June 4, 2004 CPSL story on London City (from London Free Press)

City opens without top scorer Eris Tafaj

RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporter 2004-06-04 03:00:44

There's no "wait 'till next year" in Harry Gauss this season. London City's general manager and coach believes his squad has the ability to better last season's 3-11-4 regular season record and battle for the Canadian Professional Soccer League title.

That's saying something -- City hasn't captured a league crown in 31 years and has only won five games in the past two seasons in a major rebuilding phase. From castoff to Cup chasers -- who does Gauss think he's dealing with here? Hockey's Calgary Flames?

"We've got a good shot, we have a starting 11 as good as any in the league and winning the Canada Cup (the CPSL's open tournament) last fall buoyed this team -- they believe in themselves," Gauss said. "Right now, our depth is not a strength. We have some good, young players up but who knows if they're ready? You can't substitute for experience. So we have to stay healthy and our starters have to show up every game."

London's top scorer and MVP from last season, Eris Tafaj, won't be showing up for tonight's opener against the new Durham Storm. Tafaj, who bulged the twine seven times for City last summer, is just wrapping up a visit to his parents' home in Albania.

"He'll be back for our second game," Gauss said. "This team is going to score some goals this year. We're not going to try to get the first goal and then sit back and protect it. We're not built that way. Too many times last year, we'd score and then give up a bunch of goals after that.

"We can't replace a guy like (co-coach and still-injured sweeper Jeff Brown), but we have a couple of good young players, Justin Medeiros and Marco Peeters, at the back end and we hope they continue to play well."

City will compete in the six-team Western Conference with the expansion Windsor Border Stars, Brampton Hitmen, Hamilton Thunder, St. Catharines Roma Wolves and Toronto Croatia.

The visiting Storm play in the East with the Metro Lions, North York Astros, Toronto Supra and Vaughan Shooters. They were blasted 5-0 in their opener by the Shooters.

After the Durham Flames joined the extinction list last season, Scotsman and Storm owner John O'Neill purchased the Mississauga Olympians franchise and plopped it back into Oshawa with a new logo, mostly new players and a new attitude.

The Olympians players, who made up one of the league's most talented but disappointing rosters, dispersed throughout the rest of the circuit, adding depth to many squads.

But by giving some of his younger talent a chance to play big minutes for the past few years, Gauss is hoping he'll be right up there fighting for the top with the right mixture of age and youth.

"We've got a lot of guys in their second year who we expect to step up and we still have (midfielder) Gentian Dervishi, who's in his seventh year with us. He's one of the top players in the league," Gauss said. "Tonino Commisso will be finishing up his career here. He's been with us for 10 years. We're looking forward to seeing what happens."

London goalie Haidar al-Shaibani, the youngest starting goalkeeper in City history, will guard the net.

"He's at the ripe old age of 20, he was our MVP of the Canada Cup and has earned the right to the No. 1 spot."

The only question is whether he can help lead City to No. 1 spot in the standings.

GAME GUIDE

What: London City CPSL season-opener against the new Durham Storm.

When: Tonight, 8:38 p.m. at Cove Road field at the German Canadian Club

Tickets: $10 general admission

Copyright The London Free Press 2001,2002,2003

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