Thursday, May 23, 2002

Hope lingers for the future of pro soccer in Canada

By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

Only in church will you find more hope than in a room filled with soccer people. And so it was yesterday at the Canadian Professional Soccer League preseason news conference. In a ballroom in a hotel in Toronto sat men who have lost oodles of cash waiting for the future of professional soccer in this country to flourish. For decades many of them have spent, waited and hoped. For decades, many have been disappointed. Yet every year you'll find them involved in yet another league with great hopes, listening to some well-known soccer personality extol the virtues of the game, and of the imminent breakthrough the sport is going to make at the professional level. No one has seen more of these get-togethers than Harry Gauss, general manager of London City. He's seen them with the National Soccer League, the Canadian National Soccer League, and now the CPSL. He and his team have been around for the bad and the bad. Yet Gauss continues to field a team, often developing good young players, hoping that someone, some day, will find the right mix to make a good go of professional soccer. Some might believe all of this is done for ego or profit. How wrong that is. It's passion. It's done for the passion of the game. "These are men who don't spend with their heads," said Stan Adamson, the league's administrator and media liaison. "They do it with their hearts." When London City opens its CPSL season tomorrow at Cove Road field against playoff champion St. Catharines Roma, there may be reason for justifiable hope. The league will operate with two more teams -- Hamilton Thunder and Metro Lions, bringing the total to 14. There appears to be an enlightened emphasis on marketing and visibility. There also is a distinct plan for the future. It includes a professional women's CPSL by 2004. Talk -- especially in soccer circles -- is cheap. Anyone can spout mighty plans. It's the delivery that's often lacking. In years past, leagues that have expanded too fast, too far, have lost franchises under the weight of travel bills. It appears this league has learned from those expensive lessons. It still has organizational woes. Owners may love the game but there are times when they have no idea how to operate a league. There are too few people willing to handle the many logistical problems. On this day, Gauss is only able to work up a partial rant about one of those problems. Gauss's team is getting his team jerseys from a new company, a Danish firm called Locust, which is also the league's new ball sponsor for this year. Gauss has been after the company to deliver his and the league's balls. He only has one soccer ball. It's a display model. The league hasn't received any yet. "Harry, I need my (soccer) balls," the coach of the Durham Flames tells him. "I open (tomorrow)." "I'll see that you get your balls," Gauss replies. "I call the distributor and he tells me the balls are on Lufthansa (the German airline)," Gauss confides, shaking his head. If there is one aspect to the success of the game in Canada that is readily apparent, it's the need for Canada to develop Canadian superstars. Young players developed by the league help increase the visibility of Canadian soccer and, in the long run, help the national team program. It's only through participation and visibility on the national and international stage that soccer will advance in this country.
So it was no surprise that one of the biggest attractions at this news conference is London's 15-year-old Anthony Vassallo. Vassallo played last year with London United and trained with London's Soccer Academy. He became the youngest player to play in the CPSL when, as a 14-year-old, he appeared for a 10-minute stint for City against London Supra last year.
Also receiving prominent mention was another City youngster, 17-year-old Tyler Hemming. While Hemming plays with City, he awaits word about whether Grimsby Town, the English First Division team, will sign him. There are other suitors with pens ready should Grimsby Town pass.
Vassallo will play for City this year. He's a six-foot, 150-pound lad with the willowy body of the new-age soccer player. The future of the game . . . so the CPSL hopes.


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