The Canadian Soccer League, Canada's Third Division professional league with 13 teams in Ontario and Quebec, continues to deliver on their promised course of providing a new level of player development to young players interested in pursuing the sport at their highest level.
In a press release issued last week the CSL announced that beginning this November, the league will operate an indoor program that will have teams in four divisions from U12 – playing 9 vs 9 football – and U14, U16 and U18 – playing 11 vs 11 – playing a match each week until April, when there will be a break before resuming play with an outdoor season. Not only will the program provide much needed year round play, coaching and administration will also be at a high professional standard.
“The CSL Youth Development System is intended to be more than just somewhere to play,” said Domenic Di Gironimo, commissioner of the CSL. He added, “Canadian soccer should be producing many more good young players from the ever-increasing number of registrations across the country,”
Di Gironimo has been pushing hard for his league and individual franchise owners to step up and take an active part in advancing the higher interests of soccer in the communities in which they operate. For the first time, this current season, all league member clubs became required to establish relationships of co-operation and working relationships with the youth soccer clubs operating in their franchise area.
This first CSL initiative is already showing dividends. Earlier this spring I attended at a Milton, Ontario ceremony where a working agreement between CSL’s newest member Milltown FC and Milton Youth Soccer Club was officially signed. There was a large turnout of enthusiastic youth players, the town’s Mayor, as well as administrative members of the CSL, town youth and new professional club. More important than the signing of a piece of paper on that day was an identifying bond with the community.
The CSL’s Milltown FC, under coach Rafael Carbajal clearly went out of their way to assure they had a young team representative of the quality players available in Milton and other communities in the surrounding area. The historic first goal ever scored in league play came from the foot of a local 18 year old, Eros Olazabal – who went to high school at Bishop Reding, Milltown’s home field – on a pass from his brother Erik. As of this past weekend and thirteen games into the season, Milltown FC’s approach is holding up. They lead the league on 7 wins, 4 draws and only 2 loses and although league attendance figures are scarce, the team appeared to be doing ok at the box office on the occasions this reporter attended matches.
Team President Dino Rossi told Examiner, "Milltown FC strongly supports the concept of an integrated youth development system and we are pleased that our partners in the CSL feel the same way. It is imperative that a professional club takes a hands-on role in the development of young players in our communities."
Rossi continued, "We are working on a long term player development program that we hope to begin implementing over the next 5-6 months, in conjunction with our community club affiliate, Milton Youth SC. We will offer local players a Professional Development program that will provide them with the opportunity to achieve their full potential without leaving their home community. We also see this as an opportunity to nurture a serious soccer culture among local youth players. We want these players to feel connected to Milltown FC, to aspire to one day play for our club and, for the very best athletes, to see Milltown FC as a pathway to a fully professional career in soccer, and maybe even as a pathway to possibly representing Canada at the international level".
Those are some heady objectives, but Rossi is representative of precisely what league commissioner Di Geronimo has in mind for all the league.
The league news release written by Media Relations chief Stan Adamson goes on to explain:
Recent discussions with CSA National Teams’ scouting staff centered on improving the role of CSL coaches in identifying athletes, and creating a formalized link between the two organizations. The CSL intends to work with the OSA and other provinces to establish a similar relationship to assist with the development of players for Provincial Teams.
CSL league administrator Pino Jazbec, who will oversee the CSL’s year-round program, will have the new league operating both indoor and outdoor competitions, boys and girls, young men and young women. The year-round program is intended to address the longstanding criticism from high level coaches that compared to most other countries, the Canadian outdoor season is too short.
This initiative is a good step in the right direction for one small part of the country, but what about the rest? The Canadian Soccer League has been talking, even throwing out feelers for several years on the theme of expanding nation wide. It would do wonders for the question of national player development, but it would all be financed from personal investor pockets. The CSA, who would be a major benefactor will do little more than offer sanctioning and give direction. So can that work?
Milltown’s Dino Rossi is cautious. “I believe that the CSL model can be exported throughout Canada under the right conditions but we (Milltown) would prefer to see the CSL take a patient approach to expansion outside our present core market (Ontario and Quebec). We need to make sure our core territory is as strong as possible before we take a quantum leap because if we don't get it right, it is unlikely we would get a 2nd chance.”
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IS THIS THE KIND OF INITIATIVE CANADA NEEDS TO BETTER DEVELOP OUR YOUNG TALENT? CAN THE CSL MODEL WORK RIGHT ACROSS CANADA?