League1 Ontario Men’s: Late Drama in Final Weekend
The final weekend of the League1 Ontario Men’s Division regular season took place over the last weekend. There was drama teed up for the final matches as teams jockeyed for playoff positions, seeding, and the fight against relegation.
Here is a look back at what happened and what the results meant. Moreover, an eye on to Wednesday’s playoffs, too!
Simcoe County Rovers takes advantage of Vaughan Azzurri slipup, finishes second
The first spot of note to battle is the first round bye for the second place team. Going into the weekend, defending champions Vaughan Azzurri, as well as Simcoe County Rovers, were in contention for the spot.
Simcoe County played first, facing Alliance United away. Alliance was also playing for something (more on that later), making the match all the more fascinating. Yet, the away team was not to be denied, scoring the only goal of the game just before half-time. The result put them into second place going into Sunday’s deciding action.
Like Rovers, Vaughan also had a difficult match, hosting playoff hopefuls Burlington SC. Needing a win to reclaim second spot, the home side took the lead via a penalty. Not even a minute later, Burlington went down to ten men.
While many would have thought Vaughan would have went on to win easily, Burlington did not give up, scoring just before the break and again right after to turn the game around. The visitors held on, winning 2-1 away despite being a man down.
As a result, Simcoe County Rovers jumped over Vaughan Azzurri at the death, finishing second, and claiming the other first round bye. They will host the higher-ranked team to win in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.
Final playoff spots: three hopefuls win, yet one misses out
Burlington SC, Guelph United, Electric City, and Alliance United went into the final round of fixtures hoping to take one of the final two playoff spots. Two of them played on Saturday, the other two on Sunday.
Electric City kicked off first, heading to Windsor to battle Windsor City FC. Unsurprisingly, the away team scored two goals in each half to take home a convincing 4-0 success. It put them in the playoff spot for the time being, needing other results to go their way.
Alliance United needed a win to maintain their playoff hopes. As mentioned earlier, they fell 1-0 to Simcoe County Rovers in a closely-contested match. Thus, they lost out on postseason football despite two of the other games not being played.
Guelph United was next to play, welcoming the ProStars and needing a win to assure themselves a top six spot. At this point, a draw would have seen them watching Burlington’s match hoping for them to slip up. The game became quite difficult for Guelph, who twice took the lead only to be pegged back. Yet, last season’s semi-finalists were not to be denied, scoring a free kick on the last play of the game to prevail 3-2. It also saw them clinch a playoff berth.
Burlington played last, knowing they needed a win to enjoy postseason football for the first time. A win by six goals or more would see them pass last year’s finalist Blue Devils FC to earn a home playoff game. As previously stated, they came from a goal down – and with ten men – to top Vaughan Azzurri 2-1.
In the most dramatic of fashion, Burlington and Guelph United won the final playoff places, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Electric City and Alliance ended up just missing out, with the former agonizingly doing so despite winning.
Going into the League1 Ontario playoffs, regular season champions Scrosoppi FC and the Simcoe County Rovers will both enjoy a first round bye. Vaughan will host Guelph United, while Blue Devils battle Burlington. Both quarterfinals will take place on Wednesday, with the semi-finals set for the weekend.
Hamilton United steals final place in League1 Ontario Premier for 2024
In what was the game of the weekend, Hamilton United Elite traveled to Woodbridge to face Woodbridge Strikers. In a winner-take-all game, the home side needed a win to pass their opponents and earn the final spot in L1O Premier Division next year. Any other result would see Hamilton claim the place.
Knowing they needed the result, Woodbridge dominated the first half, creating several chances. They were rewarded for their progressive play, ultimately taking the lead in the 32nd minute via a penalty. They were in control of the game going into halftime.
The second half was a mirror image of the first, with Hamilton United now putting all the pressure on the home team. They tried as hard as they could to score the goal that would keep them in the division. Seven minutes from time, they did exactly that: a stunning free kick broke Woodbridge hearts, as Hamilton United held on for a 1-1 draw.
The result keeps Hamilton in the League1 Ontario Men’s Premier Division going into the new system that will adopt promotion and relegation. The draw also saw Woodbridge drop to the L1O Championship, where they will play in 2024.
With the playoffs to being Wednesday, the only thing left to be decided is the league’s representative in the 2024 Canadian Championship. That will be awarded to the L1O playoff winner, with the final taking place on September 2 at the Ontario Soccer Centre.