Two years in League1 Ontario and now two years in the playoffs, but this time the Simcoe County Rovers FC are hosting a home game.
The city's professional soccer team learned they had qualified for the post-season last week, but found out Sunday evening — when fifth-place Burlington beat third-place Vaughan, stopping the latter from leapfrogging the Rovers for second place — that they would have home-field advantage for the semifinals.
Rovers president and co-owner Julian de Guzman says the home playoff game is a memorable milestone for the fledgling organization.
“We have ticked off a very important box in our vision of building a soccer culture in the community, and creating a genuine professional soccer environment for players and supporters alike,” de Guzman told BarrieToday. “Big credit to the players and coach who have led by example on and off the pitch."
The Rovers, led by head coach Jason Beckford, finished the regular season with a 15-4-1 record and, along with the women’s squad, have already qualified for the League1 Premier Division next season when the relegation/promotion system begins.
The Rovers' women team just missed this year’s playoffs, finishing in seventh place.
Simcoe County Rovers FC chief executive officer and co-owner Peter Raco says hosting a playoff game in only the team's second year is a source of pride for both the community and club.
"No other expansion team has accomplished this in the league's history," Raco told BarrieToday. "Together, over the past two summers, we have written one of the most unique stories in Canadian soccer with the launch and success of the Rovers, on and off the field. Our supporters and this city now deserve their first soccer championship at a professional or semi-professional level."
Raco also said he was pleased to see the number of fans who have come out to J.C. Massie Field for home games to support their team.
"We are leading the league in attendance — week in, week out — at our Georgian College grounds," he added. "Our attendance is up over 30 per cent compared to last year's inaugural season.
"This team played an attractive brand of football this year and credit to the players for building a connection with the local soccer community. Rovers Nation has created a fortress in Barrie," Raco said.
The Rovers boast an 88 per cent winning percentage at home this season, with eight wins and one loss when playing at J.C. Massie Field. The team is also averaging 3.3 goals per game on their home pitch.
The "fortress"-like atmosphere at J.C. Massie Field isn't just apparent to Raco, but the players see it, too.
Rovers captain Justin Earle says there's a special feeling for players at home.
“Nobody wants to come play with us here,” he said. “A big part of that is the fans who come out to watch and cheer. We have the best fans in the league. Enough said.”
Earle says the team hopes to continue its home success in the playoffs.
“Just more of what we’ve been doing all year," he said, and that includes an "energetic brand of soccer."
"We need to bring even more to the table,” Earle added. “If we pack Massie Field, no one is going to stop us.”
The quarter-finals are set for Wednesday when Burlington SC will face the fourth-place Oakville Blue Devils in one game, while the Vaughan Azzurri, last year’s league champions, will square off with sixth-place Guelph United.
The Rovers and first-place Scrosoppi FC will await the winners of those matches to find out who they each play in the semifinals.
The winner of League1 Ontario advances to the Canadian Championship for the chance to play against teams from League1 Canada (League1 B.C and Ligue1 Québec), the Canadian Premier League (CPL) and even Major League Soccer (MLS).
Gates open for Sunday’s semi-final game at 5:30 p.m., with kick-off at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at www.roversfc.ca and updates are available on the club’s social media pages.