Rovers have eyes on the prize for 2024 season

Fans and Simcoe County Rovers players are excited for another big season.

With the Rovers’ League1 Ontario men’s championship trophy on full display, club officials and players from both the men’s and women’s teams gathered with fans Saturday afternoon at Canadian Brewhouse in Barrie’s south end for an event to not only kick off their upcoming season, but also give fans the opportunity to meet returning and new players, as well as to unveil their new kit.

The club, said Will Devellis, chief operating officer and sporting director for the women’s team, has experienced a lot of changes leading up to the 2024 season, including the addition of several players with international experience.

“We are obviously looking to improve on our results from last year. With the new league format, the top 10 teams over the last two years have been amalgamated to one premier division. Every game will be an absolute battle. Our goal here is to obviously win the league and win the league cup,” he told BarrieToday.

Devellis, who is also heavily involved in youth soccer in the city, said having this level of play in Barrie has been a big boon to the sport.

“Barrie was always known as being a hockey town. I think what we’ve done in the last three seasons is take the city by storm,” he said.

He credits the growth of the sport locally to a variety of reasons, one being the fact young kids can now come and watch this level of play in their own city.

“We’ve already seen, within the last few years, players from the Barrie Soccer Club migrate to play for the Rovers. A couple of them have gone on to play for the U17 national team as well. It’s a springboard for the kids in Barrie, and everyone is just excited to be part of it,” he said.

In addition to defending the League1 title, the Rovers men will participate in the 17th edition of the Canadian Championship. On April 24, the team will head to Toronto to take on Toronto FC at BMO Field, a match Devellis expects to be a “monster of a game.”

“We are looking at it as the biggest sporting event in the City of Barrie’s history. You take every semi-pro team we have in the city, and in three years we are in the biggest game of sporting history in the city. We are really excited about it,” he said.

That game, he noted, has already beaten the record tickets sold for away team fans to attend a game at BMO Field, having already topped 900 tickets sold.

“They’ve had to expand the seating allocation for our group. Our goal is to get 2,000 people down to BMO Field. We are halfway there,” he said. “I have been a season ticket holder for Toronto FC since they first came into the city … but for me, being a part of the ownership here, it will be blue and white for me, for sure.”

This will be women’s team captain Cloey Uddenberg’s third season with the Rovers, and she’s proud of how the squad has grown over the years.

“We’ve definitely changed a lot,” she said. “We’ve gotten better in recruiting players, getting a good coaching staff and just more gelling together. We were successful in our first year, which, as a new club, was rare, but we did very well.”

Looking forward to this season, Uddenberg is confident they can bring the championship to Barrie.

“With two seasons under our belt, we should be able to win the league,” she said.

Centre-back Tajay Reid is returning to the Rovers for his second season, and he told BarrieToday the culture of the team continues to grow in a positive direction.

“Even though we have a lot of new additions, they’ve settled in tremendously, which is only benefiting the team. We are looking stronger than ever and I think we can go for the repeat this season,” he said.

This will be Kai Garvey’s first season with the team, and he’s excited for what lies ahead.

“I think it’s a great and hard-working group, and I can’t wait to get started,” said Garvey, who recently made his debut as a member of the Trinidad and Tobago national team in a game against Jamaica.

Regarding the big game next month, the pair said they’re not nervous going up against TFC.

“We have a lot of competitive guys on the team and a lot who have been professionals as well. The competitiveness is there, so not worried at all. We are ready and going to fight,” said Reid.

They are also grateful for the support of the fans and are looking forward to looking up into the stands at BMO Field and seeing a sea of blue Rovers gear.

“We wouldn’t be here without our supporters. They play a massive role from the start to the end of the season. It’s a blessing to have such a supportive crew behind us. It’s exciting and it’s an honour,” said Reid.

Both teams play their home games at J.C. Massie Field at Georgian College in Barrie.