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Captain Carl Haworth takes a free kick. Twitter: @OttawaFuryFC.

Match Preview: Fury FC face Nashville in home opener at TD Place—04.06.19

By Josh Lemoine on April 2, 2019

Ottawa Fury FC: 1W-1D-0L
Nashville SC: 1W-1D-1L

It’s been a long winter. Waaayyy too long. But the most sure sign that we’ve survived is the sound of soccer at TD Place. That’s right: Ottawa Fury FC is back. They’ll take on USL heavyweights and future MLS side Nashville SC this Saturday April 6 at 2pm.

Oh, and speaking of a long winter, it seems spring hasn’t reached the South Side stands, so all fans with tickets for the lower bowl on the South Side will be sitting on the North Side on Saturday, as made by Fury GM and renowned thespian Julian de Guzman in this tweet:

Fury FC head into their home opener having already played two games on the road; one in Charleston, South Carolina and one in Birmingham, Alabama. With one win and a draw, the Fury—notorious for slow starts to the season—are off to their best start in club history. The club made a point of spending more time in preseason down in Florida; training outdoors on full fields, and already appear to be seeing positive results.

The game against Nashville will be a significant test. Not only is Nashville considered one of the top teams in this year’s USL Championship, but Fury FC have had two bye weeks to break up their momentum. Since their last game back on March 16, Ottawa have played scrimmages against Toronto FC and AS Blainville to try to mitigate the disturbance caused by two bye weeks, but as coach Nikola Popovic will tell you, it’s not easy.

“It’s a challenge. It’s human nature to relax a little bit, however I think we have a team with very strong character, and the boys give their best. It’s natural that the rhythm is going to break because you don’t have a game, however I hope we are going to be at a good level when the Nashville game comes.”

#26 Thomas Meilleure-Giguère. Twitter: @OttawaFuryFC.

Know Thy Enemy

Nashville SC will be making the jump to MLS next season, and as such, have dramatically increased their payroll. Goalscoring was an area the club wanted to improve upon from last year’s squad, so they went out and signed the formidable trio of Daniel Ríos, Kharlton Belmar, and 2018 USL Golden Boot winner Cameron Lancaster.

Lancaster came up through the Tottenham academy system at the same time as England superstar Harry Kane, and was once considered by some to be the better prospect. It has taken some time, but he finally had a breakthrough season last year, setting a USL record of 25 goals. He’ll get a chance to shine in the MLS next season as he is signed to an MLS contract.

Lancaster and Ríos (also signed to an MLS contract), along with Belmar, scored a combined 56 goals in the USL last season. Keep in mind Fury FC only scored 31 goals in all of 2018.

That said, Nashville has not exactly been explosive in their first three games. Of three goals scored, two came against expansion side Loudoun United FC, and they were shut out against Saint Louis FC. As expected, those three goals have come from Ríos (2) and Lancaster (1). Both players faced Ottawa last year and each tickled twine twice against the Fury, including a goal by Ríos in last year’s home opener.

Ottawa’s Jamar Dixon fights for posession. Twitter: @OttawaFuryFC.

Keys to the Game

Quick start: Ottawa has scored first in both games so far, within the first 20 minutes. Too many times in 2018 did we see Ottawa playing from behind. It’s been refreshing to watch their opponents playing to come back instead. Facing a team with plenty of offensive threats, Ottawa would do well to press early and put as many shots towards Nashville’s net as possible.

Attack: Coach Popovic has promised a more exciting brand of soccer this season. Granted, Ottawa played two solid road games so far—but there were several examples of players not pushing the ball forward when there were clear opportunities to press towards goal. Ottawa could very well have scored a few more times in the first 45 minutes of each game, but instead had to rely on strong defensive efforts in the second half to earn their points.

Play full 90 minutes:Ottawa’s first two games have been tales of two halves. The first half being very strong for Ottawa, in which they have looked easily the more dangerous side. The second, sees Fury sitting back a bit too much, allowing the defence to bend. Nashville is a stronger side than their first two opponents, and Ottawa won’t be able to get away with that kind of second half performance.

Contain the Big 3: It’s pretty simple. Lancaster, Ríos and Belmar should all see time on the field on Saturday. Each have a high degree of skill when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net, especially when in close. The Ottawa defence will need to be sharp to prevent those three from getting any quality chances.

New signing Charlie Ward. Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fury FC.

Fury Player to Watch: Charlie Ward

Ward is so good, yet sometimes you’d hardly notice him if it weren’t for the stats. The 24 year old Englishman leads the team with 137 completed passes and an out-of-this-world 94.9% completion rate. He has the soccer sense to make the right passes, short or long, to the right people at the right time. He’s the key to Popovic’s possession system, and has so far executed at an all-USL level. Simply put: as Ward goes, so goes Fury FC.

Prediction: Nashville presents an early benchmark for Fury FC to see how they stack up against what should be a top USL team. Ottawa will look to continue their strong start to the year, and should test Nashville’s keeper early and often. With plenty of firepower on the Nashville side, expect a few goals to be exchanged Saturday, with Ottawa stepping up to prove equal to the challenge. 2-2 draw.

Ottawa Fury FC plays their home opener versus Nashville SC at TD Place this Saturday, April 6. Kickoff is at 2pm. Tickets are $14–19 available online and at the TD Place Box Office.