TORONTO — League1 Ontario, a pro-am soccer circuit that continues to grow, is revamping its competition structure to three tiers with promotion and relegation.
Founded in 2014, the league began with a 10-team men’s division that has now grown to 22 teams in the men’s Premier Division. The women's Premier Division, which started in 2015 with seven sides, has grown to 17.
Come 2024, the men’s and women’s competitions will be organized into three tiers: League1 Ontario Premier, League1 Ontario Championship and League2.
On the women's side, the 2024 season will see the Premier and Championship divisions made up of eight to 10 teams, with play running from April to mid-August. League2, which will feature a mixture of expansion sides and reserve teams from Premier and Championship sides, will run from May and run until August with teams split up into regional divisions.
The men's competition will feature 10 to 12 teams in each of the Premier and Championship divisions with the season running from April to early September. The men's League2 will also consist of reserve teams.
The top team in the Championship and League2 will win promotion while the bottom team in the Premier Division and Championship will be relegated. The team crowned champion of the Premier Division will represent League1 Ontario in the Canadian Championship the following year.
The league has opted to pause any new expansion to 2024, when new teams will start in the newly created League2 tier.
"The demand to be part of League1 has grown so much over the last number of years. It's unprecedented," League1 Ontario executive chairman Dino Rossi told reporters. "We feel very strongly that this plan allows us to strategically serve that demand."
A points system will be used to assign club positions to their respective tiers for the 2024 season.
Teams competing in the Premier Division in 2022 and 2023 campaigns will see all their points earned in regular season over those two years aggregated. Points earned in 2022 will be worth only 75 percent while points earned in 2023 will be worth 100 percent.
The 12 men’s and 10 women’s teams with the most points earned over the two seasons under that formula will remain in the Premier Division, while the rest will start the 2024 campaign in the Championship Division.
League1 Ontario has sent players to both the Canadian Premier League and Major League Soccer as well as overseas.
League1 Ontario alumni include Canadian internationals Cyle Larin and Richie Laryea (both Sigma FC), Mark Anthony Kaye (Toronto FC 111) and Vanessa Gilles (West Ottawa).
Rossi said more than 150 League1 Ontario alumni, including men and women, have gone on to a professional environment.
Rossi said the revamped structure might have come in 2023 had it not been for the pandemic.
League1 Ontario is owned and managed by Canadian Soccer Business, which represents all corporate partnerships and broadcast rights related to Canada Soccer’s core assets including its national teams, along with all rights associated with the Canadian Premier League.
League1 Ontario is sanctioned by FIFA through Canada Soccer and Ontario Soccer,
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press