This will be easy.
That’s what Fury FC fans surely thought early last Wednesday night, as they watched online (or in person for the superfans who made the roadtrip to Laval) as Ottawa took on Première Ligue de Soccer du Québec (PLSQ) champions AS Blainville in the first leg of their Canadian Championship matchup. But Blainville proved they aren’t to be taken lightly.
Some background for those unfamiliar with AS Blainville or the PLSQ: For 2018, the annual Canadian Championship tournament has expanded to allow the winners of League1 Ontario (L1O) and the PLSQ (both are semi-pro Division III leagues) a chance to compete for the Voyageurs Cup. AS Blainville defeated L1O champions Oakville Blue Devils in the first qualifying round, for the right to play Ottawa in the second round. The winner of the Ottawa-Blainville matchup will advance to take on Toronto FC of MLS.
Said Ottawa coach Nikola Popovic before the game: “We said from the beginning, the Canadian Championship is the most important competition that we are involved in. There is no excuses. The pressure for us is very very high.”
“The Canadian Championship is the most important competition that we are involved in.”
Early on, Ottawa looked like they were ready to steamroll Blainville, ensuring they lock up that date with TFC, and needed barely 55 seconds to score first, thanks to a strike from Tony Taylor that fooled goalkeeper Erwann Ofouya. But, after surviving the following 15 minutes, in which Ottawa was dominant, Blainville began to show why they are undefeated in all competitions so far this year. Their defence settled down and came together, giving the Fury more trouble than ever anticipated.
On offence, there were a few dangerous chances created by Blainville as well. A world-class free kick from Nafi Dicko-Raynauld late in the game nearly tied it for the home team, had it not been for an equally great save from Ottawa keeper Maxime Crépeau.
It was by no means an attractive 90 minutes, but Ottawa escaped the first leg with a 1-0 win. They scored a key away goal and didn’t concede any, but they’ll surely be unhappy knowing they’ve left Blainville with some quantum of hope for the second leg. There were missed passes and other mistakes that the Fury don’t usually make.
In USL play, Ottawa is in the middle of a long stretch of games on the road, and at times it looked like their schedule was taking its toll. They’ll be looking forward to playing the second leg at home at TD Place on Wednesday, June 27th, when they’ll try to secure the semi-final matchup with Toronto FC. It’ll be their first home game since June 2nd.
Blainville head coach Emmanuel Macagno assured their team won’t go down without a fight.
“Even if they already sell tickets to the game against Toronto in the next round on their website. We will try to make it so they need to reimburse their fans.”
“We are going there to play, their qualification isn’t confirmed yet, even if they already sell tickets to the game against Toronto in the next round on their website. We will try to make it so they need to reimburse their fans.”
It should be said, having a team like AS Blainville in the Canadian Championship highlights the level of talent in Canada’s division III leagues. While those leagues may not be at the same level as the USL or MLS, dozens of Canadian players from both the PLSQ and L1O have gone on to sign professional contracts around the world thanks to their time in these leagues. Canadian star Cyle Larin, for instance, played in the UEFA Champions League this year for Turkish club Beşiktaş, but as recently as 2014 he was plying his trade in L1O. Many players in these leagues will get the chance to play and train professionally next year when the Canadian Premier League starts up with at least eight inaugural teams across Canada.
— apt613 (@apt613) June 25, 2018
“I’m very happy to see so much quality in Canadian players,” said Popovic following the game. “We had today a lot of Canadian players on [both sides of] the field. And I’m very happy to see how this competition is organized. To me, it smells more like football–European football. How it’s all put together, it’s a fantastic image of Canadian football.”
Playing three games in eight days, coach Popovic will have some tough decisions in terms of who starts which games. It’s likely the priority will be placed on beating Blainville and clinching the date with TFC.
“[The Canadian Championship] is the most important competition for us. We are responsible, and we want to face this competition. For us, this is like Champions League.”
🚨 CONTEST: Got ⚽️ fever? The @furyfc return home on Wednesday for the second leg of the Canadian Championship qualifying round. Who would you bring to the match? Tag them in the comments for a chance to win 2🎟! Make sure you follow @apt613 because we’ll DM the winner on Tuesday. 📸 @landonspics | #APT613
Ottawa Fury FC takes on AS Blainville at TD Place on Wednesday, June 27. Tickets are available online or at the TD Place box office.