Rovers Begin Inaugural Season With High Expectations

BARRIE - If you are a soccer fan in Canada, you are probably aware of the Simcoe County Rovers and their star-studded ownership group and management staff, led by team president Julian de Guzman.

But every bit as exciting as their ownership group and management staff are the two squads that the Rovers will be trotting out in League1 this season.

On the men's side, they will be led by head coach Jason Beckford, as well as de Guzman, who is the men's sporting director.

On the women's side, they will be led by general manager Audra Sherman and head coach Zack Wilson.

Sherman will also be an assistant coach on Wilson's staff.

In a recent interview, Beckford explained what went into him becoming the head coach for the men's side.

"I was referred to by someone who put my name into the hat," explained Beckford. "They were looking for someone to hire and someone who was already involved with the club mentioned my name as someone who would be a good fit.

"I then met and spoke with Julian and Peter [Raco] and to be honest, the project seemed really exciting. I couldn't say no."

Sherman's entry into the Rovers came from prior working experience with de Guzman.

"I worked with Julian at the Ottawa Fury, so we had that connection and that is why I wanted to get involved because I always knew his vison, his passion for the game, and how we worked together.

"We had success together in Ottawa, so I thought 'why not do it here', especially on the women's side. We can do something great here."

To be great, in a quality league like League One, is not easy for an expansion team.

Sherman said the process to be great is no easy task but it helps that there are so many talented players in the Simcoe County region.

"It is the process of understanding your market. Simcoe County has some really good players playing but we understood there was a gap caused by not having a semi-pro or professional league, so the process started with understanding the need.

"The next step was finding an ownership group like ours to invest in, acquiring our licence, and then bringing in the right people to join our staff.

"It took a lot of time but it was something that Julian understood and he and I enjoyed the process."

Beckford did not join the Rovers until March but still oversaw the process leading up to the season.

The former Man City player said it was a process that he enjoyed.

"It goes without saying that the process was made easier when you have Julian and members of the national team involved," said Beckford. "It only adds to the excitement and makes our jobs a lot easier.

"When I got here, there were only eight to 10 players signed and they wanted to know who else was coming on board, so when I was bringing players on board, they asked what this is all about and I had to talk to them and explain to them our vision and that was exciting."

Also exciting is the players that the Rovers have, on both the men's and women's side.

On the men's side, you have the likes of Jordan Dover, who spent the last four years in the USL with Pittsburgh, as well as Jarred Phillips, who was a League1 all-star last season.

On the women's side, Sherman said there are a few that stand out to her.

"I like to leave open who I think will end up being our best players because I think some players will surprise but Brianne Desa is a good midfielder who plays for Guyana's national team. I think she is someone who will bring lots of qualities.

"Cooper Lee is a centre back who competed at Ottawa U a few years back and won a national title. Trinity Esprit is another one at Ottawa U who has looked really good, as has Marlene Siwula, who is at Ontario Tech right now and is a really dynamic striker.

"Yazmeen Jamieson is our goalie and plays for the Jamaican national team and Cloey Uddenberg is at Guelph right now and represents the Saint Kitts and Nevis national team -- she is a really exciting midfielder who is comfortable with the ball and is really creative. "

Sherman said given the talent on the women's side, playoffs are the goal for the Rovers but off the pitch is where she hopes her club takes an important step.

"We want to win the trophy and be on top of the league but besides all that, we want to develop a professional environment. We want to establish it and really have the players feel what it is like to be a part of it.

"From there, that experience will travel. People talk and people want to be a part of something bigger, so we want to be known as a club that treats our players really well and helps our players get stronger and stronger.

"And in the community, we want to connect with our fans and really bring out what women's football can bring to our community and in doing that, show people that there is a market for high-performance, professional football. We need to invest in it and I feel as though being in League1, a semi-pro league, is kind of our place as we try to bring pro soccer to Ontario."

Beckford echoed Sherman's comments.

"I'm not one of those people that will predict things, so I'll just say I want us to be competitive. We just want to establish ourselves as a great League1 team, be as competitive as we can, and establish ourselves as a League1 franchise."

The Rovers begin their season today against Blue Devils FC, at home at J.C. Massie Field.

The women play at 2 pm, followed by the men's at 5 pm.