Earlier today, the Ottawa Fury officially announced the club’s worst-kept secret: the team will no longer be playing in the NASL, and has decided to transfer into the USL. It’s been so heavily rumoured, that the transition barely counts as news. With the large number of rumours and moves surrounding the Fury and their ambitions, we need to take a close look at what we know, and what questions need to be posed.
The first question is whether or not the transfer will be approved by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) which won’t be voting on the issue until December 4th. It is generally expected that the CSA would rather approve the movement than sink the Fury, but that there will be some pretty strict conditions on the team. It would likely be the same conditions that we find with the Canadian MLS-Reserve teams in the USL: 50% of the team must be Canadian and 6/11 Canadians as starters (averaged over the course of the season). The MLS-Reserve teams do not play for the Voyageurs Cup, so the question is, will Ottawa. According to the team’s twitter account:
— Ottawa Fury FC (@OttawaFuryFC) October 25, 2016
Of course, this is just the club making the claim. According to the official release from the CSA, they haven’t voted on it yet. Or even on the Fury’s proposed league change. The CSA’s official statement says they are aware of Fury’s proposed league transfer for 2017 and “The application will be assessed at the upcoming Canada Soccer Board of Directors meeting, currently scheduled for December 4, 2016. A decision will be taken by the Board at that time.” Until the CSA says yay or nay, Ottawa Fury FC and USL can say whatever they please, but it won’t make it necessarily accurate.
Ottawa’s done a number of questionable things since it left the PDL and joined the NASL. The new stadium and starting up a Fury Academy team in the Premiere Ligue de Soccer du Quebec (PLSQ) was amongst the best of those things. Dismantling first their women’s side in order to create the pro-men’s team was a slap in the face to many locals, but it was easily overlooked. After all, we now had a pro-soccer club, and they could always bring the women’s side back when they grew successful. Last winter’s complete fire sale of the entire team, and knowing we were losing the coach prior to the end of the NASL championship, added to the woes. When the USL rumours began to swirl, the team announced the shuttering of their academy and dissolution of their PLSQ team after only 2-years of operation.
On the bright side, current coach Paul Dalglish is better suited to USL-play than to NASL. With Pugh confirming that Dalglish will be remaining next season, there will be something steady at the field. Eddie Edwards, whom the club acquired from FC Edmonton, seems to be confirming that he will be making the move to USL as well:
— Eddie Edward (@eddieedwardfc) October 25, 2016
Edward will be a good fit in the USL, and can be someone to build a team around. It will be interesting to see who else will remain as the team makes the transition. Peiser, Williams, Tissot, Obasi, Gentile, and even Haworth are probably gone at the end of the season, barring contract shenanigans. I expect to see DeBellis become the primary keeper, unless someone else picks him up. Eustaquio will also be a good fit as a starter in the USL, so I would personally expect to see him sign on for another year. Timbo, Alves, Stewart and Bailey could go either way. Ottawa would be lucky to keep them for next season. I won’t be surprised to see a lot of the younger guys make the move to USL, and perhaps even see them play the final NASL match this Saturday to get their feet in the game.
If the CSA does approve the move to the USL, will that open things up for Hamilton, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Victoria? All four cities have had ambitions for USL teams in the past, but had to stopper those ambitions because of the CSA’s ban on teams joining USSF 2nd & 3rd division leagues. In the case of Victoria, the refusal sank the Victoria Highlanders into bankruptcy, to be followed by a rebuild as a volunteer-based organization. Also, what does this move mean for the potential Canadian Premier League (CPL), rumoured to launch 2018? A 1-year waiver would prevent other moves to USL while basically forcing a transition to CPL in 2018. Hell, best case scenario, the Fury (and other CPL teams) could always (re)launch their reserve side in USL in 2018 to play with the MLS reserve sides.
If the CSA does not approve the league transfer, it’ll be rough. The Fury will fold or go on hiatus for a year, having no league within which to play. This has happened before when the CSA denied an application from the Quebec Dynamo and other teams to the W-league. Optionally, the Fury could give the CSA a big foamy finger and play anyways, possibly even ignoring any and all of the Canadian minimum requirements that the CSA has implemented for the MLS-reserve teams. It wouldn’t be the first time the Fury gave the CSA the finger, after-all, there was a ban on teams joining USSF 2nd & 3rd division leagues when the Fury were awarded their NASL franchise. This isn’t likely considering that the team has generally played with mostly-Canadian squads throughout its time in the NASL.
Despite the clarity in today’s announcement, there’s still a lot of questions. We’ll all have the answers sometime after the CSA Board of Directors meeting on December 4th. I’m sure Fury fans are eager for the train to stop pretending it’s a roller coaster.