March 2009 CSL Brampton Lions FC affiliate with Dixie Soccer Club (by Dino Rossi)

Good Things to Come in soccer
by Dino Rossi

A crowded meeting room at Mississauga’s Hershey Sportszone indoor soccer facility was the site of an important announcement that will hopefully have a very positive impact on the local and Canadian grassroots soccer community in both the short and long term.

Before an audience of young footballers, coaches, club executives and administrators, as well as other local dignitaries and media, Brampton Lions FC of the Canadian Soccer League and Dixie Soccer Club (one of the more successful youth clubs in the province of Ontario) announced that they have entered into a formal, structured affiliation agreement. The purpose of this affiliation agreement is to create “a full cycle development program” for members of the two clubs.

Both clubs will work together and support each other through a number of programs that are intended to enhance player development, leverage synergies and generally boost the profile of Brampton Lions FC and Dixie SC in the soccer community.

Cary Kaplan, Commissioner of the CSL, called this “an historic day”. He summed up the significance of this arrangement by stating “this creates a clear path from the youth system to professional soccer”. Kaplan applauded the executives of both clubs for getting this deal done.

“It takes fortitude to be the first to do something, especially because there is a lot of politics involved,” said Kaplan. “We expect this affiliation to be a success and you will be able to point to the success of this arrangement when other CSL clubs approach local youth clubs to create something similar”.

Phil Ionadi, Director of Business Operations for the Brampton Lions FC and a former Dixie SC youth player, was one of the main architects of this affiliation agreement. A former professional player with the Montreal Impact (United Soccer League) and Brampton Hitmen (CPSL), Ionadi has high hopes for this newly minted agreement.

“We believe this affiliation agreement will be the model for soccer clubs across Canada,” said Ionadi. “It completes the pyramid of play.”

Ionadi explained that Brampton Lions will continue to operate the First Division Team in the CSL, led by Armando Costa, the club’s head coach and Director of Soccer Operations. Dixie SC will move their current U21 men’s team into the CSL Second Division on behalf of Brampton Lions. The Second Division squad, to be coached by Michael DiMatteo, will be known as the Brampton-Dixie Lions and it will serve as a feeder and developmental team for the first division side. These two squads will train together during the week. Dixie will also field another U21 team in the Ontario Soccer League, which will serve as the feeder for the Second Division team.

Costa, who has served as a coach with both the Canadian and Libyan National Teams and who boasts decades of experience as a professional coach and player, called this new relationship with Dixie SC as “a first baby step”.

“This is not rocket science here,” said Costa. “We’re not reinventing the wheel. We are simply doing something that exists in the rest of the world. We have to give to the players a sense of belonging, an identity.”

Costa also urged his colleagues in soccer across Canada to “put our egos aside”.

“Canadian soccer is too fragmented. Soccer around the world is about making associations. Let’s not wait for our friends down south to do it for us”, an enthusiastic Costa implored. “Let’s do it ourselves here in Canada”.

Lino Almeida, President of the Dixie Soccer Club, noted that the club had been seeking a willing partner to enter into this sort of arrangement for 3-4 years.

“We hope this is a positive step toward trying to fill in the large void at the top of the pyramid of play,” said Almeida. He hoped that more affiliations such as this one will become common so that “one day, we can again cheer for our country, Canada, at the World Cup, instead of only being able to cheer for the countries of our heritage.” Canadian soccer supporters across the country are hopeful that Mr. Almeida is correct.

The two clubs will work together to operate Summer Camps in July and August of this year. Training at these camps will fall under the direction of Armando Costa, with support from many of his First Division players. A “School of Excellence” program will also be established to provide a structured development program for serious players.

The First Division Brampton Lions kick off their Canadian Soccer League season in May and play all their matches at Victoria Park Stadium in Brampton.

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