London City still chasing leading role in CPSL

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

It's a script that's been acted out before . . . many times.

London City soccer club steals the scenes early in the play but by the end of the show it plays little more than a walk-on role.

That's not to say their players don't make an impact. Come the end of the performance, City always seems to have a couple of players who emerge as main characters. This year, the Canadian Professional Soccer League team produced Dennis Peeters, the rookie of the year, and goalkeeper Haidar Al-Shaibani, goalkeeper of the year.

But as a team, they fail to sustain their strong opening. This year, they opened the season at 5-1. By the time the season had petered out, they missed the playoffs with a 6-12-4 record and played in relative anonymity through September leaving many fans to wonder where they went and what happened to them.

All of this is nothing new for City boss Harry Gauss.

"Everyone gets so excited early, but it's irrelevant. It's not how you start but how you finish," Gauss said. "We have to recognize the nature of what we are. We are a player incubator. We can't be selfish and hoard players. Hopefully, one day we'll be deep enough to replace the players we lose during the season.

One of his biggest losses this year was Eris Tafaj. He was City's top goal scorer, but midway through the season he went to Albania to play in that country's first division. Throw in a number of injuries and a team that operates on a shoestring has to replace those players with young, inexperienced players.

At the end of last year, a tired Gauss was questioning whether all the effort to keep this team operating was worth it.

Even though they are technically a professional soccer club, there isn't a lot of money, if any, for these professionals.

Gauss is much happier at the end of this season.

"If you are a stats person, it doesn't look good. But stats are for dummies," he said. "Inside the organization, it's not bad at all. We have better personnel here than other teams."

"Our goal is to figure out how to keep them and get them on the field at the same time," Gauss said.

One thing that's not debatable -- City develops many good players. The rookie-of-the-year win by Peeters marks the fourth time in the eight-year history of the CPSL that London has won the award. Paul Munster won it last year for City.

"It was a surprise," said Dennis Peeters, whose brother Marco is a defender for the team. "I don't feel like a rookie. I'm 24 years old. I have a younger brother who's already played in the league for a few years. I'm a year-and-half older than him but I guess I'm the rookie."

The midfielder is a native of Parkhill and hadn't played in a year-and-a-half when Gauss convinced him to play here. Peeters attended the Citadel in South Carolina on a partial soccer scholarship, moving to Toronto after graduation.

"Getting settled with a job was more important than soccer," Peeters said. "But after a while you miss playing at the competitive level. You get an itch to participate.

"I joked with Harry. 'What sense does it make to play in London. I should play for a team in Toronto? He said 'you don't want to do that. You're from London, your family is here, your brother plays here, you belong here.' He was right. I'm glad. I have no regrets."

Even though Peeters was disappointed at the way the season ended, he preferred to focus on the good points -- his award, City's performance in the Canada Cup where they reached the final after a stunning comeback against Vaughan Shooters and their 3-2 loss against Croatia in the last game of the year.

A last-game loss?

"We were out of the playoffs, we had nothing to play for, we had 11 guys show up in Toronto," Peeters said. "We lost but we played a great game. We played everyone close. I was always proud to say I played for London City."

That's about as good an exit line to this script one can expect.


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