The grassroots of Canadian soccer in Ontario has always been akin to the Wild West, with so many different entities having completely separate ideas and placing importance on their own agendas. To this day, it’s even the case of individual teams within a given league placing importance on specific aspects, some clubs playing older players with a focus on strictly winning, others using it as a means to promote their individual academies and some are just happy to be a small community Sunday league team.
However, with the focus now on the Ontario Soccer Association's Long Term Player Development Program and there now being a push to develop the sport of soccer and its young players in Canada, a positive shift has occurred and something special is on the horizon.
For over a year, a plan has been put in place to develop new semi-professional league in Ontario that is fully committed to develop a soccer culture in local communities and foster its young talent. This proposed league now has a name, dubbed “League-1 Ontario” and is set to start in 2012 or 2013. The proposal is for an 8-12 team league with a sole focus on development. This development would primarily be for players but also for coaches and referees.
What makes this league different from leagues past is they have learned from the mistakes of others. This includes specific rules and guidelines, both financial and systematic, that will help the league not only survive but also thrive and grow.
Some of the many key guidelines that should be highlighted are:
• A better focus on marketing, advertising and community outreach
• Controlling team budgets/payroll with a minimum three year financial commitment
• Single table format w/ no playoff system (separate cup tournament to be played in season)
• Minimum of eight U-20 player (five of which in the starting XI)
• Maximum of three imports (non-Canadian players) per team
The first two points are important to establish from the jump, as in my opinion, they have been the downfall of leagues past. This is the chief reason for low crowd attendance and clubs going in debt or eventually having to fold.
As for the other three points, I feel they are vital to the league in so many ways and where I think many have dropped the ball. The single table format with a separate cup competition named the “L-1 Cup” is in my opinion the perfect way to go for many reasons. For one it will ensure the entire league season is competitive while still getting the excitement of “knockout” competition and a “true” champion can be crowned with the ability to still have a grand final atmosphere at the end with the L-1 Cup Final.
Putting in place a minimum number of U20 players within both the match day squad and starting XI shows a commitment to youth. This combined with a maximum number of non-Canadian players on a given team also bodes well for the future success of the league.
It will be interesting to see what 8-12 cities will be targeted, with at least twenty clubs showing interest in joining there is no shortage of options.
In my opinion these are the cities that would be first on my list:
All of these cities have shown they support soccer whether it is at the high school level, recreational league level or semi-professional level and have growing communities that if marketed to in the proper way will help this league grow.
I have no doubt in my mind that whether it be this year or next year that this league will hit the ground running. To the casual soccer supporter this may pass under their radar, or may mean little to nothing. But for young players, coaches, referees looking to make it, as well as long suffering supporters of grassroots soccer in Canada and specifically Ontario, this is music to our ears as it represents a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to our soccer cultures present and future.
For more information visit the League 1 Ontario website and download their information package (it’s under Information Session Presentations entitled “League 1 Package”) or listen to the January 12th edition of the Sportsnet Soccer Show Podcast.
Kamal Hylton is Owner/Freelance Soccer Writer at Hylton Sports Media,
he specializes in covering Youth Development in Canada and the
CONCACAF Region as well as European leagues such as Bundesliga, Serie A and UEFA Champions League. Follow him on Twitter to view all