May 2, 2015 League 1 Ontario--Preview of Woodbridge Strikers (from League 1 Ontario website)
Woodbridge Strikers - 2015 Season Preview . Sat May 2 Who are the Woodbridge Strikers? Woodbridge Strikers represent the long-standing Woodbridge club, which is much like Vaughan Azzurri in the longstanding reputation the club has within the community for producing top level players. The rivalry between the two Vaughan/ Woodbridge clubs goes back decades, and represents one of the league's best derbies. In 2014, the Strikers had an excellent group of talented players, but struggled in the early going to develop consistency. As the season drew on, however, the Strikers found their range and went on a run that clearly demonstrated they were one of the top clubs in the division. For 2015, the club can rely on a strong, experienced core of returning players, a deep list of youth products coming up through the club, and a very highly respected technical staff. In short, the Strikers will have the steadiness and assurance that stability of structure and continuity of personnel and philosophy will bring to a squad. With some key additions also in the works, the Strikers can shoot for the stars if they get a good early start. What they're saying: "We had a slow start last year, but that could be justified because we had a number of new players and it takes time to get chemistry when you have a new team," said Woodbridge Technical Director and men's head coach Peter Pinizzotto. "I think TFCA have a bit of an advantage in that respect because many of the players would already be in the academy, but we had a slow start because of new players and we got into training camp a little late. However, I would say that near the end we probably had one of the best teams. Once the group got to know each other a bit more, and began to click on the field, we really began to pick it up." "This year we are adding three or four new players to the team, and pretty much the entire core is returning so we should be able to rely on that chemistry. That will help a lot. I think we needed those two or three additions though, and they will make a difference. I have also seen a large number of players coming out on trial, and the quality is higher – the competition is stronger. We will have to see when we make a final decision, but I feel that our team will be even stronger than last year." "We are not a professional club, so we are interested in developing our players carefully over time, and using our experienced players to do that. TFC, as a professional club, have a responsibility to develop their younger players and see if they can progress to the first team. If they can't, in their model they would need to release the player, whereas we would look to develop all of our talent with a view towards League1 being the top level." What did the Woodbridge Strikers do in off-season? The Strikers maintained focus on their returning core in the off-season, which has resulted in a well-trained, disciplined group that has chemistry and experience on their side. The return of well-esteemed head coach Peter Pinizzotto will clearly add to that sense of stability, and Pinizzotto has added a number of important parts to the team, both experienced and youthful. What they're saying: "The whole reason we put the League1 team in place, and stuck with the men's team in the OSL, was to gradually bring through youth players to the senior level. This year we will also have a team in the OSL Provincial U21 division, so we will place most of our U18s there, and League1 too. Of course, we have our youth program beginning from six years old, so we structure our program in a way where we can develop the complete athlete from a young age all the way through to League1. We do have the reserve team in the top senior level of the OSL, and we enter the Ontario Cup too. The whole idea with the OSL and the U21 is to prepare the kids to eventually make the jump into League1. I think it's pretty similar at Vaughan, in that way. The whole thing is to develop players and be able to offer them a complete pathway through to League1, which is the highest level we have here in Ontario. The various levels at the top, and with the youth levels behind that, is a typical club structure." "We're different than ANB, Sigma, even TFC, for example, because they don't bring in guys that are 22, 23 years old. They are only going up to 17, 18, scholarship level, where we would look to mix those age level players in with more experienced players, on a trial type basis. I think as academies Sigma and ANB, for example, would look to rely on their young products, while we bring them through for an appearance to try the level but don't rely upon them." Key Strikers' players? A majority of last year's core returns to the Strikers for 2015, with a couple notable exceptions. Due to his pedigree after playing professionally in Italy for a decade, and his natural ability to find the net, striker Julian Uccello will leave a very big hole in the squad as he departs. Fellow forward Nick Chiarot is also out of the squad for the time being, after suffering an injury in a recent trial. But Pinizzotto is keen to point out a number of quality additions, some of the professionally experienced type, and talented youth products that have been brought through the Woodbridge system. What they're saying: "The three or four that we are adding to the team bring great pedigree, with some fantastic experience abroad and even at the NASL level in North America. The guys that we are adding will be a little more experienced as well, not youth products. In some cases the experienced players come thinking that this is full professional league, with wages, but we are not quite there yet. I think they do need to get some expenses paid at this level, and more perhaps, and that will be the next step for us and other clubs with a similar focus – the transition to semi-professional at least." "It's not like our players sign contracts here because of course we are not dealing with money, but the guys who have been coming out and we are expecting to return would be: Oscar Cordon – he was a big player for us last year; Frank Lo Presti is a big-time player for us and we're hoping he will be back; Christian Cavaillini, another young player at 19 or 20 years old, and I'm looking for him to come back; there is also Stephen Almeida, another young player that we expect to come back. Matt George, our starting goalkeeper and a second star from last year, is also returning. I would say 70-80 per cent of the players are returning, which is the main reason I think we will have a better start. " "We are probably losing Julian Uccello, a very good striker that can score, as he is coming from very high level professional experience, and the unpaid amateur nature of this level wasn't ideal. Again, this step into professional is one that would make a big difference going forward. We lost Nick Chiarot, who was on trial with TFC and tore his ACL, so he is likely to be out for a while. There are a lot of players coming back. We have lost a couple, but should be able to replace them to some degree." "Some of our younger players coming up though would be '97s, like Adam La Franco, Nasi Uccelli, and some '98s that we're looking at, so there are a number of young guys in our club that we are keeping an eye on. They also train with the first team during the week, and that is an attribute of our youth program. They can train with our higher levels, and it motivates them. You can see the motivation in them now, because they know at 17 that they can go and play with the 20 year olds, or the senior men in the OSL. You can see them in practice with the older guys, their intensity rises and their discipline improves because I think they want to prove themselves to the older ones. I think this format gets the best out of the 17 year old players that are trying to make it to higher-levels." Ideal outcome for Woodbridge in 2015 League1 Ontario season? "I'm sure that everyone in the league will play to win the league. For us, after last year, I won't say we are going to finish first but we are going to compete and look to win it. What I think is just one thing, and we have yet to show it on the field. We haven't played a lot of exhibition games, and as you know all the pieces need to fall into place, so although we may be stronger on paper the question becomes how quickly we can come together as a group. I think if we do that early enough, we can fight to be top three at least." "I think that teams that did not do well last year, will be better this year – they will not be worse, they will benefit from the experience and will be much better. Teams that were only two or three players away from the right mix will have found those players, and will be better as well. Overall, I think the league will be much stronger." "I think TFC and Vaughan will be very strong again, of course, and I liked what I saw from Sigma in the early part of last year. Kingston has made some interesting moves, and I think they will look much stronger. I don't know too much about the new teams, but I think every team that was in there last year will be much stronger. I think everyone will be a competitor this year, and that speaks well of the league, which is only in its second year after all."
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