AN O(SO BEAUTIFUL)YSL CHAMPIONSHIP!
One night, in a dusty, old high school gym in the dead of one of the coldest, longest, Winters in Windsor history, the coach of the U17 Windsor Nationals, Mike Pio and his assistant Art Ussoletti were beginning one of their first of many soccer training sessions knowing that preparation would be key for the season they were about to embark upon. The players slowly trickled in to the gym and went through the routines but the coaches were less than excited as they watched their out-of-shape players practice and questioned how they would fare in the highest level youth soccer league in Ontario that coming summer. But the boys being boys – well, they were nothing but very excited to show their stuff!
As many teams in the past from the district club have aspired to achieve, the Under17 Windsor Nationals finished their 2013 season deservedly in first in the level three Western Ontario Soccer League last year excited to be promoted to the highest level of soccer in Ontario, the OYSL (Ontario Youth Soccer League) or Level One as it is also referred. Once in Level One, the goal of our teams is simply to finish with enough points to avoid relegation. But because of the strength of the predominantly Toronto-based teams, Windsor only rarely achieves this goal and often is relegated back down to level three. The pressure and challenge was on for this team as they had been identified as one of club’s more talented groups to pass through during the past few years.
The stage was set at the season opening kick-off weekend in Toronto in early May when the Windsor Nationals were set to play Ottawa United – a powerhouse team from an internationally recognized club who hadn’t lost a game in the league in two years. The Nationals quickly showed onlookers that they were indeed ready to play at the level defeating Ottawa 1-0 with a very strong showing throughout that game and surprising everyone (but themselves!) there.
The next day, Windsor had to play a newly promoted team with much to prove, the Cataraqui Clippers, whom they easily dismantled 5-1. The coaches and parents were excited to drive back to Windsor 2-0. But there was a cost for the two-win weekend as their star goaltender Michele Catani was injured and suffered a concussion keeping him out of the line-up for the next six weeks. Catani’s teammates, however, stepped up to the challenge, filling in for him and continuing the team’s unbeaten streak to a 4-0 record.
There were a few bumps and roadblocks along the way but the season was winding down quickly and they were quickly realizing they had a chance to win the West division. With an 11-2-3 finish, the team achieved what no other team in Windsor Nationals team history had achieved – they won the West division and were now entered in to the OYSL league championship – not only something that no Windsor team had ever won but also no other non-Toronto team has achieved at that this age level in the league’s 21 year existence. The team in their way was the Woodbridge Strikers whom they tied in regular season play earlier in June. Windsor was excited for the challenge. In the end, in was the stronger defensive back-four of Tobi Taiwo, Jacob Sapardanis, Dredon Kelly, and Matei Colgiu, and Noah Pio’s solo goal that brought home to Windsor, its first ever Level One OYSL league championship. Windsor FC Nationals history had been achieved.