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Canadian Premier League Academy

History In The Making: Two CPL Academies Will Face Eachother Tonight

By on August 4, 2023 0 3490 Views

When the sun sets at Dalhousie University’s Wickwire Field this evening, Canadian Premier League history will have quietly been made.

Tonight will see two Canadian Premier League Academy sides clash for the first time, with the York United Academy taking on the Halifax Wanderers Academy to open up their Canada Youth Cup account (and yes, there’s a stream).

The Nine Stripes announced the arrival of their high-performance academy last year. It stemmed from the combined vision of longtime sports science entrepreneur and coach Mark Di Cristofaro and York United Club President Angus McNab, both of whom were linked through their ties with the Baldassarra Family.

York United Academy
Photo Credit: Cloud North Visuals

The United Academy isn’t a small potatoes initiative, either: each of its age groups train up to five times per week, and its U-18 OSL side plays aged-up opponents in the provincial division. It’s not for everyone, nor does it try to be – though it isn’t exactly a ‘turn pro or bust’ initiative, either. Rather, York United wanted to help launch something a little different than what the local soccer landscape was providing.

“It was about looking at what are the structures that are in place, and there’s some phenomenal programs like IModel and League1 through the likes of Ontario Soccer, but there’s not a one size fits everyone,” says McNab.

“For some kids and some parents, they wanted more contact time. They wanted different kinds of training and general athletic development where some of the rules that sit around OPDL and various other leagues make it a challenge. So we put together a program that we felt was going to challenge the guys and took input from people all over who have ‘been there’, from our coaching staff and through our building who are vastly experienced around the world.”

The result is a collection of youth teams from the U-10 to U-19 bracket who play in a variety of competitions, and an academy system which is set to help make Canadian Premier League history tomorrow in Nova Scotia. While it’s just year one for the academy, this isn’t its first tournament rodeo.

York United Academy
Photo Credit: Denys Rudenko

“We’ve driven progress – we’ve exposed the CPL to some parts where people didn’t know what it was about,” adds Di Cristofaro, who saw the academy travel to the Bardolino Champions Cup in Italy this year, and then saw them granted direct entry into the UEFA-sanctioned Champions League Cup, while the U-12s will head to Portugal this fall. Even at home, the academy got a rousing speech from Doneil Henry ahead of an Ontario Cup match against Woodbridge right at YLS.

“They’re being challenged and they’re putting themselves up against world class academies,” continued Mark. In the higher age brackets, the academy has proven fruitful even for those who aren’t on a direct pathway to professional football: six academy players have earned college acceptances, while others have earned trials abroad even ahead of this weekend’s Canada Youth Cup.

As a result, the York United Academy will be playing without a few of its athletes who are now testing themselves in Europe, like key cog Matthew Carvalheiro in Portugal and Mohammad Chakrou in the Czech Republic. That’s par for the course, however, and the squad lead by head coach Alex Liugori will be a mixture of athletes from its U-18 and U-17 squads as a result.

York United Academy Training
Some players have also trained with the York United first team.

“We put a lot of pressure on them, we asked a lot of them, and we demand a lot,” admits Mark, who says it’s so that the academy can bring them new opportunities. This week he helped secure a partnership with recently-promoted Serie A side Genoa FC, who will be taking in a few youngsters to train and will be holding a talent ID Camp on Canadian soil next year.

“There’s opportunities for different pathways,” adds McNab. “Through this right now, which is a private club partnership that we’ve developed, we’ve just presented phenomenal opportunities for kids, be it our youngest age group traveling to Italy and performing exceptionally in the Bardolino Cup, to now this in Halifax.”

One of the big differences between the approaches of York United and the Halifax Wanderers is that York has leaned young with its high-performance academy, with a current U-10 to U-19 age bracket, while the Wanderers have taken a more direct approach to the near-first-team age brackets of U-18 and U-23. It’s the former in the tournament, with Halifax’s Ontario Youth Cup squad featuring new Wanderers development recruit Yorgos Gavas.

All-told, The United Academy will face stiff competition from not just the Halifax Wanderers, but also FC Laval, FC Manitoba, and New Brunswick’s own FC Codiac.

“We’re about trying to help kids improve, challenging them, putting them in as much of a competitive environment as we can,” says McNab of the initiative. “Then it’s on the kids to respond and for us to support them as best we can, so it’s been it’s something I’m very, very proud of.”

York United Academy
Photo Credit: Denys Rudenko

What comes next remains to be seen: this has been a big learning year for the United Football Academy, which now boasts 105 aspirational youngsters amongst in ranks. With the U-10 to U-19 age bracket currently covered and more international tournaments on the way, with Mark also mentioning that the academy has thrown its hat into the ring for the vacant League1 Ontario expansion spot opened up by Pickering FC, too.

What that might ultimately entail remains to be seen, but for those pushing upwards towards professional opportunity, it’d offer a very direct link with ties to York United – and, for the club, potentially a chance to reignite its hopes of helping to field a women’s team, too. They’ve also applied to the York Region Soccer Association to field teams in that jurisdiction next season.

In the meantime, fans can look forward to an all-CPL Academy clash streamed live at no cost – not bad for a league which launched into a brave new world just five years ago. In another five years, there might be more of that – York United and the Halifax Wanderers are pioneering new ways to involve younger demographics, and that’s a good thing.

“This week is a great moment in the short history of CPL,” concludes McNab. “It’s not just us – we’re not playing a bunch of ghosts. Halifax have done a decent job putting this together as well, and committing something that’s meaningful for them, and aspirational in the Maritimes as well.”

Interested fans can watch the match free on YouTube at 7:45PM EST tonight by clicking here.

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