Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the feeling that is starting to grow around Ottawa Fury FC. Call it a buzz. Call it hype. Whatever you want to call it, it’s starting to build, and it is long overdue.
The last time Ottawa enjoyed such a moment was 2015. The greatest moment in club history was arguably their NASL semi-final win over Minnesota United in front of 9,346 screaming fans at TD Place. That was followed by a heartbreaking 3-2 loss to the New York Cosmos a week later in the Soccer Bowl final, which was attended by several busloads of Fury fans who made the trip to New York City. For fans who stayed in Ottawa, a watch party at the Heart & Crown on Preston Street was standing room only, with folks hanging on every pass, every shot, right up until the final whistle. It felt as though soccer had truly broken through in Ottawa.
“This year feels different.”
Unfortunately, the club failed to capitalize on that success in the years that followed. Poor results on the field resulted in stagnating numbers in the stands. The Fury has yet to make the playoffs since that 2015 championship game.
But this year feels different. In 19 USL games, Ottawa has only lost three times, they are in the thick of the playoff picture, and have already scored more goals (32) than in the entire 2018 season (31). Fans will tell you the atmosphere; the crowd engagement, is getting better and better. If the Fury continue to play at their current level as summer bleeds into fall, they may attract more casual sports fans in Ottawa looking to get behind a winner.
Now the team is looking for similar success in the Canadian Championship tournament.
The Voyageurs Cup
If you’re unfamiliar, the Canadian Championship is Canada’s domestic club competition. Professional teams from MLS, USL, League1 Ontario, PLSQ, and as of this year the Canadian Premier League (CanPL) play for the Voyageurs Cup and a spot in the Concacaf Champions League.
On July 10, Ottawa faced a CanPL team for the time ever when they took on the HFX Wanderers in Halifax, in the first leg of a two-game series. Ottawa escaped with a 3-2 win thanks to two stellar goals from Thiago de Freitas and an equally impressive strike by Maxim Tissot. The Fury will try to finish off the Wanderers this Wednesday at TD Place. The winner will go on to face last years champions Toronto FC in the next round.
“We scouted Halifax, we know they’re a good team.”
Ottawa coach Nikola Popovic was not surprised by the quality they saw from the first-year Halifax club.
“We scouted Halifax, we know they’re a good team. They’re good tactically and have good quality players. They produced a good game, not just them, but York and Cavalry [other CanPL teams playing Voyageurs Cup series against MLS competition]. All of them produced a very good product on the field. That should make all Canadians very happy.”
“The most important game we have is the one that comes next.”
“It’s very important that Canada has its own league and more teams participating, because that’s the only way we can grow players and that they can have professional experience. The [Voyageurs Cup] is a fantastic platform for the players to develop themselves, and then of course we’ll be able to create an even stronger national team.”
Popovic and the Fury have been busy in July, having to travel for both USL and Voyageurs Cup action. He says there has been no priority given to resting players for one competition in favour of another.
“What we present is the best 11 we have at the moment. The most important game we have is the one that comes next.”
Three Halifax Wanderers players have strong Ottawa connections. Fullback Zachary Sukunda is an Ottawa native who spent time in the Fury Academy before moving to Montreal Impact’s academy. Midfielder Elliot Simmons emigrated from England to Stittsville when he was five and became a Fury Academy product. Ndzemdzela “Zoom” Langwa also grew up in Stittsville and is an Ottawa South United product.
Ottawa is coming off a very strong 4-0 win in USL play against Swope Park Rangers on Saturday. They should be the more rested side, with Halifax having played last Wednesday as well as Saturday in CanPL action. The Wanderers played very well against Ottawa two weeks ago, however they’ve had trouble scoring away from home all year—while Ottawa’s defence at home has been very solid. All signs point to Ottawa coming away victorious on Wednesday and moving onto the next round of the Canadian Championship.
Prediction: 2-0 Ottawa (5-2 Ottawa aggregate)
Ottawa Fury FC takes on HFX Wanderers FC at TD Place this Wednesday, July 24. Kickoff is at 7:30pm. Tickets are available online and at the TD Place Box Office.