Even the most knowledgeable of soccer enthusiasts in Canada will be surprised to learn that it was not until 1991 when the Ukraine national soccer team was formed and that the first match was played against Hungary on April 29,1992. This followed Ukrainian independence from the Soviet Union.
Ukraine’s initial appearance in the World Cup was in 2006 and the first appearance in the European Championship came in 2012. Not surprising, Ukraine stood 123rd in the FIFA rankings in 1993, but that eastern European country rocketed to 11th position to be recognized as one of the world’s top teams in 2007 to remind the world that football is still the nation’s most favoured sport.
In Canada, and in other countries where Ukrainians settled, it was a different story. Toronto Ukraina showed prominence in Canada much earlier, winning the National Soccer League (NSL) championship five times during the period 1953 to 1965 during a very competitive period when many talented players – including high level professionals – came to southern Ontario from other parts of Europe.
The Ukrainian presence in Canadian soccer has faded in recent times, but that may be changing with the launch of Toronto Atomic in 2015 and an application by FC Ukraine United as an entry in the Canadian Soccer League’s first division this coming 2016 season.
Vladimir (Vlad) Koval, a native of Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine, is the mover, determined to see his club prominent in Canadian pro soccer. The CSL and its standard of play is an environment that Koval, now 40, is familiar with, having played for Toronto Italia and Toronto Croatia in the nineties through to 2001 . He’s played in York Region, also, with a reputation as a goalscorer and his skills take him into Etobicoke where he volunteers some of his time to coach the minors.
“It has always been a dream of ours to be playing in Canadian Soccer League, at the highest level. This milestone seemed unachievable until this year. Fortunately, we were lucky to have met the right people who agreed to be our sponsors, and the players are also stronger and better skilled and ready to play at the next level,” said Koval recently.
Koval, Andrey Malychenkov, Denys Yanchuk and Evgen Ischak will be the principals of the club’s professional team after taking the amateur side to success in the Ontario Soccer League, including a runner-up finish in the OSL’s Premier Central Division in 2015.
Malychenkov came to Canada from the Russian first and second division and played for North York Astros in the CSL, while Denys Yanchuk played in the Ukraine first division. Ishchak also has a strong soccer background, a high school MVP in soccer, former player with Toronto Supra and North York Astros in the CSL, and is the son of the famous Ukraine player Vasyl Ischak.
FC Ukraine United was formed in October 2006 and this coming October the club will be hoping to have a say in the CSL Championship to add to a 10th anniversary celebration.
The league will be recommending acceptance of FC Ukraine United at a meeting of the CSL member clubs on January 24.