Thu, October 5, 2006

Murphy's Law rules City season

by Morris Della Costa
London Free Press

Harry Gauss has seen his share of tough seasons with his London City soccer team.

So when he says this just-completed season was the worst he's gone through, it must have been pretty awful.

"This is one was tough," Gauss said. "The simplest way for me to explain it is that Satan sent one of his spawns here this year."

How many injuries have you had to players?

"I'm not allowed to think about it," Gauss said. "My doctor said I'm not allowed to or I might commit suicide."

Yes, it's been that kind of a year.

In fact, Gauss calls the last game of the year in Oakville, a game City lost 4-0, a microcosm of its season. The game was abandoned in the 89th minute because no one would retrieve a soccer ball.

Just when you thought you'd heard it all in soccer.

"I've always had this rule that when the other team scores, you don't get the ball out of your net," Gauss said. "Let someone else get it out so you get a chance to recover your composure before you start play again. But I was asked to relent, so I did.

"But teams are supposed to provide ball girls and boys to retrieve the ball. In Oakville, there's 60 yards behind the net. Oakville takes a shot in the 89th minute and it goes way behind the net. The referee yells at our goalie, Craig Boytchuk, to retrieve the ball. I told Craig, 'We aren't ball boys.' The referee runs down the field and Craig tells him, 'My coach tells me we aren't ball boys.' The referee gives him a yellow card and says, 'Did he also tell you I can give you a yellow card?' Craig says, 'My coach still says we aren't ball boys.' So the referee gives him a red card. No one went to get the ball and he abandons the game. Tell me how much sense that makes."

It seems a fitting conclusion for a season in which just about everything went wrong with the Canadian Soccer League team.

It began two hours before the season started. Gauss got a call from Timothy Khaemba, a young striker Gauss was relying on. Khaemba wouldn't play unless he got more money. Gauss told him no way.

It was the beginning of the revolving player door. Gauss used 53 players this season. He had one player, Eris Tafaj, quit during halftime of a game. Many of his top players were injured, including Dennis Peeters, who broke an orbital bone that still hasn't healed.

Even the CSL's Open Canada Cup, normally a showcase for soccer at Cove Road, couldn't avoid the City bad luck. It poured, forcing a delay in the games and the final to be moved.

Even in previous bad years, City managed to win a Cup or tournament to salvage the season. This year, the cupboard is bare.

City finished out of the playoffs with three wins, 13 losses and six ties in the National Division. Only one team was worse and that was the Caribbean Selects in the International Division, which won only one game and tied three.

"I'll take the blame for this season," Gauss said. "I went against my gut feeling and did some things I wouldn't normally do, but not again."

Gauss wouldn't be specific, but in the next sentence he talked about bringing back players such as Marco and Dennis Peeters, Miguel Knox and Gentjan Dervishi.

"Character people. It's important to find character people," Gauss said.

But in typical Gauss fashion, he finds some good things from the season.

"I'm a firm believer that you can always find positives out of negative situations," he said. "You're never too old to learn."

His optimism revolves around his young players. With all the changes City went through, Gauss was forced to use many youngsters. He believes he's found real keepers in 17-year-old Strathroy native Boytchuk in goal, 18-year-old James Twinem and 16-year-old Shaka Anderson.

"All these players will develop into legitimate players at this level," Gauss said.

Beaten up and tired, Gauss will be back next year.

Rest assured his team will still refuse to be ball boys.

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