2016 record: 7W, 10D, 15L – 10th in NASL combined season standings
2016 playoffs: Did not qualify
2016 average attendance: 5,596
Ottawa Fury FC starts it’s 2017 soccer/football/footy/futboll season away in St. Louis, Missouri this Saturday, April 1. Before they hit the field, Apt613 wants to get you all caught up with the team, and what to expect this season.
The North American soccer landscape has changed a lot since we last saw footy action at TD Place. In October, Fury FC (along with Tampa Bay Rowdies) announced they would be leaving the NASL, its league for three years, in favour of the United Soccer League (USL). The NASL barely escaped total collapse in the off-season. In light of this, the team argued that the relative stability of the USL represents the best chance for Fury FC at becoming a profitable and sustainable operation.
Plenty to prove
For coach Paul Dalglish, this season needs to bring wins and plenty of them. The 2016 season was not a positive one. Large turnover following a very successful 2015 season meant the last year’s Fury side had the look of an expansion side again. Such is life in lower-division soccer. Add to that a rash of injuries, and Dalglish rarely got the chance to field his strongest lineup. This year, the roster is starting relatively healthy, however Ryan Williams and last year’s top scorer Carl Haworth are both unavailable for the season opener. With Haworth being the the only holdover from the pre-Dalglish era, this is truly Paul’s team now, and fans need to see results to show club owners were right to put their faith in Dalglish.
“We’re really confident. Everything now is the way I want it. I’ve got, on and off the field, the best team I could wish for,” said Dalglish. “We believe we can achieve something special this year. We feel we are more than capable of competing right at the top of this league.”
Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, Fury FC’s ownership group, reportedly paid seven figures to jump to the USL. That’s a large sum for a team that has operated at a loss in each year of its existence. At the time Fury FC announced the move, USL was sanctioned as a Division III league, one level below NASL. Since then, USL has been granted provisional Division II status. However, the level of play that soccer fans in Ottawa enjoyed over three years in the NASL rose significantly. OSEG has repeatedly said they’re committed to bringing Ottawa the highest quality soccer they can, whatever league that may be. Both they and the USL need to bring at least a similar level of play to what fans here have grown accustomed to, or risk stalling the growth of their fan base.
Back in December, Fury FC and Montreal Impact announced an affiliation agreement, which saw the Impact dissolve their own USL team, FC Montreal, in favour of a partnership with Ottawa. While FC Montreal was the MLS club’s reserve team, the affiliation with Ottawa left a lot of unanswered questions as to how the partnership would look in practise, and many wondered how much independence Fury FC was giving up. Ottawa is indeed obligated to take a certain number of Impact players on their roster, though it seems that number has never been set in stone.
“We don’t know,” says Dalglish. “It’s a very fluid relationship that we have with Montreal. It really is a case of if and when needed from both sides. If we need a player, they might help us. If they need to send somebody down, or they want somebody to get some minutes and we feel like they can help us win, then they’ll send somebody down. I would expect you would see more players throughout the year. It’d be hard for me to tell you exactly what that looks like, but it will happen for sure.”
Fury FC is under no obligation to give these players any playing time. The partnership, thus far, has resulted in the Ottawa taking on goalkeeper David Paulmin, defenders Aron Mkungilwa and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, and midfielder Jimmy-Shammar Sanon.
Paulmin won’t start on opening day. Callum Irving has been pencilled in as the starter since signing, but there will be opportunity for Paulmin to compete with Irving and Andrew MacRae for playing time. Dalglish stresses the goalkeeping situation will be under constant evaluation.
Mkungilwa and Meilleur-Giguère should see plenty of minutes. 20 year-old Mkungilwa played a significant role in preseason and performed well. Meilleur-Giguère is highly regarded and he has been called up to Canada’s U-20 roster several times, earning him a nomination for Canada’s U-20 player of the year.
Sanon signed most recently, on March 23. He only started one game last year for FC Montreal (appearing as a substitute in four more), but scored the USL Goal of the Year against Charleston Battery. He’s got potential (and a screamer of a shot), though his role won’t be as clear until the coaching staff sees him in training. It’s doubtful he’ll start for a while, but his role could grow as the season wears on.
Turnover is to be expected every year, and Ottawa will be missing some key players from last season. Last year’s club captain and Canadian national team captain, Julian de Guzman retired. He’s been hired by Fury FC to be Assistant Coach and Assistant GM to Head Coach and GM Dalglish. Midfielder Lance Rozeboom will wear the captain’s armband this year.
Other notable absences are goalkeeper Romuald Peiser (San Francisco Deltas), Rafael Alves (free agent), Mauro Eustaquio (FC Edmonton) and Maxim Tissot (D.C. United).
Players to watch: Seoane, Bruna, McEleney
Spaniard Jose Sito Seoane comes to Ottawa from Fylkir Reykjavík of Iceland’s top league, where he was Fylkir’s top scorer. He’s worked with coach Paul Dalglish before, with the Austin Aztex in 2013, where Seoane was the club’s post-season MVP. He’s shown off his scoring touch several times in pre-season. With a strong work ethic on both sides of the ball, and the coach’s trust, Seoane will be a key player this season.
Gerardo Bruna came to Ottawa last season with plenty of hype, being a product of the Real Madrid and Liverpool youth systems, and once being called “The Next Lionel Messi.” While that title is a bit unfair, Bruna didn’t get the chance to prove himself last year. He injured his groin early last season and required surgery, missing most of the year. Now at 100%, Bruna has been impressive in pre-season, scoring a number of times, and setting up several others, showing off his vision and passing through the middle. If he stays healthy, Bruna could be a top player in the league.
Northern Irishman Shane McEleney comes to Ottawa from St. Patrick’s Athletic FC of the League of Ireland. The 26 year-old defenceman, at 6-foot-2, brings size and tenacity to Ottawa’s backfield. The departure of Rafael Alves left a big hole on defence (and who is going to bring their adorable kid onto the field after games now?). However Dalglish believes McEleney is a player “more suited to the style of football we want to play, which is a high-paced, aggressive type of soccer, basing our game on pressing, counter-pressing, which takes a lot of endurance.” With the pace and technical skills Dalglish has been looking for from his defence, expect McEleney to be a minutes leader on the team.
Ottawa should finish near the top of the USL Eastern Conference, comfortably in the top eight for a playoff spot. They’ll be in tough against teams like Tampa Bay Rowdies and FC Cincinnati, who are both vying for potential MLS expansion franchises, as well as last year’s USL champions New York Red Bulls II. If the team stays healthy this year, there’s no reason not to look forward to a playoff run. Apt613 Prediction: 3rd in the East.
Ottawa Fury FC 2017 Roster
GK – Andrew MacRae 🇨🇦
GK – Callum Irving 🇨🇦
GK – David Paulmin 🇨🇦
D – Eddie Edward 🇨🇦
D – Onua Obasi
D – Kyle Venter
D – Andrae Campbell
D – Ramon Martin Del Campo
D – Shane McEleney
D – Aron Mkungilwa 🇨🇦
D – Thomas Meilleur-Giguère 🇨🇦
M – Jonathan Barden
M – Gerardo Bruna
M – Jamar Dixon🇨🇦
M – Sergio Manesio
M – Lance Rozeboom (C)
M – Jimmy-Shammar Sanon🇨🇦
M – Ryan Williams
F – Steevan Dos Santos
F – Carl Haworth 🇨🇦
F – Tucker Hume
F – Sito Seoane
Fury FC kicks off their 2017 USL season in St. Louis, MO on April 1 against Saint Louis FC. Their home opener will be April 22 at TD Place versus Toronto FC II. Tickets for all home games are on sale at the TD Place box office, and online at www.ottawafuryfc.com.