NEW-LOOK CSL TO KICKOFF MAY 31

The Canadian Soccer League will kickoff its 2024 season with a compact four teams on May 31, the opener of three matches for the Royal CSL Cup, a pre-regular season competition played in tribute to Enio Perruzza, the CSL game announcer and popular figure with the fans for more than two decades who passed away on January 21, 2021.

The opening game, Serbian White Eagles vs. Future Stars FC is the first semifinal for the Royal CSL Cup at Centennial Stadium in Toronto’s west end, an 8 pm kickoff on Friday, May 31, to be followed on Sunday, June 2 by the second semifinal between Scarborough and Unity FC a 6 pm kickoff at Esther Shiner Stadium in North York. The final and trophy presentation will take place on Sunday, June 9 at Esther Shiner Stadium, a 6 pm kickoff.

The CSL regular season opener will be played on Friday, June 14 going through to Sunday, September 22 at the two grounds – Centennial Stadium and Esther Shiner Stadium. The CSL Championship playoffs will follow, with the two semifinals at Esther Shiner Stadium on Saturday, September 28 to be followed by the CSL Championship Final at Centennial Stadium on Sunday, October 6, a 5 pm kickoff.

Scarborough SC and Serbian White Eagles return after being the top two teams in 2023 with Scarborough winning the league title and Serbian White Eagles the runner-up.

Scarborough won the regular season league title in 2020 and has been prominent in the playoffs by reaching the last six CSL Championship finals, winning the CSL Championship in 2019 and 2021. Serbian White Eagles won the CSL Championship in 2008 and 2016, were runners-up in 2006, 2007 and 2009 and were regular season league title winners in 2015 and 2022.

The new entries into the CSL are Future Stars FC and Unity FC. Future Stars – also known as FC Spanish Future Stars – is expected to be competitive in the CSL with its founders in Cali, Colombia and players signed from South America arriving in Canada before the kickoff on May 31. Wellington Zuca De Sousa ls the club’s head coach with Juan Mina, a permanent resident in Canada from Colombia, leading the Canadian organization. Local players in the GTA are also being scouted and the club is also establish a soccer academy for younger players.

Unity FC is also of South American influence which originates from Brazil. There will also be players and others from Mexico and Portugal. The club’s principles are president Cayo Braz, who founded the organization and club director Pietra Miglari who is largely responsible for the club’s operations, including player acquisitions both in Canada and elsewhere. “Our player signings are progressing well and we are particularly pleased with forward Ivan Flores who will wear No. 10 – he is a goal scorer from Mexico,” explained Migliari.

Commenting on the changing circumstances and games to be played, CSL president Dragan Bakoc expressed pleasure following the release of the schedule. “We again welcome two new teams into the Canadian Soccer League and also the return of two teams in what is a new era for the league in a re-building process which is intended and structured only for organizations that meet the semi-professional requirements,” he said.

Peter Kovacs continues in league operations, Les Anning the ground operations manager, Devor Kresic the co-ordinator of match officials and Stan Adamson is the corporate secretary and media official.

UNITY FC 2024

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EXPANSION TEAM UNITY FC ANNOUNCED

Unity FC has entered the Canadian Soccer League as an expansion team this coming season to kickoff the regular season during May through to the playoffs in September and the CSL Championship Final expected to be played early October.

Recently launched, the club’s roster at kickoff time will be international in nature with players from Portugal and Brazil, but also a  sprinkling of other nationalities arriving from their native countries and a number of local Canadian players selected during pre-season tryouts in Toronto.

“Welcome to Unity FC” exclaimed the team’s founder Cayo Braz when notified of the decision to accept the newly formed club into the professional CSL. “We are still a little story, but with big projections.”

Braz and club director Pietra Migliari are setting the scene with purpose in the name Unity FC and the importance of developing a culture of being unified as one  both on and off the field. “We are what we are, with harmony and respect while developing a healthy community relationship”  Braz explained. Unity FC’s other objective of being ready to make a great first run in its debut season, was also emphasized.

Unity FC is the second CSL expansion team to kickoff the 2024 season following the earlier announcement of  the addition of Spanish Future Stars FC.

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PICTURESQUE VANCOUVER A BIG WORLD CUP DRAW

Saturday, June 13, 2026 is the date Vancouverites will host their first of seven World Cup matches at BC Place with an expected attendance of 54,000. BC Place is the favourite venue for major sporting events in Vancouver, including big soccer matches such as the Women’s World Cup 2015 United States championship victory over Japan.

While the games to be played in Vancouver are not known yet, we do know that Canada will play at BC Place on Thursday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 24. There will be five group-stage games, one game from the round of 32 and one game in the round of 16 for Vancouver.

Like Toronto, Vancouver is a diverse city with more than half of the city’s population with a first language other than English and soccer has been for many years one of the favourites sports with its residents. Home to the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer and the recent interest in player Alfonso Davies’ transfer from Vancouver to one of the top clubs of the world Bayern Munich, has lifted soccer in British Columbia’s largest city to mainstream popularity and given the 2026 World Cup a greatest show on earth feel for the west coast province.

Considered one of the most picturesque cities in North America, Vancouver is expected to be a big draw with tourists from many parts of the world during the World Cup.

A total 48 teams representing six confederations will play 104 games with a kickoff date June 11, 2026. Host countries United States, Mexico and Canada qualify automatically. Toronto’s BMO Field will host six games, Vancouver seven games, 11 cities in the United States will host 78 games and Mexico will host 13 games in three cities.

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THE 2026 FIFA WORLD CUP UPDATE– Expect new motorcycles and a highly competitive fever in Canada’s largest city

At the end of the upcoming 2024 outdoor soccer season there will be just one more season to go before the 2026 World Cup games arrive in 16 North American cities, 11 of which are in the United States, three venues are in Mexico and two at Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.

A total 48 teams representing six confederations will play 104 games from a kickoff date June 11, 2026 with the opener at the well-known Azteka Stadium in Mexico City. The tournament will end on July 19 when the two finalists meet at the not so well-known MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The quarter finals will be played at Boston, Kansas City, Los Angeles and Miami, the semi-finals in Atlanta and Dallas. The bronze medal match will be held in Miami.

The national teams of the United States, Mexico and Canada qualify automatically for the World Cup finals by virtue of being the host countries. It will be Canada’s third attempt in World Cup finals, the first in Mexico in 1986 and the second at Qatar in 2022. Canada has yet to win a game in the World Cup.

The preliminary draw to decide the 32 Concacaf teams to advance to the World Cup finals was made on January 25 for games to be played in 2024 and 2025. The final round matches for the Concacaf teams will be played during the FIFA international match window of September through November 2025. Following the completion of this qualifying final round, three Concacaf group winners will go directly to the FIFA World Cup 26, joining Concacaf teams USA, Mexico and Canada. Also, the best two runners-up will represent Concacaf in the FIFA Play-off Tournament which means that in total, it is possible the Concacaf confederation could have up to record eight teams at the 2026 FIFA World Cup finals.

Toronto is the the largest city in Canada and the fourth largest city in North America with a population of almost three million and the immediate region of the Greater Toronto Area the population exceeds six million. Toronto is also one of the most diverse cities of the world and thousands of fans from throughout the world will descend on the city to create a competitive soccer fever the extent of which has not been previously experienced in Canada.

The BMO Field at Toronto and BC Place in Vancouver will be the two Canadian venues for World Cup games in Canada

The first match in the World Cup finals in Canada will be at an expanded BMO Field in Toronto on June 12 with a capacity increase to 45,000. BC Place in Vancouver will host the next two games in Canada, on June 18 and June 24. The BMO Field will host a total six games, while Vancouver will host seven games at BC Place, an extra game due to its greater capacity 54,000. The United States will host 78 games, Mexico will host 13.

Canada’s major soccer leagues, including the Canadian Soccer League, may avoid scheduling during the World Cup, or will be making changes to enable as many of the soccer community, including fans, players and staff, every opportunity to take in the games.

Hosting the games in Toronto is expected to cost $300 million. The Ontario government has pledged close to $100 million and the federal government is expected to step in as well. Toronto police have said they will require an extra $600,000 to purchase 15 new motorcycles as part of a comprehensive traffic plan to streamline the movement of the teams, FIFA officials, referees and visiting dignitaries, particularly those dignitaries classified as internationally protected people. Toronto police consider motorcycles the most effective way of facilitating movement in a busy city with its attendant traffic congestion.

NEXT – The World Cup games in Vancouver, followed by periodic updates and announcements as the information becomes available.

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THEY MADE THE GRADE…. AND MORE

While continuing to recognize and pay tribute to the more than 40 players in the Canadian Soccer League who played for their country, mostly Canada – the most recent being TFC captain Jonathan Osorio – and also those players who were not capped internationally but moved on to play at a higher level, we think of Skylar Thomas, centre back, who was signed by Charleston Battery and made seven appearances for Canada’s U-23 team, full back Dino Gardner went to Edmonton FC, made appearances for both Canada U-18 and U-20.

We think of the well-travelled forward, the diminutive Allessandro Riggi who made 48 appearances for Montreal FC, with brief stints in Portugal, Spain and Italy and is now playing with AngkorTiger in the Cambodian Premier League, the top tier of Cambodian soccer.

Stefan Vukovic, the CSL leading scorer in 2011, was selected for Canada’s U-18 and U-20 teams and gained interest in Poland, followed by seven appearances for APS Zakynthos in Greece. His most recent club was the CSL’s Brantford Galaxy during the 2016 and 2017 seasons, scoring 11 goals. He was also an assistant coach for Hamilton City.

Ashton Morgan, an impressive defender in the CSL who retired from soccer July 2023, won the MLS Cup with Toronto FC in 2017 and made nine appearances for Real Salt Lake. Morgan was capped 18 times for Canada.

And we’ll bring you more…

Allessandro Riggi

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CSL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR NAMED TFC CAPTAIN

Jonathan Osorio, the standout midfielder who won the Rookie of the Year award in the Canadian Soccer League in 2012, has now been named captain of Toronto FC.

Osorio, who was the second leading goalscorer in that CSL that debut year was given the assignment by head coach John Herdman while training with the Toronto side at Palm Beach, Florida in preparation for the upcoming 2024 MLS season which kicks off February 21. Toronto’s opening match is against NY Red Bulls on February 24 following four exhibition games starting with the first against Nashville on February 2.

Osorio, 31, Toronto-born with Colombian ancestry, played youth soccer with Brampton Youth SC during 2002 to 2005, was then signed by Clarkson Sheridan SC in 2008 to be followed by a stint in Uruguay with the Club Nacional academy in Montevideo.

Settling into a midfielder position, Osorio’s first entry into professional soccer came with Toronto SC of the Canadian Soccer League making 17 appearances and scoring 11 goals during the 2012 season. Osorio has made 71 appearances for Canada’s senior team and has a club record 341 appearances for Toronto FC.

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CSL’s POSITION ON PLAYER DEVELOPMENT

Is the Canadian Soccer League changing its long-standing and successful practice of importing players from other countries to now focus on player development at home ?

The answer is no, the CSL has never wavered in its position that the acquisition of players in a semi-professional environment belongs to the member teams. Signing a player can be on a professional registration agreement or a player can be signed as an amateur and the member club can sign a player or coach from anywhere in the world.

Many member teams have favoured importing professional players and have benefited by improved performance with increasing interest by the fans, while certain teams have searched their community for good amateurs who deserve to be in a more conventional player development environment.

Ideally, certain clubs do both with a roster of players from out of the country together with players from the local community, a blend that is often successful in becoming a strong player development environment while the amateurs play alongside and learn from the seasoned pros.

Serbian White Eagles have been one of the best examples with a procession of high level players brought from Europe, while at the same time placing young players from the local community in the professional CSL.

Serbian White Eagles was the first Canadian club to compete in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, an annual continental club competition organized by CONCACAF, the confederation that governs North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The winner of the CONCACAF Champions Cup automatically qualifies for the World Cup, however, the White Eagles were defeated early in the 1975 CONCACAF Champions Cup competition by Mexican team Monterrey. Nevertheless, the achievement was outstanding and is recognized to this day.

Serbian White Eagles became a member of the CSL in 2006 to be one of the top attractions in CSL history while signing high level players from Europe while also taking the acquisitions a step further by signing Dragoslav Secularac as head coach. Sacularac was legendary, one of the top players in Europe with 41 appearances for Yugoslavia from from 1955 to 1966. Early signings also included outstanding defender Merko Medic, recent head coach for the CSL’s Scarborough SC, and forward – mostly on the left wing – Sasa Viciknez. Nikola Budalic, now on staff for Inter Miami FC of MLS, was also one of the import players in the early days.

FC Vorkuta (now Continentals FC), Brantford Galaxy, Hamilton City and Scarborough SC are also recent clubs that were improved by signing import players.

While Canada’s soccer governance has placed its emphasis on the development of young Canadian players as a pathway for Canada being more competitive on the world stage, the CSL, which for many years was the leading professional league in Canada, has continued to bring seasoned professionals from other countries while holding a view that Canada also needs a stronger and larger professional soccer structure to improve its competitive position.

It’s now more than a decade since the Rethink Management Group, a sports consultancy organization based in San Francisco was commissioned by Canada Soccer to study and recommend a course of action that will lead to Canada being more competitive in world soccer. The Rethink Management Group was founded by James Easton who played most of his professional soccer with the Vancouver 86s following a few appearances for Tampa Bay Rowdies and Hamilton Steelers and a signing by Dundee United of Scotland. Easton failed to make the Dundee first team during his three-year contract. He made seven appearances for Canada’s senior team during the years 1987 to 1992.

The study was commissioned by Canada Soccer in 2010 with a view to improving Canada’s senior men’s team performance after reaching the World Cup finals just once, in Mexico 1986, when the team was eliminated without winning a match or scoring a goal.

The Rethink Management Group considered the Canadian Soccer League preference for importing high level players was a distraction from the domestic player development approach necessary to increase a needed skills level. The recommendations from the study led to the CSL being de-sanctioned by Canada Soccer.

The CSL has maintained a position that development of local players and the benefits obtained by bringing seasoned, experienced high level foreign players to Canada on a temporary permit can accelerate skills development.

Sasa Viciknez

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HOW MUCH PLAYER DEVELOPMENT IN THE CSL

While Canadian international Atiba Hutchinson (York Region Shooters) is the most outstanding example of a player from the Canadian Soccer League being selected for his country, there were many more, including 40 players during the three seasons 2010 to 2012. Andre Manders (York Region Shooters) and Bermuda, Adam Janssen (Brampton City United) Canada U-23, Nikola Paunic (Serbian White Eagles) Canada U-20, Odaine Demar (Capital City) Jamaica, are just a few.

“Playing for the Shooters definitely helped me get into the national team of Bermuda and probably helped me get into the starting 11,” he said at the time. “Playing here has helped me physically and mentally”.

While many member teams of the CSL have favoured searching their community for good young amateurs that deserve to be in a player development environment, many member teams have also favoured importing professional players for an immediate benefit on the field of play and improved performance which shows up in the league table.

Others have a mixed roster of players from out of the country together with players from the local community, a blend that often becomes a strong player development environment while the amateurs play alongside and learn from the seasoned pros.

In the coming days we will look even more closely at the CSL.

Nikola Paunic

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IS THE CSL CHANGING WITH PLAYER DEVELOPMENT

The CSL is changing, is what we said almost a decade ago on November 20, 2014. That was two days after the CSL’s Rookie of the Year Jonathan Osorio entered the field for Canada at 62 minutes in an international friendly against Panama, a game that ended in a scoreless tie at the Rommel Fernandez Stadium in Panama City.

Osorio was impressive in that debut 2012 season with the CSL’s Toronto SC, scoring 11 goals in 17 appearances, the second highest in the league. He was then quickly invited by Toronto FC to join the MLS team’s Toronto FC Academy.

The Toronto-born midfielder of Colombian ancestry made his debut in the Toronto FC first team on March 9, 2013 and gained his first international cap on May 23, 2013. Osorio earned his first call up to the Canadian senior team for a friendly the following week against Costa Rica.

Osorio was one of 40 CSL players to play internationally, mostly in national youth teams during a period when developing players was a desire and an overriding feature of many CSL clubs. During the period up to 2015 Toronto Croatia, Kingston FC, York Region Shooters and SC Waterloo put the strongest emphasis on developing players. During that time York Region hired Bob De Klerk, a former player, manager and coach for 10 years with the Ajax youth system before moving to North America in 2011 when he joined Toronto FC as first assistant coach.

The player development attitude paid big dividends for the Shooters when the club won the CSL Championship in 2014 and 2017 and the Second Division title with the reserve team in 2016. The First Division side was undefeated in the 1914 season, only the third time the historic achievement has occurred in the CSL.

Developing local players has faded somewhat as CSL teams move to importing players mostly from Europe, a change that brought increasing pace with the greater skills and a more attractive game for the fans.

But is there change in the works yet again ? As more players arrive from elsewhere are we paying enough attention to the development of local players ? We’ll explore that for answers in the days ahead, a heads-up as we move toward a new season.

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CSL PLAYERS ON TOP IN OFF-SEASON INDOOR TOURNAMENT

With approximately one million registered players, the game of soccer continues to be the most popular sport in Canada in terms of participation. There is also an increasing demand for the indoor game with more facilities accommodating soccer during the off season winter months for a year-round activity for many.

The Hanger, as it is known, is a longstanding spacious Toronto indoor soccer location known in earlier times a part of the Downsview air base for the Canadian Air Force and which was also for a period of time occupied by the military. its proximity to Pearson International brought an occasional commercial overseas flight mistakenly landing on the Downsview runway.

But today The Hanger is a sports centre to become newsworthy for other reasons, such as its recent soccer tournament which brought together 48 teams in a highly competitive, two-day 6 v 6 indoor competition of many high level professional players with a background of skills forged in other parts of the world and Canadian players having made the grade in North America. Many of the players are with Canada’s professional leagues during the regular season. There was one U.S.team, from Detroit.

The 48-team competition culminated with the final being played at the Hanger on December 27 when Salo United defeated Republic Athletic Elevate by a 1-0 score. The winning team was a roster of Ukrainian players from the Canadian Soccer League, while the Republic Athletic Elevate side fielded players from the Canadian Premier League and Ontario League 1.

First Touch Football Canada and Sports Leagues Canada are partners in this indoor soccer venture which is named The Classics. The success of this well attended tournament – together with a likelihood of increasingly lucrative prize money for the winners – provides much encouragement for staging it as a regular annual event. “We are also hoping to use this as momentum to further expand competitive money tournaments in the GTA,” said Josh Kohn manager of Sports Leagues Canada.

The concept of ‘money tournaments’ is more advanced over the border where TST (The Soccer Tournament) is presently launching two $1 million winner-take-all (men and women) soccer tournaments. “We are thrilled to add a third event to our portfolio and to have it be our highest stakes competition ever,” said Jon Mugar, founder and CEO of The Tournament on the company’s website. “This instantly becomes one of the highest stakes events in all of women’s sports, with the only thing standing between teams and one million dollars being four exceptional hours of soccer. This will attract some of the most talented players and clubs from around the world,” he said.

In the meantime, Yaroslav Malibo and his winning team of Ukrainian players from the CSL are on top of the world and the players will share in the modesty of $15,000, a winner’s prize that is bound to grow as similar indoor competitions take hold in Canada.

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