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Top Ontario soccer league well-represented at FIFA World Cup

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Canada may be out of contention for the FIFA World Cup, but the team’s appearance at the tournament is already having an impact on soccer players here at home.

Several former athletes from League1 Ontario, the province's top semi-professional soccer league, were sporting the red and white in Qatar.

“You have eight graduates from League1 who are now representing the Canadian national team," says Amardo Oakley, who plays as a right back with Guelph United.

He adds that seeing those athletes compete at the highest level is important.

“It’s really going to inspire the next generation, inspire players like myself, and other players in that league to continue going and pushing to get to that next level.”

League1 only formed in 2014 and Guelph United's general manager Keith Mason says it was the missing puzzle piece to developing athletes in not only the province, but also the entire country.

"There's a pathway to the top and I think some of the things about League1 that I'm proud of is exactly that -- the missing link between amateur and professional," says Mason.

He points to players on the national team who now play for some of the biggest clubs in the world. Having a program like League1 allows players to develop in their own country. For Oakley, that wasn't an option. He first went to Portugal.

"At the time, there weren't a lot of opportunities to stay here and say: 'You know, it's worth it.' It was more worth it to go overseas and get experience," says Oakley.

While the ball is rolling on Canadian player development, there is still work to be done.

"I think we maybe need to find a system that is not just half the year, something that is more full-time and something that's more intriguing for guys who want to be professional football players," Oakley says. "Because working and playing football is not easy."

Still, there is confidence that Canada is heading in the right direction.

"From the cradle to the grave, people have dreams and when they see other players leading the path before them and setting the footprints in the sand, then they know 'this is a path that can lead me to my goal,'" says Mason. "And who knows, maybe World Cup 2026."

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