London City builds players for future

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

Gentjan Dervishi has been a player with London City of the Canadian Soccer League for a lot of years, so many he has trouble remembering when he started.

Or maybe some of them he'd like to forget.

"It's been a lot of years," he said. "Since 1995 I think, a long time."

And during that time, Dervishi has seen a lot of London City teams, sometimes more than one a season because of the numerous changes manager Harry Gauss has had to make when players got injured or left before the season was over to return to school or something else.

Dervishi has been one of the reliable players. London City's captain, he is a guy who has played hurt and come back from some horrible injuries. In 2002, he suffered multiple fractures to his jaw, an injury severe enough to have put anyone off the game of soccer.

But Dervishi came back.

So when he rates a team, you are getting a rating from someone who knows the game and knows what it takes to put together a successful year.

"This year's team will be good. It will be an exciting team," Dervishi says. "We have more talented players than we ever had before, more skilled players.

"In previous years, we based our team on the physical play more than skill. This year, there's a mix of lots of skill and physical play. If we stay healthy, it will be very exciting."

London City will get a test when it opens with an exhibition game at Cove Road against a Portuguese third-division team. Angrense will play City tonight at Cove Road beginning at 8:38 p.m. Before that game, Angrense Classics, an over-35 team travelling with the main team, will play a team of London City classics at 6:45 p.m.

The London City classics team will see the return of Andrew Loague, Mark Boyd, Luan Jonuzi, Gerald Gallacher and Tonino Commisso, among others.

Tomorrow, things begin for real. City will travel to Windsor to play the Border Stars.

Dervishi has been around long enough to have seen just about everything. He's seen great optimism turn to great despair. Three years ago when London won the open Canada Cup, he believed his team was good enough to win a league championship. But injuries turned a fairy-tale beginning into a nightmarish ending.

Dervishi believes that no matter what happens during a season, London City takes the right approach in the development of soccer talent.

"What London City and Harry in particular wants to do is scout talent," Dervishi said. "We're looking for new talent so they can develop. That's what's missing in Canada. No teams give those young players a chance to develop. They don't give young players a chance to play a lot from an early age in a good league. London City does that. . . . The other teams get older players so they can win."

The core of returning players includes the Parkhill pair of Marco and Dennis Peeters, goaltender Haidar Al-Shaibani and Jeff Brown, who will play and help coach. Eris Tafaj is returning to the team after playing professional soccer in Albania.

It's the promising newcomers that have City thinking about a big season.

Tim Khaemba from Kakamega, Kenya, a striker at Carleton University, is raising eyebrows.

Michel Daoust from Wheatley River, P.E.I., would be his strike partner.

"They're good. Very good," Gauss said.

Johan Wikman, a midfielder who played university with Western, is another strong addition.

It's all about time. If Gauss can keep these players for a long time, if he can keep them on the field for a long time, London's time might come.


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