and how they performed, how they carried themselves off the field as well, it's something that we all learned from."
Two days later, the Azzurri stormed through the L1 Cup semifinals with a 2-0 victory over the Oakville Blue Devils, and Vaughan eventually lifted their third L1 Cup in five years after a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC III.
Vaughan are now looking to win their second League1 Ontario championship on Saturday, when they face off against the Woodbridge Strikers at the Ontario Soccer Centre.
Vaughan have already won "The Double" once (in 2016), making them the most successful club in League1 Ontario history with four trophies and now a fifth on the line.
Matthew Arnone (Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography/ F1 Studio Sports Photography)
2018 L1 Cup Champions, Vaughan Azzurri (Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)
The Azzurri mentality seems to go hand-in-hand with success.
But for Vaughan's head coach and technical director, Carmine Isacco, trophies and titles are more like a bonus. His real focus is on the development of their players for the professional stage.
"Our success stories come from opportunities that we give players, opportunities for them to move on," Isacco said. "Ryan Telfer, players like that who come through our program and have moved on."
"Dayne St. Clair, Kamal Miller - who are going to be MLS draftees - those are the most important things."
Vaughan provides quality options for its players, ranging from the friendly against Frosinone to chances to play in U Sports and the NCAA. The 36-year-old club has developed a reputation within and outside the borders of Canada as a top spot for soccer development.
"The culture [at Vaughan] established that for international clubs to come in, and I’m sure they're asking - Where can we get a good game? Where can we get a quality opposition?" Arnone said.
"That obviously comes with Carmine's regime and what he's done for Canada in the sport."
Vaughan's success in development and winning is built through the insistence on integrating their youth ranks, who train regularly with the senior squad, even following them for road trips to away games like the Group A playoff match against FC London.
Younger players learn the day-to-day routines of the League1 squad, while the seniors develop their leadership qualities to move forward in their careers.
And it's not only players who take the next step in their careers at Vaughan.
(L-R) League1 Ontario Commissioner Dino Rossi Jr; Vaughan Azzurri Kamal Miller
Isacco was recently appointed to the role of assistant coach at York 9 FC in the Canadian Premier League (CPL) for the inaugural 2019 season. His position at Vaughan is still being worked out with a series of possible structural changes within the club's technical staff, but the standards for the players will remain the same as they've always been instilled at the club.
"We put people in place, and there's still going to be people in place who are going to be keeping the standards for a long time," Isacco said.
"The commitment to doing what we do as far as those players are concerned, that's important for us and that's not going to stop."
Vaughan may have to enter a transition phase as a plethora of players aim for pro contracts in the CPL next year, but that transition is expected to go smoothly.
"We have an incredible crop of 2001s and 2002s that are chomping at the bit to get involved at a higher level," Isacco said.
Arnone reiterates the same enthusiasm.
"I’m excited for the young guys at Vaughan. We have some quality talent, and they're going to get to stretch their legs next year. [League1 Ontario] will be the premier league to develop these players into the CPL and these greater ranks."
However, with the 2018 League1 Ontario Men's Championship Final and a potential spot in the Canadian Championship on the immediate horizon, Vaughan's focus rests solely on being ready for the Woodbridge Strikers on Saturday.
"We take pride in conducting ourselves as a top club in this league, and we're going to continue to do that in the final," Arnone said.
“We’ll strive toward it and leave it all out on the field."
Carmine Isacco (Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)
Dylan Sacramento (Photo: Martin Bazyl Photography)