London soccer teams join elite

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Canadian soccer continues to plow its way toward a better development plan for players and London will be along for the ride.

Ontario Soccer determined that both FC London Academy and London Youth Whitecaps have met the requirements needed to join the elite Ontario Player Development League, a standards based league that’s part of the player development pathway.

Members in the OPDL must follow strict standards of training and development.

“This is really exciting,” said Ian Campbell, the head of FC London. “We’ve had a couple of false starts and didn’t get there. It’s that pathway that Canadian soccer has identified as the pathway to provincial and national teams. If you look at the rosters of any of the teams being selected … the majority of players are coming out of clubs that have OPDL clubs.

“It means now we are playing against the best of the best. If you want to play at the highest level, this is where you have to be.”

The OPDL Whitecaps will be called Whitecaps London.

“It’s a huge step forward for us to bring our programs to the next level,” said Mike Ayyash, technical director for Whitecaps London. “Competing against teams outside of our district and regions is something that we need to keep the players at the edge of the game.”

The Whitecaps are in their third year of operation in London.

“A lot of people here and in Vancouver have worked a long time to make this happen” Ayyash said. “It wasn’t a straightforward process. It wasn’t simple but we are very excited to get this reward.

“The hard work begins now because it was hard enough to get into this program, meet all the standards and show that we are a progressive club that cares about the players in the Soccer Canada and Ontario Soccer pathway but as a pro club we want to see players reach their maximum potential.”

As for an eventual expansion to League1 Ayyash said they will first concentrate on developing their minor players before deciding to add another level.

“Our first interest is building up the foundation in southern Ontario with young players,” he said. “We do have a lot of long-term vision and short-term visions. Our short-term vision to come in and establish a top professional level academy . . . We’re still building that process. But now that we have a foothold in the OPDL we have a way to progress these players to the next level of competition.”

FC London also has a League1 team and in order for the FC London to be granted that League1 franchise two years ago, they needed to establish an OPDL stream for that League1 team.

“For us this is a natural extension of what we have now,” Campbell said.

With both FC London and the Whitecaps earning their way into the OPDL there will be a competition for the best players. But it will also mean that players who were going elsewhere to play at the OPDL level have the option of remaining in London.

“Naturally every parent wants their child to be in an environment when they can get good exposure, good training, good skills development and good social development,” Campbell said. “That’s what we really want to do. We’ve already got kids from London driving to Burlington so they can play OPDL. So this will be a chance for them to do it locally and take advantage of club atmosphere that we’ve got and be able to get the best of both worlds.”

The OPDL has been operating for four years and now has filled its age-levels. It runs teams from U13 to U16. All the new clubs admitted this year will start at U13 and will add a team a year until they’ve filled all the age groups.

Campbell said the process took longer than his organization had hoped but he believes having a team at the League1 level helped.

“We’ve established ourselves as a powerhouse in Ontario Soccer and certainly the success of our League1 team, specifically the women, has really raised the profile of our club and more importantly London soccer in general,” he said.

Also admitted to the OPDL were Brampton Youth, Cambridge Youth SC, Cumberland SC, Tecumseh SC, Toronto High Park FC, Waterloo Minor SC and Woodbridge SC.

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