With an all-star front office in place, the city’s newest sports organization hopes to start its season on a winning note this coming weekend.
The League1 Ontario season kicks off this week and the Simcoe County Rovers FC will play their season-openers at home on Sunday.
The Rovers women’s squad will play at 2 p.m., followed by the men’s team at 5 p.m. Both teams will face their respective counterparts from the Oakville Blue Devils FC at Georgian College’s J.C Massie Field.
The local club has been the talk of the soccer world lately, as the Rovers management consists of some of the country’s biggest names in the sport.
Atiba Hutchinson was announced last week as the newest co-owner and joins fellow active national team members Cyle Larin, Doneil Henry and Janine Beckie, while Canadian soccer legend Julian de Guzman leads the way as president.
Hutchinson is the captain of the Canadian national team, which recently qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.
De Guzman says the Rovers will aim to change the narrative for soccer in the region and follow the same route as the national men’s and women’s teams, thanks to their international success.
“When I retired in 2016, there were only six professional teams who competed in the Canadian championship. Now we have 13 teams that are competing in the most prestigious tournament in Canada,” de Guzman said in an email to BarrieToday.
“Our goal is to be one of those teams and believe me, when that happens, that should qualify Huronia as a soccer-mad region," he added.
The Canadian championship is annually contested and involves the country's professional teams. The winner of League1 advances and could end up facing Canadian teams from MLS, such as Toronto FC.
Will Devellis, who is president of the Barrie Soccer Club as well as co-owner and chief operating officer with the Rovers, says having been involved with the sport in the region for more than 15 years there was potential for big things.
“The addition of Atiba, along with previously announced owners in Larin, Henry and Beckie, are absolutely huge for not only the Rovers and the Barrie SC, but for our community, our city and our region," Devellis told BarrieToday. "Developing players over the years has been a challenge, as Barrie and the area was never really considered a 'soccer city'.
"With the likes of the Barrie Colts in town, there is a strong sentiment for the game of hockey. With recent soccer successes in Barrie, such as a recent provincial championship, several regional championships, multiple university scholarships, the game continues to grow," he added.
The Rovers have been busy in the off-season signing many top players, so Devellis says the club has been "nurturing that championship mentality throughout the organization" before even having stepped foot onto the pitch.
"On the men's side, we have signed players who have won League1 Ontario MVPs, Golden Boot winners, defender of the year and players that have played in the USL Championship," he said. "On the women's side, we have some of the top players in OUA and NCAA, as well as some that are competing at the national team level for their respective countries.
“Fans can expect an exciting brand of soccer from our teams and will receive a game-day experience that is second to none in the league," added Devellis, noting there will be a DJ, giveaways, on-field experiences, televised matches and "the loud support of our Barbarriens supporters group.”
June 4 is also set to be a soccer day in Barrie, a celebration of the 'beautiful game' as not only both men’s and women’s Rovers squads play home games that day, but the Barrie Soccer Club will attract hundreds of players from across the province for its 2022 Spiritfest tournament.
For more information on the Rovers, including schedule details and tickets, head to their website by clicking here.