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Guelph Union gains spot in next year's Premier Division

Union miss playoffs, but clinch final spot in League1 Ontario's women's Premier Division next season
Guelph Union (red sweaters) and BVB International Academy Waterloo battle in League1 Ontario Women's Premier Division soccer play last year at Alumni Stadium. After looking like the Union franchise might leave Guelph, it's going to stay after being added to the Guelph United Football Club family.

While the Guelph Union will watch the 2023 League1 Ontario playoffs from the sidelines, there's excitement for the local women's soccer team.

The Union clinched the final spot in next year's Premier Division after a 1-0 victory over Alliance United Saturday, wrapping up an impressive month of July. The Union went 3-0-1 in its final four games.

"It was actually a joy to watch," said general manager Keith Mason. "They went from a team that was so close in so many games, to a team that suddenly believed they were there."

Against Alliance, Victoria Hinchcliffe came up big again, scoring the game's lone goal in the 78th minute on a header, her 10th goal of the year.

Christina Alexander registered her first clean sheet in League1, blanking Alliance in her fourth career game.

Next season, League1 Ontario will move to a tiered format for its men's and women's leagues. 

The 10 best teams from the last two seasons will compete in the Premier Division beginning in 2024. The bottom half of the table will be relegated to a second division, called the League1 Ontario Championship division.

A newly-created third division – League2 – will also begin, made up of expansion teams looking to join the league, as well as reserve teams of existing League1 clubs.

For the Union to be among the top teams was the goal. And Mason acknowledged there was a lot to overcome.

"We had a lot of new players this year, we had a lot of new coaches, it was a new ownership group, it was a new field," he said.

"It was a lot of changes from what they had in the previous season. They had to adapt to all of those things, and you saw them get stronger and stronger."

The women's franchise was purchased by United before the season, and Mason said growth plans are in the works.

Ultimately, it's about "building the true pathway that we want to build for women in this area."

"This is a great start," he said. "We're staying in the Premier Division helps us attract good players, it helps us to keep our best players because all the best players want to be playing in that top division."

But being in the top division also comes with the bigger challenge of competing among the Premier Division exclusively.

"Every game is going to be like that last game (against Alliance)," Mason said, adding the women will be ready to meet that challenge.

"We want to grow our women's side of the game, and I want people to know that. We want more women to join our club, we are a great pathway to the sport, and we have lots that we want to do for the women of the area," he said.

Mason said the goal is to get three male and three female Guelph teams, including reserve teams.

The men's team, Guelph United, will compete in the top men's division in 2024 too. But it's 2023 is not over just yet.

United, which took the League1 Ontario crown in 2021, is still in the thick of things for the 2023 playoffs.

The team lost 1-0 to the Simcoe County Rovers Sunday, and remain tied for third place with 31 points and four games left. United's next game is at home, Tuesday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. at Centennial Bowl against Hamilton.