One of the most dramatic stories in the soccer world right now is centred on Ottawa. You might want to buckle in for this one. It. Is. Bonkers.
On Wednesday evening, December 11th, Ottawa Fury FC released a statement, saying Concacaf (the continental governing body for soccer in North America, Central America and the Caribbean) is seeking to deny Ottawa from participating in the U.S.-based United Soccer League. Ottawa has played in the USL for two seasons. However, with CONCACAF refusing to sanction our hometown team for USL play in 2019, Fury FC is effectively a team without a league.
The reasons for refusal given by Concacaf were outlined in the following statement:
Statement regarding Ottawa Fury FC
— Concacaf (@Concacaf) December 13, 2018
With very little time before training beings, Concacaf appears to be strong-arming Fury FC into the new Canadian Premier League, a new national league which kicks off in 2019.
Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) President and CEO Mark Goudie, speaking from Florida where he is, ironically, attending USL meetings, said the timing could not be worse.
“I’m going to choose to believe that somebody didn’t really understand the implications or the consequences, and we’re going to be able to fix this and be playing in the USL for 2019.”
“I’m going to choose to be the optimist this week and assume that there’s something that we can do to change this around and to be playing in the USL next year. It’s 40 days from us starting training camp in January. The USL is just about to publish its schedule. It’s just illogical at the end of the day. I’m going to choose to believe that somebody didn’t really understand the implications or the consequences, and we’re going to be able to fix this and be playing in the USL for 2019.”
Fury FC and OSEG will provide updates when available.
— Ottawa Fury FC (@OttawaFuryFC) December 13, 2018
The notice that Fury FC was being refused sanctioning came on Wednesday from Canada Soccer. One of bizarre aspects of this situation is the indirect way in which clubs and leagues communicate with their continental governing bodies. All communication must occur through the national governing body (in this case, Canada Soccer). With Ottawa playing in an American league, under a foreign association’s jurisdiction, they actually need approval from both Canada Soccer and the United States Soccer Federation in order to play.
“It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“We don’t have any contact with Concacaf,” says Goudie, “and that’s the way the world of soccer is set up. Request for sanctioning comes from [Canada Soccer]. So what happens is, Canada Soccer says ‘hey yeah, we’re cool with you playing in the USL, we’ll just go ask our friends at the United States Soccer Federation,’ which is the equivalent of Canada Soccer. On Monday, the USSF said yes, [they’re] happy to have the Fury in the USL. Obviously the USL is happy to have us in the USL. When [Canada Soccer] gets that, then they would typically go to Concacaf and say ‘we’ve agreed the Fury should play in the USL, Concacaf, can you bless this please?’ It is astounding, bewildering, and unprecedented that a governing body would reach out, before being asked about sanctioning, to say ‘before you send your request for sanctioning, we’re not going to grant it.’ It just doesn’t make any sense, and why would they do that?”
Both Canada Soccer and USSF are known to support Fury FC playing in the USL, and in a press release sent by Canada Soccer on Wednesday night, they confirmed they had “approved Ottawa Fury’s participation in the USL for the 2019 season,” but were awaiting US Soccer’s decision on the matter. This is at odds with previous reports, including reports from OSEG, that approval had been granted by both the Canadian and American associations. It also explains Concacaf’s first point of refusal: that they had not received an application. Canada Soccer could not have sent the application yet because they didn’t receive approval yet from the USSF.
“I’m not sure how one of the fastest growing, most stable division 2 leagues in the world… can be equivalent to a league that hasn’t kicked a ball yet.”
Not that any of that matters, thanks to Point B: Concacaf was going to say no anyways. Nyah nyah.
It appears to be Concacaf’s opinion that the new CPL is of a standard equal to the USL, so they argue that’s where Fury FC should be playing in 2019. It is worth mentioning that the current president of Concacaf is Vic Montagliani, formerly the head of Canada Soccer, who spearheaded the CPL project. OSEG made a point of mentioning Montagliani, in particular, as “chief promoter” of the new league in their press release, perhaps insinuating there is a personal angle to Concacaf’s actions. Goudie certainly argues against the idea that the new CPL is currently equivalent to the USL.
“We disagree with that, and Canada Soccer agrees with us because they’ve given us their sanctioning choosing that provision. That provision, and the word ‘exceptional,’ sounds exceptional, but is used all over the world. It’s not an exceptional clause. It’s used routinely and commonly all over the world of soccer where there are leagues of different calibers in different jurisdictions. I’m not sure how one of the fastest growing, most stable division 2 leagues in the world… can be equivalent to a league that hasn’t kicked a ball yet.”
On Thursday, when Concacaf made the rare move of releasing their own statement in response to the OSEG release, they say they expressed concerns to Canada Soccer twice, in September and in November, regarding Fury FC’s involvement in the USL for 2019. Since teams don’t communicate directly with Concacaf, it was up to Canada Soccer to relay the message. Fury FC executives claim they never got word, explaining why this week’s news was so shocking to the club.
“The only information that has been relayed to us was on Monday, when this whole debacle started. What [Canada Soccer] got before that and when they got is a question for [Canada Soccer]. They don’t send us any correspondence they get from Concacaf, they deal with it how they choose to, but they wouldn’t and they won’t send us copies of that stuff.”
“We have [asked Canada Soccer for copies] and they haven’t provided us with the Concacaf letter.”
A representative from Canada Soccer could not be reached for comment.
“We’ve got a contract with our fans in Ottawa, to provide soccer of the highest calibre that we possibly can.”
All this is not to say Fury FC is against ever joining the CPL. In fact, Goudie says that’s the goal. The key, he believes, is ensuring the soccer on the pitch at TD Place is as high quality as possible.
“For 2019, our firm desire is to play in the USL. We’ve been clear since the inception of the Canadian Premier League, that if that’s able to grow into a strong, stable league that allows us to provide a high-calibre level of professional soccer to Ottawa, than why wouldn’t we join? Of course we would. We completely support more professional soccer in Canada, and the Canadian Premier League looks like it’s about to start providing that, and that’s awesome. We are very supportive of that. But we’ve got a contract with our fans in Ottawa, to provide soccer of the highest calibre that we possibly can, and for at least 2019, that’s what we believe we are doing through the USL.”
Perhaps the biggest issue with Concacaf trying to force Fury FC into the CPL, on such short notice, is a particular clause written into Ottawa’s USL franchise agreement. As it happens, the clause was written in to allow the Fury to leave for the CPL one day, with as little drama as possible.
“When we negotiated our USL franchise agreement, back in late-2016, we insisted on a clause that allowed us to get out of the USL without any penalties to play in the CPL if that’s what we wanted to do. The USL was very supportive. The only thing they asked for was a 12-month notification clause so that they could get their ducks in order and make sure it didn’t have an impact on their conference alignment and scheduling, and all of that stuff, which is a fair request.”
“We’ll monitor their progress, and determine when the best time to join the CPL is.”
“We envisioned [the CPL] starting. When we were joining the USL, we knew it was a possibility. It’s upon us right now, which is great. And we’ll monitor their progress, and determine when the best time to join the CPL is.”
It’s not clear how much the penalty would be for leaving the USL with less than 12 months notice, but it stands to reason it’s enough that Fury FC would rather not risk paying it. That means seeing Fury FC in the CPL in 2019 simply isn’t possible, and 2020 would seem highly unlikely as well, unless their hand is forced by Concacaf.
Goudie stresses the situation needs to be resolved in short order. Like, within days.
“We’ve got travel plans, we’ve got 17 other teams making travel plans to come to Ottawa. We’ve got players who are either under contract or going to be signed here in the next couple of weeks, so the time is upon us right now.”
“We’ve sent a lawyers letter directly to Concacaf asking for clarification, asking them to reconsider. And we’ve given them until the end of day [on December 14] to respectfully get back to us. We’re waiting until the end of today to figure out if we can fix this, or if we have to go down another avenue.”
“We’re waiting until the end of today to figure out if we can fix this, or if we have to go down another avenue.”
So, we have the hometown club, seemingly destined to join the CPL, but fighting to do it at the time of their choosing.
The least harmful solution would likely be some sort of reprieve, allowing Ottawa to play in the USL for 2019. However, if Concacaf does not respond to OSEG’s lawyers, “another avenue” would likely be court of arbitration. From there, it’s anyone’s guess what the outcome would be. We can only hope it’s one where Ottawa sees professional soccer at Lansdowne Park in 2019.
At the time this article was submitted to be published, media had not been notified of any further clarification from Concacaf.
On Friday, December 14 the USL (working under the assumption that Ottawa will play in the USL next season) released a list of home opening matches for 2019, including Ottawa Fury FC hosting Nashville SC on April 6th. Ottawa is also slated to play Charleston Battery in their home opener on March 9th.