The University of Guelph’s Alumni Stadium will be home to a pair of new semi-pro soccer clubs.
Guelph United F.C. men’s team makes their debut Friday night in League1 Ontario against London F.C.
General manager and associate coach Keith Mason said he is looking forward to start the season.
“First of all, it’s a relief. It’s a relief that all the players, all the staff, after all the hard work, that we’re in a position now that the regulations will let us play, but the overwhelming feeling is one of excitement,” Mason said.
“It’s the excitement of our first-ever semi-professional soccer (game) to play in Guelph. It’s the excitement of our home opener being the first-ever game and we’re all in it to play the sport.”
The squad began training again on June 8. However, Mason says it didn’t come without its challenges.
“The players have definitely been off for a long time,” he said.
“We’ve given them fitness programs to work on, we’ve given them programs to prepare for June 8 so that we’d be in as good of shape as we possibly could. But there’s nothing like being out there playing, practicing, having the camaraderie of your teammates. There’s nothing that we can do to mimic that.”
He says all those challenges were fairly easy to overcome though, because of the desire and love to get back onto the pitch.
Fans are also allowed in the stadium for Friday night’s game; the Alumni Stadium will allow up to 1,100 people.
Mason says having fans back is some of the best news the team has received through the pandemic.
“We’re all about a united family, a united city, a united football front,” he said. “And for us to be able to share that on day one with our community, our fans, is fantastic.”
The stadium will also be home to the Guelph Union women’s soccer team.
The women’s team is part of the Guelph Soccer program, a predominantly local youth soccer organization.
Guelph Union will play in their home opener next Saturday against Waterloo United.
And as the men’s club gets ready to play in its first season, Mason said the main goal is to qualify for the playoffs. He says the goal off the field is to build the community spirit and gain the fans’ support.
“This year is a slightly different format but the top two teams make the playoffs. We want to be part of that,” he said.
“We strongly believe we’ve put a squad that can be challenging from the title right from year one. So on the field, we definitely want to make sure we’re in those playoffs and then once we’re in there, we’re in the shot to become champions of Ontario.”
The kick-off is at 8 pm.
You can head to the Guelph United website to purchase tickets.