Story updated Oct. 5, 2019 with Bobby Smyrniotis, Tristan Borges, and Chris Nanco
Among the many developmental pathways that make up the route to professional soccer, no two players share quite the same story.
Whether they’re forged in the fires of academy football, or charge through the ranks of professional reserve teams; whether they are discovered through open trials or university drafts, or scouted from seemingly out of nowhere; whether with a bang on their debuts, or with a slow simmer over a season, every single player has travelled their own road to the pro ranks, and into the starting XI.
It’s why, as we approach the 2019 Canadian Premier League Finals (Leg 1 on Oct. 26 at Tim Hortons Field, Leg 2 on Nov. 2 at ATCO Field, Spruce Meadows) that those pathways – and the stories they deliver – become even more charming in sentiment. It’s natural to reflect upon the beginning of a journey as you reach your destination, after all.
Forge FC and Cavalry FC feature core groups of players from two distinct player development pathways – Sigma FC of League1 Ontario, and the Calgary Foothills of the PDL.
In part one of this two-part series, we’ll examine the role that League1 Ontario and Sigma FC played in providing Forge FC coach Bobby Smyrniotis with the kind of high-quality talent needed to build his team, and also take a look at other L1O alumni who could play a significant role in Finals 2019.
CANADIAN PREMIER LEAGUE FINALS TICKET INFO
Tickets are now on sale for the first leg of the Canadian Premier League Finals on Oct. 26 at Tim Hortons Field and the second leg on Nov. 2 at ATCO Field at Spruce Meadows. To purchase tickets, CLICK HERE
Sigma FC: Canada’s top talent incubator?
Tucked into the convenient meeting point between Ontario’s western core and the Greater Toronto Area, Mississauga-based Sigma FC has been churning out young Canadian talent since being founded by Constantine and Bobby Smyrniotis in 2005. When League1 Ontario was founded for its inaugural 2014 season, Sigma FC was a natural inclusion, and in the five seasons that followed, this team has been a perennial mainstay near the top of the table.
While Sigma hasn’t won the League1 Ontario title, it does have a series of second, third, and fourth-placed finishes to its credit, most recently finishing fifth in the 2019 regular season.
But, those results tell only half the story.
Sigma FC is one of the top talent incubators in the country; Canadian internationals such as Cyle Larin, Richie Laryea, and Manjrekar James owe their career starts to Smyrniotis’ Sigma team. And, for that part, much of Forge FC is built on the back of that talent.
In total, 16 players on Forge’s current roster can point to playing time at Sigma FC, chief among them being Kyle Bekker, Kwame Awuah, and Tristan Borges. The rest of the alumni is made up of goalkeepers Triston Henry and Luka Iacobellis, defenders Jonathan Grant, Monti Mohsen, Klaidi Cela, Oluwaseun Oyegunle, and Dominic Samuel, midfielders Giuliano Frano and Justin Stoddart, and forwards Chris Nanco, Kadell Thomas, and Marcel Zajac.
“The transition was pretty good for them,” Smyrniotis told CanPL.ca. “There’s obviously a lot of familiarity with the players coming who played for me at Sigma. So, they had familiarity on how things were going to work, training, my expectations, and so on. That allowed for (a smooth transition).
“Plus, a few of the guys were already playing at the professional level before, so the guys had been in a professional environment. But, for the guys whose first step was into this, I thought their transition was just as good. A lot of League1 organizations, especially over at Sigma, ran like professional shops, so that made the transition easier for them.”
This group of players, supplemented by international signings and another League1 Ontario standout (we’ll get to him later), make up a Forge team that has dominated the Fall portion of the 2019 Canadian Premier League season. They score freely, pick up wins consistently, and have not lost in a dozen straight matches in CPL action down this final stretch.
League1 Ontario standouts clash in Finals 2019
While most of the aforementioned Sigma FC alum will certainly be on display come Finals 2019, they won’t be the only League1 Ontario graduates competing for silverware. Indeed, Forge owes plenty of credit to former Oakville Blue Devils striker Anthony Novak, who has helmed their front line for much of the season.
Novak, who led League1 Ontario in scoring in 2018 with 18 goals, has been a mainstay in Smyrniotis’ Forge side since breaking into the team, making the centre-forward spot his own once Emery Welshman was transferred to Israel. With five goals under his belt in 2019, Novak has made the transition to top-tier football wonderfully, coming off the back of a dominant year in League1 Ontario – and having also faced a career crossroads where he considered hanging up his cleats and joining the Canadian military.
“It definitely gives you a high level to play at, me especially, coming back from college and having a place to play in the summer,” Forge’s Nanco told CanPL.ca.
He added: “Being with coach Bobby helped me learn more, while getting those games in. It’s a high level. You see a lot of great talent, and you see some talent in CPL now. It’s a lot of talented players who might not have gotten the opportunity to go somewhere else to play, and now, with this opportunity, you’re going to see a lot of new players coming from there to play.”
League1 Ontario talent on display from coast-to-coast
Of course, while all eyes will be on Finals 2019 come the end of October, League1 Ontario talent doesn’t start and end with these two CPL outfits. In total, 42 CPL players have some experience playing for L1O clubs before making the jump.
Notable names on that list include HFX Wanderers FC’s Zela Langwa, Duran Lee, and Matthew Arnone, Pacific FC’s Lukas MacNaughton, Valour’s Dylan Carreiro and Dylan Sacramento, and York9 FC’s Ryan Telfer, Morey Doner, Joe Di Chiara, and Simon Adjei, among many others.
“The competition was great,” said Forge’s Tristan Borges. “It was nice to play with Sigma. Overall, I think people kind of underestimate the quality that it has. There are quite a few players across the league who played in League1, so it shows the quality that they have.”
These talents came into the CPL out of L1O clubs such as Vaughan Azzurri, Woodbridge Strikers, Alliance United, Kingston Clippers, Aurora FC, North Mississauga SC, and Unionville Milliken SC, and brought with them the experience and professionalism needed to perform in CPL play.
As we approach the 2019 Canadian Premier League Finals, there will be plenty of League1 Ontario talent on display, providing Ontario’s soccer community with a chance to celebrate a successful season in this new and exciting sporting venture. Those celebrations include Leg 1 of Finals 2019 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton.