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  • Thursday, June 15, 2000

    B.C. midfielder savours Swiss title

     (CP) -- Daniel Imhoff grew up dreaming of sipping champagne from the Stanley Cup. But the 22-year-old from Smithers, B.C., found himself drinking from a different trophy 8,500 kilometres around the world.
     
     FC St. Gallen, Imhoff's soccer team, recently won the Swiss league championship for the first time in 96 years.
     
     "It was unreal," Imhoff said from his family home in Smithers during a short break from soccer. "All the games were sold out at home and after the final game we had 20,000 to 30,000 people in the downtown core celebrating with us.
     
     "It wasn't just the two, it was the whole region celebrating. It was quite something."
     
     The Swiss season finished June 7 but FC St. Gallen had clinched the title some three weeks before.
     
     "It's the greatest experience I've had so far," said Imhoff, who was born in Switzerland to Swiss parents but grew up in Canada. "I won the Canadian university CIAU title with UVic (Victoria) a few years back but it doesn't even come close to what goes on over there."
     
     The club is located in St. Gallen, about a hour from Zurich in the northeastern, German-speaking part of Switzerland.
     
     Imhoff, a defensive midfielder who first came to Switzerland two years ago, played in every game but two since joining the club in February. He has started about half of those contests.
     
     The Swiss title means a berth in the qualifying rounds of the prestigious Champions League cup competition.
     
     FC St. Gallen, founded in 1879, will have to win one qualifying series and could be drawn against some big-name European clubs in the championship.
     
     Imhoff, who counts Manchester United's Roy Keane as his favourite player, went to Switzerland after sending a resume to a club named Wil. They invited him over for a tryout, which led to a job.
     
     Manager Marcel Koller left Wil for FC St. Gallen and eventually bought Imhoff.
     
     "He's had a huge influence on my career," Imhoff said of the Swiss manager. "We don't have any superstars but he somehow got us all together. I think the biggest part of us winning was the coach."
     
     St. Gallen is a multinational squad. Apart from Gallen, there are strikers from Ghana (Charles Amoah) and Romania (Ionel Gane) and midfielders from Brazil (Jairo and Guido).
     
     Imhoff arrived in Switzerland in the summer of '98 but had to put soccer on hold after tearing his ACL in a motorcycle accident.
     
     "It was totally unlucky," he said. "I was borrowing somebody's motorbike to drive home from practice one evening and a car swerved across into my lane and hit me head-on.
     
     "I was lucky it was just my knee and it wasn't anything more serious. Still it cost me a good eight months of my life."
     
     Imhoff has played one game for Canada at the Pan American Games last summer but that's the extent of his contribution to the national team program.
     
     "I'm not even sure if they know that I'm over there," he said.
     
     Last week, St. Gallen finally got its championship trophy, taking it from the stadium to downtown in an open bus.
     
     "It was just like the Stanley Cup parade," he said. "It was pretty much unreal."
     
     And while it wasn't Lord Stanley's mug, the champagne was still sweet.
     
     "It tasted pretty good coming out of there."
     
     The Swiss season resumes July 15 so Imhoff is heading back to Switzerland this Saturday after a vacation of just eight days, two of which were taken up by travelling.
     
     The first Champions League qualifying game will be in August.
     
     The 36-game Swiss season is divided into two portions with a lengthy winter break. Last season, the team trained in South Africa during the layoff.
     
     ------
     
     
     
     Notes: Dwayne DeRosario scored a goal and was named man of the match as the Richmond Kickers of the A-League upset the visiting Colorado Rockies of the MLS 3-0 Wednesday night in the second round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Canadian midfielder Jason Bent came on for the Rapids as a substitute ... The Toronto Inferno (3-3) of the W-League host the Ottawa Fury (3-2) tonight in a key Northern Division matchup at Birchmount Stadium ... The Inferno's Tanya Franck returns to the women's national team for the Gold Cup tournament in the U.S. later this month, as does Charmaine Hooper. New faces include Clare Rustad, a 17-year-old midfielder from Saltspring Island, B.C. Canada is in a group with China, Guatemala and Mexico ... The Toronto Lynx, riding a six-game win streak, visit Montreal tonight in A-League action. Toronto improved to 6-0-1 last Sunday with a 4-0 win over the visiting Impact, 1-5. Lynx striker Francisco Dos Santos was named A-League player of the week for the second time this season after scoring three straight goals in the win over Montreal.



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