skip navigation

Toledo Villa FC Aims for Playoff Glory as 2024 Campaign Begins

By Jon Sicotte, 05/26/24, 2:15AM HST


Toledo Villa FC Aims for Playoff Glory as 2024 Campaign Begins

It's a new season with some familiar faces, new members looking to prove themselves, and a new academy squad all looking to help Toledo Villa FC build upon a winning 2023 campaign.

Toledo finished with five wins, four draws, and three losses in the Valley Division last season, good for 19 points and placing third in the league while just missing out on the postseason due to goal differential after ending in a 1-1 draw with Cleveland where the club needed a victory to secure second place.

Fort Wayne won the Valley title last year, going unbeaten in 12 league matches (10-2-0). Kings Hammer, Dayton Dutch Lions, and FC Buffalo rounded out the league and all six teams will be a part of the division once again.

Villa starts the season with two road matches. It began with a 4-1 loss at FC Buffalo on Sunday, May 19, and will continue this weekend with a trip to Fort Wayne FC on Saturday, May 25 before starting the home campaign at Paul Hotmer Field on the campus of the University of Toledo on Wednesday, May 29.


Returning from 2023

Perhaps the biggest key is the return of forward Ali Nassar, who had six goals last season in 10 caps for Villa. He leads a field of four players that saw significant playing time for Toledo last season, along with centerbacks Tristen Rose (11 caps) and Brady Horn (3 caps) on defense, center mids Cam Territo (10 caps) and Aion Morton-Wizgen (1 cap); and forward Eli Shope (9 caps).

Also returning from the 2023 squad is wingback Andrew Shaffer and brother Alex Shaffer, along with forward Trace Terry. Francis Kwashie is another returner from seasons past, which helps bring in more recognition of the culture it takes to win for Toledo.

In net, Brendan Graves returns to Toledo after spending last season playing for Flint City. He started three matches for the Bucks, which went 10-1-1 in the Great Lakes Division and lost to eventual USL2 National Champion Ballard FC (Seattle, Washington) in the National Semifinals. Graves played eight matches for Toledo during the 2022 season.

"I think we have a very talented squad depth-wise," Nassar said. "We have guys from diverse backgrounds ... which needs adapting well on the field because we have different styles in the game. 

"We're just looking for it to click and then as soon as it clicks, it should just start booming."

Nassar added that it's always hard to rebuild the team from scratch at the start of each year, but having a good nucleus to start is key.

"We're coming off a pretty good year last year and we have to adapt real quick," he said. "We got a bunch of new guys, but we have to make the playoffs this year. That's the main goal. 

"We didn't reach that last year. So in order to say we did better this year, that's the only objective we want and that is to make the playoffs."


Key Additions

A few new faces that saw action in the first match for Toledo at Buffalo included Chris Philbin (LWB), Damorney Hutchinson (F), Dakota Jonke (F), Jaland Larmond (F/RWB) and Gijs Velings (CM) — who scored the lone goal for Toledo.

"Every year is such a new thing," said head coach Matt Johnson. "We've seen them in a game now with another team but it's hard to know exactly how it's going to fit. So we're never really sure. 

"I will say we feel like our backline is probably a little bit deeper and a little bit more quality (to start). Same thing in midfield, we've got a number of good options. There's tons of competition for spots in between the 6s and the 10s. Probably in one sense, I would say those are the areas of strength for our team." 

Also, with the launch of USL Academy, the United Soccer League now has an elite youth platform to offer to its clubs as well, and Toledo, led by coach Steve Bushre, will compete in USL-A with Detroit City FC, Michiana FC, and Midwest United FC in their division.