Wednesday, September 22, 2004

City needs miracle to reach playoffs

Ryan Pyette, Sports ReporterThe London Free Press

After spending the first half of the season battling for top spot in the Canadian Professional Soccer League's Western Conference, London City now needs a miracle just to make the playoffs.
Mired in a seven-game winless drought dating back to Aug. 6, City (6-9-3) has to win its final two regular-season games by big scores and hope the third-place Windsor-Detroit Border Stars (8-7-3) get blown out in their final two games.
The Border Stars are up six points on City for the final playoff spot. If they end up tied, the tie-breaker goes to goal differential.
City is minus-10 and the Stars are plus-three.
"It's the City way. It's never easy," said City general manager and head coach Harry Gauss. "But if we don't make the playoffs, it's because of a lack of character and selfishness in the players."
Gauss wouldn't identify any examples of jealousy and egotism in his ranks, but he said there have been small things he has noticed throughout the year that have contributed to a "me-first" attitude among some members of his squad.
"That's not how we operate," he said. "I'm going to find the ones with character -- even if I have to go through a million players."
City clearly misses the leadership of selfless midfielder Tonino Commisso, who retired a few weeks ago after a rash of concussions.
"There's a guy who never played his natural position (striker) with City, but he did what was best for the team and never said a word," Gauss said.
City has net-bulging Northern Ireland native Paul Munster, who has scored 20 of the team's 29 goals, for the rest of this season. Still, the losing continues.
"Paul's the greatest thing since sliced bread and a consummate team player," Gauss said. "He will be the top scorer and he should be the league MVP and rookie of the year, too. No one's ever won all three in this league."
On Sunday (Sept. 19), Munster scored what looked like the winning goal early, but Croatia was handed a controversial penalty kick in the 91st minute to tie it and got the winner late in injury time.
Right before the penalty shot, Gauss changed goalies, subbing Mark Fernandes out for forward Erik Elmauer, who had stopped two penalties last week against Benfica to help City's Western Ontario Soccer League club reach the upcoming Premier Cup final against AEK London.
Croatia still scored.
"I felt sorry for the guys. They played well enough to win," Gauss said. "That and the tie (1-1 with lowly Durham, who dressed six players from talented amateur side G.S. United) has us in this position. But we're not dead yet."
City continues its month-long road trip tomorrow (Sept. 23) against Toronto Supra (12-1-4) and closes with the Brampton Hitmen (7-6-5) on Wednesday (Sept. 29). The Border Stars, coached and co-owned by former City player Jeff Hodgson, end with road games against the struggling North York Astros and powerful Vaughan Shooters.
One thing's certain. City won't finish in last place for the third consecutive year.


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