It has been one of the hopes of League1 Ontario in their inaugural year of existence, that the league provides young players a chance to develop and aspire to play in a professional soccer environment.
They probably didn't think they would see dividends so soon. Case in point: the League1 Ontario Cup Final at BMO Field held Sunday, Oct. 19.
SIGMA FC's Cup Final run was fuelled by its younger players. The club was forced to deal with the exodus of more than 35 members of its academy - Cyle Larin, Kwame Awuah and Alex Halis to name only a few - who left to attend school in August. SIGMA's young guns took up the torch and carried the club colours all the way to BMO.
|(Luca McLean (left) and Aaron D'Souza (right) formed the Central defense pairing in the League 1 final.
Both U17 players from the SIGMA Academy played a major role throughout the later part of the season and 6 cup matches)
And while young players featured prominently in both Vaughan Azzurri and SIGMA FC lineups in Sunday's final - Vaughan won the Cup with a come from behind 2-1 victory before a few thousand fans- it was the performance of his young guns that had SIGMA FC's Bobby Smyrniotis smiling.
"I would like to commend our young players for really doing a great job in the League 1 cup this season," said Smyrniotis. "It is their work on the field that lead to us being in a position to compete for the finals. We started 7-8 young guys 17 and under in all of our cup matches including the final.
"I am proud of our guys and their effort and commitment over the six League1 Cup games they competed in. This will only make our young group of players stronger for the future."
SIGMA FC reached the final with a 4-1 semi-final win over TFC Academy the day before. It was the first loss TFC experienced all season in League1.
"Although the scoreline was a large one it was a very aggressive match and took a lot out of our players," said Smyrniotis of the semi-final showdown. Nolan Holdridge, one of SIGMA's stalwart veterans, was lost to injury against TFC. Holdridge was the anchor on the back line for SIGMA and provided much needed leadership for the younger SIGMA players, who were 6-7 years his junior.
In the final, SIGMA struck first with a laser strike from Emery Welshman in the seventh minute. Throughout the first half, Welshman and teammates Johnny Grant and Manny Morgado put tremendous pressure on the Vaughan defence. Grant almost scored late in the first half with a brilliant run through the heart of the Vaughan defence. His last touch glanced the post with the Azzurri goalkeeper beaten. Morgado struck a free kick that narrowly missed the net, sending the ball into the side netting.
(Welshman opens the scoring for SIGMA FC)
(Johnny Grant - Named to League 1 To XI)
In the second half, Vaughan added former Canadian International Andrew Ornoch in the game, and his presence caused SIGMA's young back line some trouble as the game wore on.
"In the second half we ran out of legs a little and the overall experience of the opponent started to show and the pressure built up in our end," said Smyrniotis, who gave Vaughan full value for the win. "Our young back line had to play well and they did with a much older opponent in attack."
Goalkeeper Corey Marques made several spectacular saves and drew special praise from his coach. "At his age of 16 he commanded the box well and made some good saves on the day," added Smyrniotis.
The League1 Ontario final, being played at BMO, also known as Canada's soccer stadium, looked the part with several high profile soccer people in attendance. Canada's national men's head coach Benito Floro was conducted the ceremonial coin toss, and stayed to take in the game.
"I would like to thank the League1 Ontario organizers especially Dino Rossi for all of his hard work and along with them Benito Floro, our mens national team coach for supporting the league and being in attendance with his staff to observe the match. It shows the players the importance of League1 Ontario in the future.
Grant, Welshman and Alex Halis were announced as part of League1 Ontario's Top XI after the game. Giuliano Frano and Manny Morgado were named to League1's Next XI.