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Jeremy Loome

Handsor to join Avs

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@Body:

<B>BC-SOC-Handsor’s-Ride, Bgt<P>

Code:3

<B>Budget<P>

<B>Espy Edm<P>

<B>INDEX: Sports<P>

<B>HL:Handsor puts MISL celebrations on hold to join Edmonton A-League<P> team<P>

<B>By Neil Davidson<P>

<B>The Canadian Press<P>

Toronto’s Chris Handsor has just won his third championship in an eight-year indoor soccer career that has seen him play for teams in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Toronto, Edmonton, Kansas City, Buffalo and Baltimore.

But while his Baltimore Blast teammates prepare to celebrate their latest MISL title — the party is scheduled for Monday — Handsor is headed to Edmonton on Sunday to renew some old acquaintances on the A-League Aviators.

That means a reunion with Rick Titus, Sipho Sibiya, Kurt Bosch and Nikola Vignjevic, not to mention coach Ross Ongaro and Joe Patrone, the expansion team’s director of soccer operations.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Handsor said Tuesday from Baltimore as he prepared to drive home to Toronto. “I haven’t played outdoor for a while so I’m very hungry to play.

“I know Ross and the reason I’m going is I respect him as a coach and I know that he’s a winner. . . . I can’t wait to see the guys and have some fun. And when you have fun, winning just comes along with it.”

A three-time all-star in the indoor game, Handsor had 15 goals and 17 assists in 34 games this season. He also had two goals and two assists in the three-game championship sweep over the Milwaukee Wave.

Over his indoor career, he has 171 goals and 137 assists in 249 regular-season games.

Now 32, Handsor won his first indoor title in 1995-96 as a member of a star-studded Cleveland Crunch team that includes fellow Canadian Hector Marinaro Jr., Zoran Karic, Andy Schmetzer and Otto Orf.

“I learned my rookie year, winning a championship with some of the greatest players to play the game,” he recalls.

Winning the title in 2001-02 was also special. Then a member of the Philadelphia Kixx, Handsor and his teammates ended Milwaukee’s 30-game home winning streak in the final game of the best-of-three series.

With his parents watching from the stands, he scored three of his team’s four goals that night — including the winner with 37 seconds left — and was named championship series MVP.

This time round, he took pleasure in watching close friend and Bermudian teammate David Bascome savour the moment. A talented player who has plugged away on some poor teams in the past, Bascome had played indoors 13 years without winning a title.

“There were tears in his eyes . . . To be a part of helping that out, and being my third (title) and watching guys win for the first time, reminds me of how nice it was to win my first,” Handsor said.

He has seen the other side of indoor soccer.

After one year with Cleveland in the NPSL, he was drafted by the expansion Philadelphia Kixx for the 1996-97 season. After two months, he told the team he wanted to go home to Toronto. But nothing happened and he found himself sitting at home until the commissioner’s office stepped in to resolve the dispute.

He got to Toronto for the last half of the season, to find a sad-sack team that had been taken over by the league in the wake of the collapse of local ownership. Things got so bad at one point, the coach brought in his own VCR to show his players game tape.

It’s a sore point for Handsor, who has seen the indoor soccer ball fumbled in Toronto over the years.

Handsor, however, loved playing indoors in Edmonton under Ongaro and Patrone. He says that’s why and other Drillers vets have returned to sign up for the Aviators.

“We loved the environment. It was a great place to play.”

There were cracks in the foundation of the franchise there too, however, and the NPSL team dissolved.

Handsor has not played outdoors since a brief stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps in 2001 was cut short by a groin injury.

Indoor soccer remains his passion and he has spent the last few summers coaching and working at soccer camps in Toronto, which allows him to be with his 10-year-old daughter and one-year-old son.

Handsor’s schedule will get even more crowded this month as he is part of the Ongaro-coached Canadian futsal team heading to Panama for a regional qualifying tournament for the world futsal championships. Futsal is FIFA’s official brand of the indoor game.

Handsor wasn’t the only Canadian player on the Baltimore Blast this season, Backup goalkeeper Brian Rowland also hails from Toronto and is slated to join the A-League Lynx.

Starting goalie Scott Hileman, who was playoff MVP in the MISL this year, is an American but used to play for the Edmonton Drillers.

The Aviators kicked off their A-League inaugural season with a 0-0 tie in Vancouver last Friday. They play in Seattle on Saturday.

CP 1540ES 04-05-04

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