Exclusive: League1 Canada’s Dino Rossi On Growing The Game From Coast-To-Coast
This interview touches on football at the League1 level across the country.
On Thursday, Northern Tribune had an exclusive interview over the phone with League1 Canada commissioner Dino Rossi. Topics discussed included how things are developing across the country for the future. Each of the regions were brought up, along with some thoughts on the L1 Canada as a whole, its future, and finally the pro-am clubs’ future in the Canadian Championship.
For this article, each part of the interview will be made known, with several key pieces of information being made aware.
On League2 Ontario applications
The first question was around how applications are going for League2 Ontario, the third tier of the league’s multi-levelled restructuring that will kick off in 2024. According to Rossi, nearly 50 clubs put their names forward in that first stage.
This stage was just an initial letter of intent, however. Next comes the second phase, where about half of those teams have re-applied.
“We have moved on to the next stage where clubs had to put in a formal letter of intent as well as make an application fee. That process saw us receive 20 applications, or letters of intent,” says Rossi on this second phase of applications.
While the interest in the league is ‘very, very exciting,’ it was made clear that not all 20-plus teams will be admitted into League2 Ontario. There is not what he described as ‘a firm number of clubs that will be admitted because the league wants to give everyone a fair shot.’
The lack of available referees was listed as a limitation as to how many teams will be part of League2 Ontario, which will also feature B teams from the League1 Ontario Premier division.
From here, regarding the applications, “the ops team is beginning the second wave of calls and interviews with these prospective applicants before they are required to put their formal application in by the end of March.” After that is where the evaluation committee goes through the remaining applications and the board makes a decision on who will join L2O.
The clear thing from this is that there is a ton of interest to join the League1 Ontario umbrella, which was also evident before and during the pandemic. As a result, this should hardly act as a surprise to anyone that so many clubs are putting their name forward.
Format of League1 Ontario’s divisions
While the exact promotion and relegation numbers from both gendered league systems are being confirmed, Rossi did confirm that there will indeed be 12 teams in L1O Premier men’s, while ten teams will partake in L1O Premier women’s as well as L1O Championship across both genders.
Those are the same numbers that had been proposed when Rossi’s 2024 plan was first revealed.
There is a possibility that for 2025 only, promotion and relegation between L1O Championship men’s and L2O could differ from to the original plan, however:
“There is a possibility that we might move off from our original plan of only seeing one team promoted to the L1O Championship [read: the second tier]. We might perhaps consider for the first year only having two teams promote. So we could have 12 and 12 in the top two tiers from the 2025 season,” suggests Rossi.
This is currently being spoken about by some of the league’s license holders, with an official word on that front coming in the off-season. What can be assured is that in L1O Premier and L1O Championship divisions, the teams will meet each other home and away. There was no word yet on how the playoffs would work, though it is possible that it would be similar to the status quo.
League1 Quebec Expansion And Promotion/Relegation
Earlier this week, an interview was conducted with a member from Quebec Soccer where questions were asked about the league’s interest and the potential of promotion and relegation coming to La Belle Provence.
When asked about whether pro/rel is somewhere in the near future in Quebec, Rossi pointed out that there are differences in operations between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.
“They make their rules for their league,” said the L1 Canada commissioner. “It’s just a matter of time, I would say that before there would be some kind of expansion process through the creation of a second tier perhaps,” adding that doing so ‘gives a foundation from which to grow on our sport, which is exploding.’
League1 BC update
Back in late March of 2022, it was stated that there were multiple clubs expressing interest in joining League1 BC in 2023. In the end, Harbourside FC became the league’s first and currently only expansion club. When asked on the potential for more expansion in British Columbia, Rossi stated that the league had not shared with League1 Canada if they’re going to yet, or whether they’re going to make a call for expansion for the 2024 season.
Despite the lack of information on that front, it was reaffirmed that ‘if they do expand, [League1 Canada] will be there to support them.’ While there is a hope for BC to start implementing reserve teams like Ontario and Quebec, Rossi says that’s a BC Soccer decision for when they’re ready for such.
Update On Talks Surrounding League1 Alberta/Prairies
Last week, Northern Tribune broke some news on an update surrounding a potential League1 Prairies. This was brought up with Rossi, who confirmed that plans being set in place to start a pro-am league in the Prairies.
“There is no doubt that there is interest amongst some of the leading clubs in Alberta to see League1 planting a flag in the Prairies. There is interest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well.”
It is worth noting that Rossi included both Saskatchewan and Manitoba in this conversation. He added that there is “overwhelming interest,” confirming reports from last week. He also said to ‘watch this space’ as L1 Canada continues to ‘work diligently to see a League1 emerge in Western Canada.’
When asked whether Alberta would have its own league separate from the other provinces mentioned, Rossi did admit the concerns from a geographical standpoint.
“Western Canada is big, and travel distances are, are definitely consideration and challenge,” he adds. “You know, in the Western Hockey League, which is a completely different beast, of course, you have travel from Manitoba all the way to BC.”
However, the commissioner and his colleagues are still set to look at it a grouping of provinces until there comes a team when they have a reason to look at it as something else.
Closer to the end of his remark, Rossi did say that, if there is enough teams and enough players of quality, they could split the leagues into an Alberta league and a Saskatchewan/Manitoba league, allowing them to reduce the travel obligations for clubs.
Yet, that is far away from now, where he is just going to ‘take it day by day, see how things line up.’ He concluded saying he “looks forward to being the first ever L1 match played in Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan.”
Talks On A Potential League1 Atlantic
The only region that has received little to no updates regarding League1 Canada expansion is in Eastern Canada. When asked about where things are on that front, Rossi states that he is still ‘working quite actively to share information with interested parties with the provincial soccer organizations in the Atlantic region.’
No timeframe was given, with Rossi himself intending to be in the Atlantic region soon to make some presentations for interested parties. There is also confidence that there will be a League1 Atlantic, which ‘will be sooner than later’.
The main takeaway based on his response is that the league is ‘making some strong progress towards getting in front of interested parties and answering their questions’, a key first stage. He hopes that this will lead towards more formal interest from those parties.
The Future Of League1 Canada
One of the major topics of interest from this interview was where League1 Canada would be going over the short-to-medium-term. One goal, per Rossi, is to turn the inter-provincial championship into the most prestigious trophy at this level in this country. While the league enjoyed the first edition of the tournament played last year, they ‘learned some things that they want to do better and different.’
There is also an aim to try and align the leagues more so that they finish closer together rather than months apart. This is more prevalent in the mens’ divisions, where in 2022 Leageu1 BC finished at the start of August, while League1 Ontario concluded in September and PLSQ ended off in October.
Along with that, there are also hopes to bring in national sponsors and partners, as well as improved broadcast of League1 Canada matches. With each province ‘doing their own thing between live streaming and whatnot,’ it is something Rossi wants to improve upon in the future.
“The need to have the financial heft, in order to be able to afford to produce and distribute high quality seeds of our games across this country, is crucial in this perspective.”
With all of that said, Rossi still intends on staying ‘respectful of regional realities and traditions,’ though there is an aim to align the general business practiced throughout all of League1 Canada’s partners.
Rossi ended his response by stating that the first year working with all the leagues was very good.
“We are all learning how and where we can work together better. There’s great communication and cooperation at the moment, but it’s only going to get better.”
League1 Canada in the Canadian Championship
To cap off the interview, the final question was about the League1 Canada teams competing with the country’s professional teams in the Canadian Championship. With Vaughan Azzurri, FC Laval, and TSS Rovers all prepared to partake in this year’s edition, the question that begged to be asked is, will there be a day where all of League1 Canada’s teams can compete at the same time rather than just one per division?
In order for that to happen, says Rossi, it would require a significant change in the rules that govern how matches need to be delivered for the Canadian Championship. Regarding the L1C teams currently participating, it requires a lot to even get them on the field for those matches, particularly home games. The calendar is also an issue, with the tournament needing to be wrapped up by August ‘because of CONCACAF rules,’ of course referring to qualification for the region’s Champions League.
In order for all of League1 Canada’s teams to participate, Rossi pointed out that the competition would have to commence ‘the year before and lowering the standard for hosting significantly.’ As we are not near that stage yet, the L1C clubs’ participation is quoted to be a ‘massive financial undertaking.’
Remaining positive, however, he did feel that the tournament is going to grow as a result from the CPL’s expected future growth. He did also propose that there could ‘be an appetite to see a few more representatives from the pro-am leagues.’
The commissioner likes the current format and would not want Canada Soccer to lower its standard too much, but, rest assured, ‘we are still ways away from that either being a topic of conversation,’ concluded Rossi.