story from The London Free Press.

Monday, October 2, 2000

Croatia bags Primus Cup by upsetting Olympians

By KATHY RUMLESKI, Free Press Sports Reporter
  Money can't buy a championship was the message Toronto Croatia gave Toronto Olympians yesterday.

Croatia upset Olympians 2-1 to win the Primus Cup, the Canadian Professional Soccer League playoff championship, before 500 spectators at Cove Road field.

"It's great for the club and it's great for the league to see that another team can win," said Croatia midfielder Chris Handsor, a former A-League player with the Atlanta Silverbacks who started last season with the Olympians.

The Olympians finished atop the standings and won the League Cup this season. Last year, they won the league, Cup and playoffs.

It was an evenly played match and it took a penalty kick to get things rolling at the 67th minute.

Olympian Peyvand Mossavat was called for obstructing Handsor inside the box.

Defender Josip Draganic took the penalty shot for Croatia. He fooled goalkeeper Brian Bowes by keeping the ball on the ground, shooting it just to the left of Bowes, who barely moved on the shot.

"That got things going for us," Handsor said.

Olympians played with more desperation after that but Croatia also stepped up its game.

Croatia went up by two when Draganic's brother, Deni Draganic, one-timed a shot from about 25 yards out. It was a bullet that went through several people and Bowes didn't have a chance to stop it.

Olympians finally got on the board with less than a minute left in the game when Croatia goalkeeper George Ascura came out of his net for the ball and it got behind him. Gus Kouzmanis, the league's top goal scorer, ran in and easily headed the ball into the net.

Olympians coach David Gee said Croatia deserved to win.

"We're too complacent now; it's tough to get motivated."

Olympians were highly criticized for paying two Vancouver 86ers of the A-League -- Darren Tilly and Rick Titus -- to join them about two weeks ago.

"If I was in David Gee's spot, I would have done the same thing," said former London City coach Tony LaFerrara, now technical director for the North York Astros.

"(But) I'm very disappointed the CPSL didn't try to protect other teams. Players such as Tilley and Titus can come in and play the last three games of the season and it's not right."

City player/coach Jurek Gebczynski agreed: "They use the loophole to bring in fresh guys."

CPSL director of operations Chris Bellamy said club owners did not want a trade deadline.

Gee said he was in favour of a deadline for signing players but, when the owners didn't want one, he played within the rules.

Handsor said it backfired on Olympians, who managed to win the League Cup in a 1-0 battle over the St. Catharines Wolves but couldn't mesh for the playoffs.

"It's sometimes tough to bring in players late. Sometimes it breaks the rhythm of the team," he said.

Croatia won the championship without its No. 2 goal scorer, Paul Moore, who got married Saturday.

Handsor was Moore's best man and missed Saturday's semifinal, a 3-1 win for Croatia over Wolves.

He said Moore was willing to play in yesterday's match but Handsor told him to stay with his family.

"I said . . . 'We'll win it for you.' "

The awards banquet was held after the tournament.

City's Michael Kubicki was nominated for rookie of the year. A win would have given London the award for the fifth straight year but Jimmy Kuzmanovski of the Oshawa Flames won.

Other award winners were: Biatte Smith of Olympians, best defensive player; Willy Giummarra of York Shooters, most valuable player; Peter Libicz of North York Astros, goalkeeper of the year; Lucio Ianero of the Wolves, coach of the year. Olympians were given the fair play award.

Copyright 2000, Canoe Limited Partnership. All rights reserved.

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