It's finally official and the stacked ownership group that is the Simcoe County Rovers FC has been accepted into the League1 Ontario soccer league.
The Rovers will join the province’s pro-am, senior league, fielding men's and women’s teams in the premier divisions for the 2022 season. The clubs join League1 Ontario (L1O) after acquiring the licence previously held by Aurora FC and will play their home games in Barrie.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time and we’re extremely happy," co-owner Julian de Guzman said.
In a statement from the league, executive chairman Dino Rossi called the Rovers “an exciting addition to League1 Ontario.”
“It is especially exciting to have former L1O player Cyle Larin, who currently stars for Besiktas J.K. in Turkey, as well as the Canadian men’s national team, come back to his roots as part of this ownership group," Rossi said. "We have great confidence in this club’s ability to make a significant impact on football in this rapidly growing region and we are pleased to welcome them to our league."
De Guzman is Canada’s most capped senior men’s player and the first Canadian to play in Spain’s La Liga. As team president and a managing partner, he will be joined in the ownership group by CEO Peter Raco and co-owners Cyle Larin and Will Devellis, who is also president of the Barrie Soccer Club. Larin has been a key player in the Canadian men’s team's attempt to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar
“The idea was to have a group of people who live and breathe the game, whether they no longer play or still do,” de Guzman said in an interview Thursday afternoon. “We know this is the best way to grow the game organically, especially in a region that has never experienced high-performance soccer before.
"Barrie is a huge sports town, whether it is hockey or baseball or anything else," he added. "The people in this region love their sports and will love the energy from a live soccer game.”
Earlier in the summer, the Rovers were accepted in the Huronia District Soccer Association. The club has formalized affiliation agreements with top youth programs representing more than 6,000 youth members, including Aurora FC, Barrie Soccer and Athlete Institute FC.
De Guzman says there are more than 10,000 youth players and hundreds of coaches registered in the local region alone, meaning there's already a fruitful crop from which to potentially draw from.
The Rovers men’s team will join a current field of 15 squads, while the women’s team will enter a division of seven teams.
De Guzman said the decision to join the men’s league without a women’s side was never a thought.
“My heart goes out to all the women who have given all they have to the sport domestically and internationally," he said. "For all the success they have had and the success they have brought to the game, they deserve more than what is being given to them. We have the hope that one day we have a domestic women’s league and I feel this is part of the process.”
De Guzman added it was important to add a women’s team in the region so the “very successful girls teams at the Barrie Soccer Club have a level to reach as they progress and get older.”
The Rovers are expected to announce additional owners and the complete technical and management team over the next three months, as well as key dates fan should know about.
“We have coaches who are watching the league, the university level and the Canadian Premier League for recruiting. We’re putting high-quality coaches, a GM and technical staff to help develop teams that will bring back trophies to the region,” said de Guzman.
“We want to make waves in the region. That’s what the city is about, what the county is about, and we’re ready to be part of the landscape," he added.