Just under a month away from opening kick-off on its third season, Ottawa Fury FC is gearing up to face a make-or-break campaign both on and off the pitch.
With much of the main cast of Fury FC’s seasons one and two having moved elsewhere during a busy offseason, it remains to be seen whether the club will fall back into its bottom-table form from season one or maintain its red-hot run from season two. Perhaps supporters in the nation’s capital are destined for mediocrity this season; with a host of new faces both on the pitch and in the dugout, there will be an adjustment period for the squad under new boss Paul Dalglish (yes, son of Kenny).
Off the pitch, one has to wonder how much the boosted attendance of last year’s campaign was a result of the team’s fairytale run to the league final under former manager Marc Dos Santos, and whether a Fury FC squad likely to fall somewhere near mid-table will be able to replicate last season’s stellar average of 5,248 at the gate.
Departed are the majority of the string pullers, goal baggers, and defensive stalwarts that made the 2015 Fury squad an unlikely NASL runner-up. Dos Santos, the man who built the club from the ground up, has left to manage Sporting Kansas City’s USL affiliate. Up front, leading goalscorer Tom Heinemann has left Canada’s capital in pursuit of the almighty American dollar with the (relatively) cash-flush Tampa Bay Rowdies. In the heart of the park, captain Richie Ryan has traded the red, white and black upon which he carried the captain’s armband for the navy blue of Jacksonville Armada FC. Only Rafael Alves remains of the team’s league-best 2015 back four; left back Mason Trafford has headed south to NASL startup Miami FC, Irish centerback Colin Falvey signed with Indy Eleven, and right back Ryan Richter is returning home with Bethlehem Steel FC, the new USL affiliate of the Philadelphia Union.
Joining the squad is an expansion-style influx of players from across the globe led by the affable Dalglish, a former MLS player with outstanding bloodlines. Headlined by Canadian internationals Marcel de Jong and Kyle Porter, the group will be on the hook to replace the contributions of key squad members from last season. Other signings of note include; lanky Jamaican striker Dennis Chin, previously of USL’s Arizona United; Liverpool academy burnout Gerardo Bruna, whose latest stint with League Two Accrington Stanley saw him labeled as surplus to requirements; versatile young Brazilian loanee Pablo Dyego; and journeyman midfielder Mozzi Gyorio, who sued another team in the league–Minnesota–over playing time.
An interesting set of new faces even before considering the likes of short-fused midfielder Jonny Steele, signed on a free after a failed 2015 campaign with Minnesota, and former Derby County prospect James Bailey.
Supporters have voiced (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) concerns that the club feels like an expansion team once again, with its new faces, philosophy, and direction.
With the likes of Tampa, Carolina, Fort Lauderdale, New York and Minnesota all stepping up with large investments in their respective squads this offseason, Ottawa was always going to be hard-pressed to match those clubs signing-for-signing–especially considering the current state of the Canadian dollar. However, even beyond the top-third of the league, the likes of expansion teams Rayo Oklahoma City (owned by Spanish relegation fodder Rayo Vallecano, smart time to invest) and Miami FC have inked established NASL talent and appear to have solid squads.
The second-division league as a whole seems to have made a conscious effort to improve its brand; squad budgets are doubling and even tripling around the league, expansion teams with big-money ownership groups are popping up, and the NASL appears to have dug in for the long haul.
With Fury FC looking like a mid-table team with an outside shot at a wildcard berth, the team’s form at the gate will be telling as to whether Ottawa Fury FC has truly sunk its teeth into its key demographics–ethnic groups and youth soccer–in the Ottawa sports market.