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Rovers eye 'massive opportunity' with match against Toronto FC

'We’ve got to play the game, not the occasion,' says goalkeeper Rimi Olateunji ahead of Wednesday night's big game at BMO Field

The Simcoe County Rovers FC soccer club is taking the biggest game in its short history very seriously.

The local players are set to take on Major League Soccer's Toronto FC, a professional team, in the Canadian Championships on Wednesday at BMO Field in Toronto.

Established just three years ago in 2021, the Rovers are reigning champions of League1 Ontario.

This week's game against an MLS club now marks their biggest challenge to date.

Sunday found them practising hard on a blustery, cold morning on a pitch about 45 minutes south of Barrie in Aurora to get ready for Wednesday night's match.

Rovers head coach Zico Mahrady was putting the team through its paces.

“(We’re) just furthering our preparations, not working on anything specific, and we’re just continuing to grow,” he explained. “It’s a massive opportunity and we’re excited to be part of this competition.”

Mahrady seemed optimistic about his team's chances in Toronto.

“There’s a few players who have had opportunities to play in the stadium, and there are some players who have been at a professional level and they bring that experience and are mixed in with some of the young guys who aspire to be professional," he said. "So I think that sets us up for good chemistry.

“We’ll see how it goes," the coach added. 

Allen Saye Blegay, 17, of Barrie, is a right back with the Rovers club. He began his playing career here in the city, where he played for the Barrie Soccer Club from 2016 to 2018 before moving onto Aurora, Woodbridge and Vaughan teams. He joined the Rovers for the 2022 season.

“We’re ready and we’ve been working hard,” he said after practice. “Since the start of the pre-season, we knew what our goal was and we knew what we were going to face. We’ve been working non-stop ever since then, so I feel like we’re ready, and we know what we are up against."

This is a big opportunity for the young Saye Blegay.

“Being able to play against one of the best players in Canada, one one of the best players in the MLS, it’s a good feeling," he said. "And there’s not much more that you can ask for."

Felipe D'Agostini, 23, a recent signing by the team, hails from Brazil and played for Syracuse University and Vermont Green in the United Soccer League.

He’s only been with the Rovers for a week and a half, but likes what he sees. 

“Very surprised by the technical abilities of the players, and the staff as well. They treat it very professionally,” D'Agostini said.

He's looking forward to this week's big match.

“We expect a fight and, of course, it’s going to be a hard game, but we are ready for it,” D’Agostini said. “We’ve been in pre-season since the first week in February.

“They’re going to be strong, they need the win as well. It’s a cup game, so anything can happen," he added. "It’s going to be a big pleasure playing in the big stadium and a big stage against a very good team.”

Rimi Olateunji, 23, is expected to be the Rovers' starting goalkeeper against Toronto. The Rovers recently brought him on for the 2024 season.

Olateunji is a Canadian Premier League champion, previously playing for Forge FC in Hamilton.

“It’s a god-given opportunity, honestly,” he said. “For me, after the end of last season, I wasn’t too sure where I was going to end up next, and fortunately I got that call."

Team officials say they wanted him to compete and work for the starting job in goal.

“I feel I’ve worked since then to put myself in this kind of position, and to now make the most of this opportunity,” Olateunji said.

So what is his mindset as he prepares to face top MLS-calibre talent?

“We’ve got to play the game, not the occasion," he said. 


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Kevin Lamb

About the Author: Kevin Lamb

Kevin Lamb picked up a camera in 2000 and by 2005 was freelancing for the Barrie Examiner newspaper until its closure in 2017. He is an award-winning photojournalist, with his work having been seen in many news outlets across Canada and internationally
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