City looks to shake slow start to season

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:03 AM ET

It was only a tie but it gave a measure of hope to a team that's looking for positives wherever it can find them.

London City is trying to find it's footing early in the Canadian Soccer League season. Undergoing numerous changes that caused them to get off to a late start in putting the team together, City lost their opener but then came back with a 1-1 home tie last Friday against Toronto Croatia, one of the CSL's top teams.

"It was a surprising result in some ways," said Ryan Gauss, City's general manager. "The team showed a lot of character. I haven't seen a team jell that quickly in a long time. We had the right group of people on the field. We have some good, young players. You need a lot of skill and a lot of character to pull out results that are unexpected. That was unexpected. People didn't have much expectation for us. I think Croatia underestimated us. We played a solid game."

The roster turnover has been significant for City but some additions have been significant, particularly goaltender Tom Bianchi, the key performer in both games.

City also got solid efforts from the backline against Croatia, Gauss said, specifically from Martin Painter and Mike Sawchuk.

"The way we played . . . things are looking promising," Gauss said.

London plays Windsor Border Stars tonight at Cove Road field at 8:38 p.m., but with Ontario Cup play getting into full swing, City will have to do without several players who play with senior men's teams in the Western Ontario Soccer League.

City will be missing Gentjan Butzali, their goal scorer last Friday, and Eris Stafay and Jager Hassan, who are committed to playing in the Ontario Cup for London Polish.

If there's one aspect Gauss would like to see improve at a steady rate, it's attendance. He said about 300 were at the opener but the quality of soccer provides entertainment worthy of more.

"The CSL has been growing in leaps and bounds," he said.

"If people haven't seen a game in two or three seasons, they'll realize there's a lot more organization in the league. If you look at the quality of teams coming in and the quality of play, it's excellent soccer.

"We try and provide a great atmosphere at the Cove. People may say London City hasn't had the greatest teams in the past and that may be true, but it's important to realize we are a young team this year. We promote soccer at the homegrown level and give local players a chance to play at a higher level. There will be some speed bumps and growing pains but we look to bring in quality people and we're moving in the right direction."

One those young players who left a big impression with his play against Croatia was 17-year-old Camilio Gonzalez. He's from Colombia and came to Canada after living in the United States.

"People were asking, 'Where did he come from?' " Gauss said. "He's looking for a career in pro soccer and sees London City as a stepping stone."

City plays the Border Stars twice this weekend. After their game here tonight, the two teams play a return march in Michigan tomorrow.


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