AEK clear underdog against City

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

There's one thing London AEK and London City agree on.

When they meet tonight in the Canadian Soccer League's open Canada Cup men's competition, the pressure will be squarely on London City.

"We're in a no-win situation," said City manager and coach Harry Gauss. "We're expected to win. But when you are around this game enough, you never know what to expect. In 90 minutes, anything can happen. But can you do it over a series?"

London City plays in the professional CSL. London AEK plays in the Premier Division of the Western Ontario Soccer League. This Canada Cup competition allows any men's team in Ontario to enter with $10,000 going to the winner. The teams were drawn in the quarter-final.

"We're the underdogs going into the game, no question about it," said AEK manager Tom Kouzounas, playing the role to the hilt. "It should be an interesting game. We're looking forward to it."

AEK has already beaten a CSL club. The team defeated St. Catharines Roma in St. Catharines in a game that was called 15 minutes before time because of terrible weather.

AEK has been busy. It is leading the Premier Division and has also reached the quarter-finals of the Ontario Cup. AEK lost its first game in any competition Wednesday, 2-1 in extra time to London Portuguese in a WOSL contest.

Until that game, it had given up only two goals all year, one on a penalty kick.

AEK has plenty of depth. With the number of games it has played, it uses all its depth. Last weekend, AEK defeated Croatia 3-0 in a WOSL game, despite missing 11 starters.

"Martin (coach Martin Painter) took a bunch of our young players to a showcase select tournament in North Carolina," Kouzounas said. "There were a lot of NCAA scouts there. Our bench took over and did a great job. We have great depth and that's what's carrying us over."

AEK is blessed with talented young players with a lot of speed. Those players are adjusting to the grind of playing a lot of games, mostly against older, physical men.

"They fit in very well," Kouzounas said. "It's due to the coaching, the staff and the veterans on the team. That's what's good about our team. We are a team."

London City is going through a terrible year trying to keep everyone on the field. The lineup undergoes an extreme makeover virtually every time the team takes the field.

This week, it will be without Johan Wikman and Nis Stendevad, who've gone to Denmark to advance their soccer future. Gentjan Dervishi is in Albania dealing with family matters and longtime London City player Eris Tafaj is no longer with the team. He walked out of the dressing room at the half of the City-Serbian White Eagles game.

Surprisingly, with everything that's happened, City came up with two of its best efforts recently, a 3-3 draw at Oakville Blue Devils and a 2-0 win over Windsor Border Stars last Friday.

When City takes the field against AEK, it will also have a young, and different looking, lineup.

Gauss gives AEK plenty of credit for what it has achieved.

"They're a very good team, very quick," Gauss said. "I haven't seen them play a lot but I know all their players. Give them credit. They've been there consistently."

But he says experience and the ability to play at a quick, tough pace for 90 minutes will be the key.

"At the CSL level, you are playing at an elevated pace all game. Teams that play locally aren't used to that kind of pace. We'll see how they handle it. The pace tells later in the game. CSL teams really come to life from 80 minutes on."

"If the weather is as hot as it's been, it will have a big bearing on everything," he said. "You won't be able to keep the pace up. You'll play at a walking pace. You can't elevate the pace because you feel like there's a blanket on you."

Game time tonight at Cove Road Field is 8:38.


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