While Serbian White Eagles would eventually win the CSL title, there was little to suggest in the opening game of the 2016 season on May 28 when losing 3-0 to Scarborough at Birchmount Stadium in Scarborough that the longstanding team going back to the 70s in the forerunner National Soccer League would eventually be crowned champions on the same ground six months later.
Two home defeats followed, a 1-0 home loss to Brantford Galaxy on June 3 and the same result at home one week later against York Region Shooters looked bleak for the team that won the CSL First Division just one year earlier, won the championship in 2008 and was the finalist a year later.
But 2016 was unpredictable year in the CSL with two unlikely finalists in the championship game at the Birchmount location on October 28. Serbian Eagles ended their regular season fourth of eight teams in the CSL First Division, and Hamilton City a lower sixth spot after struggling for most of their regular season campaign.
An unpredictable end to the season came on other fronts, the most notable being in the First Division goalscoring race won by unknown striker Sergii Ivliev of expansion team FC Ukraine United who found the net 15 times in the regular season to finish on top and ahead of more seasoned CSL players Richard West of York Region Shooters with 13, Milton’s Adrian Smajic with 12 and Adis Hasecic of Scarborough who scored 11. West was the CSL’s top scorer in 2015. The scoring ability of Ivliev became apparent during Ukraine United’s first CSL victory against Hamilton City on June 12 when the Canadian-born forward struck twice.
While York Region Shooters captured the First Division title with no surprise following their outstanding unbeaten performance in 2014 and third place finish in 2015, the winning margin of 18 points in front of second place FC Ukraine United was a startling, unexpected wide gap not previously experienced in the professional CSL. The Shooters’ defensive record of allowing just 10 goals in 21 games resulting in only two defeats was responsible for creating the rare margin of victory.
Despite their season-long remarkable performance, York Region failed to reach the CSL championship final in 2016, but were Second Division champions when their reserve squad survived a penalty in extra time to score a 2-1 overtime victory over Toronto Atomic reserves on October 23.