Top soccer showdown looms
The W-League's Gryphs and the CPSL's City will try to sign the area's best female players.
KATHY RUMLESKI, Free Press Sports Reporter
The future of top-flight women's soccer in London is shaping up to be a showdown between two parties eager to form teams for this summer. The London Gryphons are holding a tryout on Sunday as they get set to compete in the Tampa, Fla.-based W-League, the longest-running women's league in the U.S.
London City will hold its first tryout April 3 for play in the Canadian Professional Soccer League's proposed female division.
Both sides will be competing for the best female players in Southwestern Ontario.
"We are trying to get the cream of the crop. We'll miss out on some," said Gryphons GM Aldo Caranci. "I think if they're good enough to play for the W-League, they should be playing in this league."
Ryan Gauss, the manager for City's women's team, said the race is on. "You have to go gung-ho; you can't sit back."
Caranci said the Gryphons have signed all-Canadian striker Cristina Bonasia, who also plays for the Western Mustangs, and Kimberly Dimitroff of Oakville, an all-American forward with Kent State.
Former Western star Eva Havaris, a Londoner, would like to play for one of the teams but isn't making any decisions until her coaching status becomes clear. Havaris plans to coach a North London competitive team and she'd also like to coach the female Mustangs.
"It's just going to be a matter of whoever can be flexible with that (coaching) schedule," said Havaris, who is managing Canada's under-19 women's rugby team.
While the Gryphons will begin play May 22 in London against the Fort Wayne Fever, the CPSL is awaiting approval from the Ontario Soccer Association. That could come Feb. 27 when the CPSL presents its proposal to the association.
"I believe we are on the right track with our current plans, which I hope will be well received and supported by our governing body and all other supporters of women's soccer," said Vince Ursini, CPSL president.
Ursini also said women should choose to play in the CPSL because it is a league developed and controlled by Canadians.
The Gryphons -- who will play in the mid-West conference with Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Fort Wayne and West Michigan -- are one of six new franchises in the 34-team W-League.
While the W-League does not pay its players, there are some in the league who do get paid by other clubs, said league spokesperson Gerald Barnhart.
He said the league doesn't want to break NCAA scholarship eligibility rules, which prohibit college players on scholarships from getting paid. A player can also lose amateur status by playing in a league deemed professional even if no money is exchanged.
Caranci, a part-owner of the Gryphons with Londoners Aaron and Ed Lauterbach and American Eric Voide, said females playing in the CPSL may jeopardize their scholarship chances. "A lot of girls have an issue with it."
CPSL public relations director Stan Adamson said the league is close to getting an exemption from the NCAA for teams such as London City who do not pay players.
"We could gain quick approval on that," he said.
The Gryphons played three W-League exhibition games and then shut down last July.
"I'm glad we had an exhibition year. It gave us time to work all the bugs out," Caranci said.
But skepticism that the team will play all 14 games this season has come from some corners.
Caranci said the team is on solid ground and will play the full schedule.
There's also doubt the CPSL will gain approval from the OSA for its plans.
Gauss said his league would lose some credibility if the women's division isn't a go this summer.
"It would be damaging," he said. "A buzz is being created. To get it squashed . . . are people going to be interested in it next year? You have to strike while the iron's hot."
Officials from both teams agreed the future of women's soccer in London has never looked better.
"Girls are going to get to play at this level," Gauss said. "That's our main goal here."
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