In 2013, the Ontario Soccer Association announced the launch of League 1 Ontario – a semi-professional league for the province and in 2014, the league had its first season. It marked the second semi-professional provincial league in Canada to be established around that time, joining the Quebec-based Première Ligue de Soccer du Québec (PLSQ) which was established in 2012. Since then, both leagues have continued to grow. The PLSQ has grown from five inaugural teams to 12, and League 1 Ontario has gone from nine inaugural teams in 2014 to an incredible 22. Last year, it was announced that British Columbia was also establishing a semi-professional league called League 1 BC, and the seven inaugural teams began their first season in 2022.
That same year, with all three leagues being of a similar level and recognized as the third tier of soccer in Canada, the inevitable happened, with the announcement of League 1 Canada, creating an alliance between the three leagues. In 2022, the inaugural season of the League 1 Canada era has been one of many positives throughout the three leagues, and while there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful for Canada’s senior national teams, the same can also be said about League 1 Canada!
League 1 British Columbia
The youngest of the three leagues, League 1 British Columbia (L1BC) has created its own path when it comes to televising its games, and it appears to be putting the league in good stead. On April 29th, L1BC announced an exclusive streaming deal with HomeTeam live that will see all L1BC men’s and woman’s games be aired on the platform, with game highlights also included in those broadcasts. L1BC announced there would be a three-tier fan engagement program – insiders, groundhoppers, and VIP. Since then, the Insider’s and Groundhoppers tiers have sold out, and L1BC has said that the VIP is also close to selling out.
On the pitch, the product has been good to watch, and we have an exciting title race in the first season. Varsity FC and TSS Rovers are only separated by three points, and both teams are already guaranteed to face each other in the L1BC men’s championship final. The men’s and women’s final will take place on August 1st, a public holiday in BC, and will hopefully be the icing on the cake for what has been a successful first season for L1BC on and off the pitch.
Room for improvement – Although this isn’t strictly a L1BC issue, BC Soccer is currently plagued with off-the-field issues, fighting over the future voting structure of the league. The issue is serious enough that Canada Soccer has threatened sanctions and possibly the suspension of all BC Soccer-sanctioned soccer, which would include L1BC. Fortunately, the season will be finished before the deadline, but it’s an issue that everyone is hoping can be dealt with sooner rather than later.
Première Ligue de Soccer du Québec
The oldest of the leagues, the PLSQ has had many notable alumni in its time, including the likes of Évelyne Viens, Gabrielle Carle, Diyaeddine Abzi, and Sam Salter. This year, goalkeeper Lemus Christopher earned an international call-up for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and CS St-Hubert midfielder Stefanie Kouzas was also called up for Guyana. It marked the fourth and fifth time that a PLSQ player had been called up to their international side, a significant feat for a semi-professional league.
Christopher’s team, CS Mont-Royal Outremont, won the PLSQ championship last year, and thus earned a spot in the 2022 Canadian Championship where they faced Forge FC of the CPL. Despite being the away team, Outremont proved to be a very frustrating outfit for Forge, and if it wasn’t for two goalkeeping errors from Gabard Fénélon, perhaps the PLSQ side could’ve held on for a draw as they proved very difficult to break down.
Domestically, this season is shaping up to be a season like non-other in Quebec. Since the inaugural 2012 season, CS Mont-Royal Outremont and A.S. Blainville have dominated the league, winning eight of ten PLSQ men’s championships between them. But this season, CS Saint-Laurent, a new team for 2022, has stormed the league and is currently in first place, six points ahead of Outremont and seven clear of Blainville. Even more surprising is that Outremont is only in the fourth spot, with FC Laval and CS Longueuil also ahead of them.
There is still plenty of time left in the PLSQ season with the last league game not being played until October, but having more teams challenging at the top than usual is an exciting development for Canada’s oldest third-tier league.
Room for improvement – It’s well known that L1BC is on Hometeam Live, and it’s well known that L1O is available to watch on youtube. PLSQ is different, however. Games aren’t as easy to find. Québefoot TV on youtube does occasionally show game highlights, but it would be nicer to have more easily obtainable game footage.
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League 1 Ontario
The largest of the three leagues, L1O has twenty-two teams in its men’s league, and this year, announced a major reconstruction of its format going forward. Starting in 2024, L1O will have promotion and relegation and be organized into three divisions. The League 2 division (where all future expansion teams will be required to play initially), the championship division, and the premier division, which will act as the top tier in League 1 Ontario – featuring twelve teams. This is significant news as promotion/relegation is more or less non-existent in North American soccer, giving L1O more of a European model instead.
This season, the league has had some significant happenings also. German giants Borussia Dortmund struck a deal with Waterloo United that would see the two clubs be affiliated, and see the Waterloo side be relaunched as BVB International Academy Waterloo in a deal that will commit Borussia Dortmund to develop the local players and coaches.
L1O 2021 winners Guelph United got to play CPL opposition in this year’s Canadian Championship, but unlike Outremont, they were drawn at home. Against HFX Wanderers, a crowd of 1,700 was in attendance at Alumni Stadium in a game that, despite the result (2-0 HFX), was a fantastic advert for the Canadian soccer pyramid.
Attendance has also been a big story in Peterborough. Newcomers Electric City has made their intent very clear that they want to be a big team in L1O and there have even been some CPL expansion rumblings surrounding the organization. This year, they broke the attendance record for both League 1 Ontario women’s and men’s games.
While L1BC games have been exclusively aired on HomeTeam live, L1O have opted to upload their games (including reserve games) on YouTube, even including a live-streamed game of the week. Viewing figures for L1O have often been around the 1,000 mark. The league has also advertised itself with the help of the CPL, setting up doubleheaders in which teams have played home games on the same day in the same stadium as CPL teams Forge FC and York United, giving fans of those CPL teams an opportunity to watch L1O games for free. This has also proven to be popular and is something that we can hopefully expect to see replicated in the PLSQ and L1BC.
Room for improvement – Electric City has been making waves off and on the pitch this season, but in a women’s game against Simcoe County Rovers, an Electric City fan used a racial slur towards Simcoe goalkeeper, Yazmeen Jamieson. Electric City acted pretty quickly afterwards and admittedly, the room for improvement here is for the Electric City fan, who should very much know better.
With the creation of League 1 Canada, talk almost inevitably went to the possibility of an interprovincial championship to decide an overall League 1 Canada champion. That became a reality this July, when League 1 Canada announced a 2022 women’s Interprovincial Championship between the winners of L1BC, winners of L10, and the top two teams in PLSQ.
The games will be played in Laval, Quebec, and will even be televised on One Soccer. A men’s Interprovincial Championship also looks set to launch in 2023, which will give soccer fans in Canada exactly what they want, as we will see the best of the best face off.
Room for improvement – Okay, time to be greedy. An Interprovisional Championship involving Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia is great, but we want to see more. There have been rumours of more provincial League 1’s in the future, most notably in Atlantic Canada and in the prairies. Having League 1 Canada be present in every province would be amazing for the sport at that level, and by putting teams in as many communities as possible, it will help even more in making Canadians everywhere feel like Soccer is their sport.
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