The Canadian Soccer Association announced last weekend that they had unanimously sanctioned the Canadian Premier League and hope to begin play following the 2018 World Cup. While it is generally understood that the three Canadian MLS sides and their USL counterparts will not be taking part in the CPL, there does remain many questions around FC Edmonton and Ottawa Fury’s potential participation in the nation’s domestic league.
In The Past
Ottawa Fury are a club with a rich grassroots background that goes back over ten years. Originally a women’s team that President John Pugh bought over, Fury has since evolved into a football club that has had various teams play in the W-League, Première Ligue de soccer du Québec, Premier Development League, North American Soccer League and most recently the United Soccer League.
While the clubs first team has jumped around the lower leagues of North American soccer over the past five years Fury have never let the league they compete in define who they are, and have always been defined by their commitment to provide soccer to the community at the highest level possible. This was best exemplified when the club opted to leave the NASL last year prior to the leagues near implosion, joining the much more stable USL. The move from NASL to USL cost Ottawa Fury a fairly size-able investment, and they will be reluctant to give that up so quickly to join the CPL.
Why Fury Should Consider the Canadian Premier League
There is no doubt that, if a success, the Canadian Premier League will be at the forefront of Canadian player development, and that has been a part of Fury’s image long before the club had a professional side. As a club with a well-established roster, front office and fan base, Fury would have the opportunity to be a dominant force in the CPL early years and help set the tone of the league. There is a certain amount of pride that goes along with being a founding club in a new league, just ask Charleston Battery/Richmond Kickers in the USL, the New York Cosmos in the NASL or any of the Original Six NHL teams; and that is something Fury should want to be a part of.
One of the big struggles for Ottawa Fury from a business perspective is marketing. It’s not easy marketing a club in the nation’s capital that plays in the US second division, especially with two MLS sides within driving distance. While there are fans in Ottawa who will come out to see the likes of Joe Cole and Raul, having Fury playing in the CPL would be much easier to market to the patriotic public and would provide fans with a league that is much easier to connect to. Instead of playing clubs from US cities that some Canadians may have never heard of, such as Harrisburg or Wilmington, Fury would have a much easier time marketing games against teams from Hamilton or Quebec City.
The CSA has been somewhat reluctant to permit Canadian clubs to play in the USL, and it is believed that they will apply pressure on Ottawa Fury to make a move to the CPL once the league is up and running. The CSA bent its own rules by allowing an independent club to join the USL, suggesting they have faith in Ottawa Fury’s long term plans and will likely hope that Fury will one day play in the CSA regulated CPL.
What The Future Holds
Ottawa Fury and their parent company Ottawa Sports Entertainment Group will always understandably put their business needs first in every decision made; as it is the business that allows the soccer to happen. Moving from the PDL to the NASL was a move made to help the club grow; while the move from the NASL to the USL was done to save the club from turmoil. The history of Canadian division one soccer is very unfavourable, meaning Fury and OSEG would be reluctant to make any commitment to the Canadian Premier League until they know that the league is viable in the longer term.
While in the past I have got the impression that Ottawa Fury were not interested in the CPL, the club seem to have come around over the past year as more details about the league emerge. USL President Jake Edwards was in Ottawa for the clubs USL Home Opener in April and gave his support of the CPL, saying “we [the USL] would fully support a professional league here [in Canada]. I think there absolutely needs to be one.”
When asked about Fury’s plans regarding the CPL, OSEG COO Mark Goudie provided Northern Starting XI with the following statement:
“Ottawa Fury FC is a proud member of the United Soccer League, the world’s largest Division II professional soccer league. Our club has always supported the idea of a Canadian League and more opportunities for Canadian professional soccer players. We commend the work of everyone involved bringing the CPL to this stage. We have had open dialogue with the CPL and Canada Soccer and look forward to learning more about the league’s direction and business model.”
– Mark Goudie, COO, OSEG
While the statement suggests what was safe to assume, that Fury are happy to see the developments but have no direct role in the CPL a this stage, it does reveal that the club are in open contact with the CSA and the CPL, and seem to have a relationship that is open to potentially working with one another in the future.
The CPL is in its early stages and won’t be up and running in full until at least 2019. In the meantime Ottawa Fury fans can enjoy professional soccer in the nation’s capital, including the clubs second consecutive visit to the Voyageurs Cup Semi-Finals, while still dreaming of having a club in the CPL one day. Fury are understandably reluctant to commit to anything at such an early stage, and are currently very happy in the USL where they have invested money and are hoping to see the club grow alongside the league.
Assuming everything goes to plan, the Canadian Premier League seems to be an inevitable part of Ottawa Fury’s future. In the meantime OSEG are focused on providing quality professional soccer at Lansdowne Park this year and next in the United Soccer League while allowing groups in Hamilton and Winnipeg spearhead the domestic league dream.