A former Jamaica club soccer player owns a team that’s in the inaugural League 1 Ontario semi-professional league.
Hubert “Junior” Groves, who graduated from Wolmer’s Boys School and captained Harbour View, started Master’s Futbol Academy (MFA) in April 2009. The 1982 Jamaica Player of the Year, Groves – a highly dependable and skillful defender in his prime – won a soccer scholarship to Cheyney University of Pennsylvania and played for Club Phanellenic in the National Soccer League.
The academy is one of 10 sides in the Ontario Soccer Association’s new league that’s unique in that it permits the participation of amateur teams even though it’s a semi-professional league.
“For me, this is about stepping up and taking leadership in a sport that I truly love,” said Groves.
The MFA is among the league’s amateur sides.
He said recruitment for his team has not been a challenge even though his players are not paid.
“Our university players can go back to their various academic institutions and play without being ineligible,” said Groves. “Players are looking for a legitimate International Soccer Federation (FIFA)-run league which this is. The level of competition is very high and the games are videotaped and live streamed. That means that scouts have access to this material.”
The 18-player game roster must feature a minimum of eight Under-23 players, four of which must be included in the starting line-up for each match. In addition, teams are allowed to register a maximum of three non-Canadians. Players with permanent residency status are not considered imports.
For the semi-professional teams, a minimum of five players must be signed to a pro contract with minimum annual compensation of $2,000 per player. The minimum player payroll will be $20,000 in the first year, escalating by 10 per cent the following year and the maximum player payroll will be $40,000 in the first year of the league operation, going up by 10 per cent the following year.
MFA played its home opener last Saturday at L’Amoreaux Stadium in Scarborough. The opponent was Toronto FC Academy.
“This is a big day for us,” said Groves. “We have scrimmaged against them and I think we match up well against this team very well.”
The day did not end on a high note for MFA, which succumbed 5-1 after shutting out the Kingston Cataraqui Clippers by a 3-0 margin in its season opener and losing 2-0 to Woodbridge Strikers.
Each team had an opportunity to select its home venue.
“We are happy with what we have because this is a soccer-only facility,” said Groves. “The only thing I am a bit unhappy with is that it’s an open viewing area. It’s not cosy enough where our players can feel the excitement and people don’t have to pay to come in.”
The other league teams are Durham United, Vaughan Azzurri, ANB Futbol, Internacional de Toronto, Sigma FC and Windsor Stars.
MFA’s next home game will be against Sigma FC on June 21.