Al-Shaibani a brick wall in City goal

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

You don't have to look very hard to find out why London City sits atop the Canadian Professional Soccer League standings with 12 points after five games.

The significant number sits under the GA (goals against) column. After five games, City has given up just four of them.

Good defence has something to do with it.

The guy who has the most to do with it, however, is goalkeeper Haidar Al-Shaibani.

Soccer is often known as a sport that provides a paucity of scoring opportunities. When a great scoring chance appears and a goaltender steals what should be a goal, it's not only deflating for the team that misses but uplifting for the team that's avoided being scored on.

Al-Shaibani, 22, has provided those type of saves on a regular basis.

"No matter what the sport, you look for a goalkeeper that doesn't make the brilliant save when you are out of a game," says City manager Harry Gauss. "You look for the goalkeeper that makes that save in a game that's the status quo, that makes the brilliant save when we need them."

So far this year, Al-Shaibani looks like a guy who expects to make the big save. He is playing with great confidence.

"I have to be happy with my play. We're in first place," said Al-Shaibani. "But you have to keep playing good. We have a big game against Montreal (Laval Dynamites at Cove Road field tonight). But so far it's been amazing for me."

Al-Shaibani credits former City goaltender Ibrahim Hadzic with his improvement. Hadzic retired from the game three years ago because of injuries but has returned to help coach the goalies and act as Al-Shaibani's backup.

"He came and taught me about crosses and being more aggressive on the ball," said Al-Shaibani. "It was fundamental stuff but really, really important.

"He's helped me with my confidence. He said, 'Be tough. Always hold the ball like it's your ball. You are the president of the box (penalty area). You are the commander.' With those encouraging words, he pushes me to improve."

Aggressiveness isn't often a trait associated with goaltending in soccer ,yet the best goaltenders in the world dominate their penalty area and take charge in there.

"You are the last man," said Al-Shaibani. "You have to protect your net. If you aren't going to be aggressive, they will walk all over you. And that can't happen."

Al-Shaibani has been with City for four years but this is his first shot at being the No. 1 guy. Like many soccer players, his history off the field is as interesting as on the field.

Al-Shaibani was born in Algeria in the same area famous for raising French soccer superstar Zinedine Zidane. His father Nazar is Iraqi and his mother Loudmyla is Ukrainian. They met while at university in Russia. His family emigrated to Edmonton in 1998 and came to London in 2000.

"We came to Canada because it has a good education," Al-Shaibani said. "Mostly I want to concentrate on education. This is the future. If something happens in soccer like an injury, you want to have an education as a backup."

He studies business at Western and will eventually apply to the Ivey School of Business.

Al-Shaibani would like a shot at another level in soccer.

"It's a long shot," he admits. "I'm hoping for the United States or overseas."


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