“It’s 100% a community project, and we'd like to see ourselves as a family club.”
For a team yet to play their first game or to even take to the pitch for a single training session, there’s a collective commitment to Guelph United having success in League1 Ontario in the eyes of General Manager Keith Mason.
Take one look at their Twitter or Instagram account, their inaugural signings, or the rest of their coaching staff and it’s clear Mason is not alone in his unwavering affection for two things — the city of Guelph and soccer.
“I think our organization, from top to bottom, we're very fortunate we've got some passionate soccer people who love the game,” Mason told League1Ontario.com. “People who really want to see Guelph United do well and they’re all contributing in a huge way to our early success off the field.”
Justin Springer and Jace Kotsopoulos, having both spent time in the Canadian Premier League, are set to join Guelph United as an Associate Coach and a player respectively.
The pair bring invaluable experience back to the place they called home during their time playing for the University of Guelph Gryphons, where Mason has been the Head Coach for over 20 years.
Mason’s tie to the Gryphons was a big part of the initial push to bring a L1O outfit to Guelph to help bolster their varsity program and give its players a place to play within the city year-round.
However, as the project developed, a partnership with the Junior Gryphons — Guelph’s youth soccer program — became of equal importance to Mason, particularly given Springer’s role as Technical Manager of the Junior Gryphons.
“The initial, original concept of us bringing League1 to Guelph was definitely driven by that desire to give us that competitive edge, both at the university level and within League1.
“But as the whole process grows and evolves, the connection with the youth club becomes imperative for them and for the kids involved to have something to aspire to.”
While the club has clearly set itself up strongly from a staff perspective once play can resume, building momentum within the community has been happening strictly through cell phones and computer screens for the time being.
Thanks to the dedication of the rest of the Guelph staff, Mason says the challenges presented by COVID restrictions have been minimized.
“We just talked about Jace (Kotsopoulos) and (Justin) Springer in terms of the soccer side, but behind the scenes, we also have some excellent people who work on our social media and I think they've done an awesome job.”
“We've never played a game yet, we haven't played exhibitions, we haven't even trained, so literally it's almost like FIFA 21, like everything is being done on a computer.”
Having coached the Gryphons to an OUA Championship and U SPORTS bronze medal back in 2016-17, Mason will have on-field success as a top priority once Guelph takes to the field for their inaugural L1O match.
Without an active winning streak or an admirable spot in the league table to lean on in stealing local headlines, the current focus is on finding other ways to create excitement in the community.
“We want to be a club that people want to be involved in, people want to be connected to, whether you're a sponsor, whether you're a player, an administrator, or you're a fan. It doesn't matter what your goal is, we want to be your club for this area that you want to get behind and support.”
“But to do that we've got to generate the interest to make people want to be part of something special and that's what we're working hard at.”
Guelph United is set to share a home field with the University of Guelph at Alumni Stadium when League1 Ontario play resumes.