TORONTO – Look across the Canadian Premier League and you’ll notice that five of the seven clubs have several players raised in Ontario – except for Pacific FC and FC Edmonton, but they do things their own way.
So, with apologies to the other provinces and territories, Ontario is the reigning powerhouse of Canadian soccer.
According to figures tracked by OneSoccer’s Oliver Platt, over 40 per cent of the Canadian players in the CPL were raised in Ontario, a slight downtick from his calculations earlier this year, as clubs have continued to fill out their rosters, but still an impressive percentage.
Two of the men who have been integral to the good work being done in the province square off on Sunday when Forge FC and York9 FC meet at Tim Hortons Field (1:00 p.m. ET, OneSoccer) in the first of three derbies over the coming weeks that will drastically impact how the CPL’s Fall competition will stand at the end.
On the home sidelines in Hamilton will be Forge’s Bobby Smyrniotis; on the visitor’s bench will be Y9 assistant coach Carmine Isacco.
We put the question to both of them: Why does Ontario stand at the pinnacle when it comes to Canadian-born players in the CPL?
“First of all, the simplest answer – not the sexiest as they say – but we’ve got a big population, that helps,” Smyrniotis said earlier this year.
“But after that, there’s a very good mix of players, some good organizations in Ontario that do a good job of working with players, bringing them up, developing them, giving them good challenges, and then there is a good competitive aspect to the game in this province that allows players to constantly be challenged, not only on the training pitch, but in games.”
Smyrniotis also argues that League1 Ontario has played an important developmental role, as it has given young players a chance to play each week while receiving good coaching.
“That’s given a good transition for what we’ve seen: quite a few players coming out of our province,” the Forge coach offered.
“Not only guys who were actively professionals, but a lot of guys who were playing below to make that step.”
While the rest of the country strives to catch up, Ontario is far from tapped out.
“We’ve seen it in the past with different players that the general public hadn’t heard of and all of a sudden they’re playing at a professional level. The players are out there,” Smyrniotis said.
“We need this league to grow to be able to bring in some of these players. That’s one of the challenges we have. But it’s a great building moment for soccer. We’re a hotbed for it, whether it’s our national team, the different levels of the game, if you look at all the players coming out of our province, it’s great. But it will only grow as the CPL grows as well.”
Isacco warns that Ontario soccer can’t rest on its laurels, and has to improve when it comes to identifying promising players.
“I know (TFC coach) Greg Vanney says it all the time, the quality of player in our community is immense, but our talent identification has to be better,” Isacco stressed. “The thing that has let down a lot of these players, like an (Emilio) Estevez, is not him, it’s our infrastructure. And thanks to the CPL we’re growing that infrastructure.”
Isacco continued: “We still have levels and pieces to put in place, but there are a lot of Jonathan Osorios out there, a lot of Ryan Telfers out there, a lot of Ashtone Morgans that just haven’t been uncovered. This league is going to be a platform for that, but we still need League1 (Ontario) to excel, still need the levels below that to excel. We still need a youth system that is, yes development-focused, but competition-focused as well.
“If we want to grow the game we have to have that level of competition that focuses on that elite group of players, so we have to set the bar higher.”
With Isacco having coached at Vaughan Azzurri (and York University) and Smyrniotis co-founding and coaching Sigma FC, the two men are very familiar with each other and have squared off before.
“I almost got kicked out a game one year because he got kicked out,” said Isacco with a laugh, referring to past duels in L1O.
It’s clear there’s a mutual respect between the two, as they share the same ideology about player development and giving Canadian players a chance.
“I respect that a lot about Bobby. A lot of players have come through his system. He’s done a fantastic job, you can see the list,” Isacco stated.
“He’s definitely set a standard with Sigma and Forge.”
That’s not to say there isn’t room for some healthy competition.
“We try to stay ahead of each other all the time: that mutual need to compete. Not only just me and Bobby, but the coaches around us as well,” Isacco added. “We’ve made each other better.
“And to some point, we’ve made the game better here, tried to make it as relevant as possible.”