Despite being one of two clubs in the Men’s and Women’s Premier Division that have never taken to the field, Simcoe County Rovers have made sure they kick off in League1 Ontario this season with a few wins of their own already.
Simcoe County Rovers were announced as an L1O team in October having acquired the license of Aurora Football Club to compete this year. They are based in the Huronia district, playing their home games in Barrie.
By now, locals would have already seen their town in the national headlines as the new club established a star-studded ownership group led by the club’s president and managing partner Julian de Guzman.
De Guzman made 89 appearances for the Canadian national team and played for Toronto Football Club as well as teams in US, Germany, Greece, and Spain – becoming the first player from Canada to feature in La Liga.
His record appearance tally for Canada was topped by Atiba Hutchinson, who has now played 95 times for his country since making his debut nearly 20 years ago, and he too recently joined the impressive ownership group.
Current national teammate Cyle Larin is a slightly more youthful addition to that list. The 27-year-old, who is currently on the books at Turkish club Beşiktaş, has 50 caps for Canada and is already excited to give back to the game by developing the youth pathway in soccer.
Rovers announced two other co-owners during the winter. The first was Doneil Henry – a Canadian national team stalwart who followed up the news by joining Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Football Club from Suwon Samsung Bluewings in South Korea.
Janine Beckie then followed suit, joining Simcoe County Rovers, and also returning to North America by swapping Manchester City with Portland Thorns in the NWSL. The striker has netted 34 goals in 88 appearances for Canada and was influential at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games.
But it's not just footballers who are having an impact. Experienced businessmen Peter Raco and Will Devellis are co-owners, along with investor and board member Kosi Stobbs.
“This is a dream for us,” said De Guzman when announcing the club into L1O in October. “Myself, Peter Raco, Will Devellis, we have been involved in many conversations about League1 [Ontario] and how we develop a semi-pro team in the Huronia region.
“With the direction of where soccer is going in this country, the timing of it is just perfect. We’ve implemented other affiliates that are developing the Simcoe County Rovers brand such as Aurora Football Club, the AI [Athlete Institute Football Club] academy out of Orangeville, so teaming up with these high-performance teams really gives us that solid platform and base to spring up from and start a men’s and women’s senior team.
“The co-owners just show the quality of individuals that want to create something unique as well – something that has never been done for soccer in Canada where you are having pros who are currently playing the game and giving back their knowledge and experiences.
“We see a lot of former pros coaching but in terms of getting involved in developing a philosophy in a league such as League1 [Ontario], this is awesome. It’s exactly what we need to see more of.”
Simcoe County Rovers have had two different head coaches for their Men’s Premier Division side since their inception.
The first was former Canadian international Victor Oppong, who played the majority of his club career in Germany before switching to Ottawa Fury. His assistant came in the form of Derek O’Keeffe – a UEFA A Licence coach who has previously taken his expertise to the top flight in Ireland and North America.
However, due to personal reasons, Oppong decided that he would not oversee Rovers’ first kick on the field and he was replaced in March by Jason Beckford. Born in England, the former forward played for Manchester City and a host of other English clubs, before gaining League1 Ontario experience as an assistant coach at Vaughan Azzurri.
Beckford has a UEFA A Licence and has been working in Canadian club soccer for a decade having also coached in England after injury forced him to retire at the age of 26.
Meanwhile, the Women’s Premier Division team will be overseen by Sporting Director Audra Sherman, who previously headed up the Elite Girls Academy at Ottawa Fury for six years and has a passion for developing the game in this country. She has named Zach Wilson as the side's inaugural Head Coach.
Simcoe County Rovers might be new to the League1 Ontario party, but with technical staff and an executive board used to working at such high standards – overseeing a strong and ambitious roster – they will be dangerous opponents in the Men’s and Women’s Premier Divisions in 2022.