PHOTO: Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Fury FC
By Théo Gauthier
That sound you heard emanating from Lansdowne on Saturday afternoon was the Ottawa Fury FC puzzle pieces provided by general manager Julian de Guzman and arranged on the table by head coach Nikola Popovic clicking into place.
Under a glorious blue sky and a radiant sun—as perfect as conditions get for a soccer match in Ottawa—the Ottawa Fury defeated Atlanta United II 2-0 with goals from Steevan Dos Santos and Carl Haworth. For those keeping track at home, those were goals one and two on the season from current Fury forwards (Sito Seoane, who technically had the first Fury goal of the season by a forward, was released earlier this week).
From the beginning of the match, the Fury were on the front foot, brimming with confidence, with FC Dallas loanee Adonijah Reid setting an early tone with his runs on the left side. In the third minute, he linked up with Dos Santos on a give-and-go, dribbled his way into a dangerous position on the edge of the 18-yard box and fed Dos Santos with a pass that led to a prime scoring chance. It was Reid once more in the 14th minute who dribbled his way towards the Atlanta back line and fed Carl Haworth a goalscoring opportunity on a platter. Despite Haworth and Dos Santos not cashing in, they were both finding their groove like an artillery unit zeroing in on its target.
The first goal of the match was clearly on its way. Once again, Adonijah Reid provided the impetus from the left flank. Latching onto a delightful pass into space from Thomas-Meilleur Giguère, Reid strode his way up the side of the pitch to the end line. The first part of the job done, he turned towards his opponent and tap-danced his way past him, then cut a pass back to an open Haworth. Haworth appeared to get the ball caught in his feet a little but the resulting pass found Dos Santos, who buried his shot into the back of the net. The goal was the culmination of an 11-pass move by the Fury, just the sort of beautiful play that was promised in the pre-season and could be mistaken for a Manchester City wonder-goal. Danilo to Sané to Agüero to Raheem Sterling, cool as you like.
The second goal was precipitated by—who else?—Adonijah Reid. Pouncing on a mishandled ball by 17-year-old Atlanta defender Kendall Edwards, Reid turned on the afterburners towards the open field before him. Edwards hustled to make up the ground lost after his disrobing and fouled Reid before the damage could be ultimate. On the ensuing free kick, Carl Haworth morphed into Sebastian Giovinco before our eyes and left the keeper with no chance on a perfectly placed kick to the upper left corner of the goal. The Fury would not look back.
The victory was an important reminder that a team’s fortunes can change as quickly as winter turns to spring in the National Capital Region, and those two things may not be unrelated. The team finally looked like it was playing up to its talent level, with everyone on the field contributing in some way to its success. Fury captain Carl Haworth put it this way: “Full team performance. We’ve been building on being strong at the back, being difficult to beat, difficult to break down and you could see that today. As forwards, we’ve been working on creating more chances…if we’d been more clinical, this game could have been three-, four-, five-nothing. For me, pick eleven man-of-the-matches.”
It very well could have been a rout, but when you don’t let the other team score, all you need is one. With that in mind, Fury fans got to see how strong Popovic’s commitment is to playing offensive-minded soccer; despite a 2-0 lead at halftime, his first two substitutions of the day were Jimmy Shammar-Sanon and Tony Taylor, both attacking players.
Currently in a run of games in which the Fury have kept opponents off the scoreboard for 283 consecutive minutes, Popovic was effusive in praising his squad: “I have to wish congratulations to our players; I’m very proud of them. The way they fought during the 95 minutes of this game was outstanding. It was fantastic to watch.” The Fury head coach was quick to pivot to a reminder on what he is trying bring to Ottawa football fans: “We are trying here to create a culture, and one of the core values is this belief—this positive attitude—and they showed this in this game.”
Almost as if catching himself being too complimentary, Popovic switched gears to discuss how he’ll be looking for his team to improve: “It’s perhaps not the best performance. I know the stats and the scoreboard (will show we did well), but I think we have to play a little bit better. We have to have a little bit more of the ball; we have to dominate the game. In this game, we didn’t do it.” The Fury, despite its possession-minded philosophy, hasn’t cracked 50% possession since their 1-1 draw in their home opener against North Carolina FC on April 21st. The Fury’s inability to control the ball will provide the club with something to focus on improving in training.
It’s also important to keep things in perspective. Yes, the Fury have been victorious for two games on the hop, but those victories came against a depleted Penn FC who were playing on three days rest, and an Atlanta United II squad whose average age is only 20 years old. The Fury and their fans will get a much better gauge of where they stand in their match next week against the Charleston Battery.
For now, though, things are looking great in Fury-land. Their current run of success has seen them climb out of the Eastern Conference basement and three points out of the playoff picture. In a season that was taking a turn towards catastrophe, seven points from their past three matches will lift the sense of suffocation that was closing in on the club, from the players to the coaching staff to management and the fans.
- Dare I say it? The Fury haven’t looked this good since 2015.
- What Ottawans will give themselves as an excuse for not showing up this week: “But…the Tulip Festival!” An attendance of 4,300 is simply mind-boggling on such a glorious Saturday afternoon.
- The refereeing crew had a decent day, but no one covered themselves in glory over this missed corner call in the 25th minute.
- Thomas-Meilleur Giguère is making a strong case to be a regular in the squad when Onua Obasi and Nana Attakora are once again fully fit. The 20-year-old defender from Répentigny, Québec, has played faultless football at left back, which is not his natural position. Perhaps it should be? It’s not like his parent club, the Montreal Impact, has a plethora of options in the position.
Furious Man of the Match: Adonijah Reid. The Fury left-winger is going to give Popovic a selection headache when Maxime Tissot is fit. He was the source of most of the Fury’s attacking moves on Saturday, and when he’s on, the Fury are dangerous.