Soccer's crazy weekend

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:34 AM ET

The guy playing defence is 46. He began playing pro before 90 per cent of his teammates were born.

There will also be three guys who'll become known as "hired guns," here only for the weekend.

You'll see two of the best amateur sides in Ontario and the one true professional soccer team in the province, all in the same tournament.

And who knows what else you might see before this Canadian Soccer League Canada Cup weekend is finished at Cove Road? There's no sign of a donkey dressed in team colours, but stick around, there's plenty of time.

Only in soccer, you say?

You bet.

Oh, and while betting isn't recommended, there is money at stake. The winner walks away with $10,000.

That's a lot of cash in a sport that doesn't see much money at the best of times. Players may tell you they don't think about the dough, but you can bet management does. Ten large buys a lot of schnitzel for those long bus trips home.

London City is playing host to the event. It plays tomorrow in the wild-card game against Ottawa St. Anthony's, one of those amateur sides. Ottawa is good enough to have made it to the Ontario Cup men's final against GS United from Scarborough, the defending Ontario and national men's champs. United is without question one of the best teams in the nation.

United won't be at this tournament, at least not officially. But it will be represented. More about that later.

Opening the tournament tonight will be the other top amateur side, AEK London Olympic. AEK plays in the Western Ontario Soccer League Premier League.

AEK draws the Toronto Lynx, which plays in the United Soccer League's First Division. The Lynx is the true professional team in the tournament.

Waiting for the winner of the wild-card game are the Brampton Stallions.

"The nice part is we have two London teams here," said City coach Harry Gauss. "It should make it interesting for the local fans. It's the first time it's happened. AEK came within a penalty shot of making it last year."

London City is in as hosts. It's been a tough year for the team, but Gauss isn't about to just show up to fill out the schedule. "We're here to win this thing," he said.

So enter the 46-year-old and the hired guns.

Louie Fotia is one of the best-known players in this area. He first played with Gauss in 1978, at age 18. Fotia also played with London Marconi when it had a team in the National Soccer League.

At 46, he still plays regularly with London City in the WOSL First Division.

When Gauss needed players, he called Fotia.

"I'm not surprised to play at this level," Fotia said. "I feel good. I've never missed a year. I've never stopped. I play indoor, outdoor, indoor, outdoor."

What Fotia has lost in speed he makes up for with experience.

"I just patrol the back and control everything. My brains are a lot sharper than most. But my legs are OK too. I may be a veteran in years but not in the heart.

"The secret? Eat lots of pasta fagioli and the hot peppers. That's the secret."

Oh yeah, then there's the hired guns.

Gauss has called in "some markers" he was owed and picked up three players who play for GS Scarborough United.

They're goaltender Brian Bowes and midfielders Darryl Gomez and Chris Handsor. Handsor is a former Canadian National Soccer League and Canadian Professional Soccer League player-of-the-year. Bowes has been considered one of the top goalies at every level he's played, including the CPSL.

His pro rights are owned by Italia Shooters of the CSL.

"They owed me some future considerations for players," Gauss said. He's making no apologies for the airlift (carlift.) "We have a lot of players injured."

Why is United giving up three of its best players, even just for a weekend? United's coach is John Williams, a former London City player.

And Gauss needed the additions for this team to be competitive.

London AEK has drawn the toughest assignment against the Lynx.

"We're definitely big underdogs, but we have everyone back for the first time in a month," said AEK player-coach Martin Painter. "We'll give it our best shot. We've got nothing to lose."

Painter's side is going against a team that practises every day and is used to seeing good competition each game. Fitness may be an issue, although AEK is young and quick and playing at home.

"Logic tells me we'll be lucky to keep it close," Painter said. "But I just have this feeling, I don't know where it came from, but I have this feeling we can win . . . Crazier things have happened."

Crazy and soccer. A match made in heaven.

IF YOU GO

What: Canadian Soccer League Open Canada Cup

Where: Cove Road field, German-Canadian Club

Prize money: $10,000 winner-take-all

Tickets: $20; $25 for final; $30 for weekend pass in advance

Schedule

Tonight London AEK vs. Toronto Lynx, 8:38 p.m.

Tomorrow London City vs. Ottawa St. Anthony's, 7:38 p.m.

Sunday Winner City-St. Anthony's vs. Brampton Stallions, 7:38 p.m.

Monday Final: winner AEK-Lynx vs. Sunday winner, 4:08 p.m.


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