PHOTOS: Indy Eleven
By Théo Gauthier
The Ottawa Fury wrapped up their five-match road trip on Wednesday night by defeating Indy Eleven 1-0 in a closely fought match at Lucas Oil Stadium where an own goal was the only thing separating the former NASL rivals. The Fury end their extensive travels having picked up six points out of a possible 12 (their match in Atlanta was suspended due to weather); not a bad haul.
It’s a run of games which also includes two victories in the Voyageurs Cup against Blainville. Over the course of their epic June voyage, the Fury logged a total of 8,000 kilometres—3,400 of them by bus. The final part of their journey featured three matches which required a FIFA-mandated hydration break as the eastern part of the continent has been gripped by a heat wave. All of these matches were played with no squad rotation to speak of; Popovic believes in these players and keeps selecting them. The Fury training staff deserves full credit for shaping this squad into a finely-tuned fitness monster.
Furthermore, Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic appears to have settled on a strategy that is producing positive results. The Fury have been content to sit back, absorb pressure, and pick their spots to attack. Over the course of its last ten league matches, the Fury possession stats look like this:
Possession statistics for the Voyageurs Cup matches aren’t readily available, but it is widely acknowledged that in both Fury victories, Blainville held the majority of the possession. That means that in twelve matches, the Fury have eight wins and one draw, all while allowing their opponent to have the ball for the majority of matches. It’s telling that two of the three losses in that stretch came in the matches where the Fury had the most possession. The message from Popovic and his charges appears to be: “Come at us.”
Success with such a strategy can only come when a team operates as a unit and through stellar defensive performances. This, they have had. Players are accountable to each other during matches, with team leaders continually shouting orders and pointing out lapses. Every Fury victory this season has come by way of a clean sheet. That is remarkable: eight wins, no goals conceded.
Popovic doesn’t like singling out individual performances, and he’s right in the sense that all fourteen players that see the pitch are responsible for the team’s success this season. However, it’s impossible not to highlight the individuals who have played a particularly significant role in the Fury’s defensive prowess.
Maxime Crépeau appears happy to be in Ottawa. He is courteous with the media, always has a smile off the pitch, and speaks kindly about his teammates. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the keeper on loan from the Montreal Impact is playing at a level well above USL and deserves a shot at a higher level. The Impact front office knows this, which is why he wasn’t sold off. He remains their keeper of the future, and there’s no telling how soon he will replace Evan Bush in Montreal. All Fury fans can do is appreciate the time they get a front-row seat to Crépeau in black and red. He was at it again on Wednesday night against Indy Eleven, where he picked up his 10th clean sheet of the season. Crépeau made four saves, but the USL doesn’t track punches and claims, of which there were many. By this scribe’s count, Crépeau took fourteen positive actions throughout the 90 minutes. On top of that, statistics don’t capture his leadership and the confidence with which the ten outfield players can play in front of him.
At centre-back, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère has been a revelation. Another fruit of the Fury’s arrangement with the Impact, Meilleur-Giguère was given a chance to excel when he came on against New York Red Bull II in the school day game at TD Place. Replacing an injured Onua Obasi in the 31st minute, he played out of position for a few matches and never looked back, eventually playing his way into his preferred centre-back position, one which he’s made his own at the expense of Colin Falvey and Nana Attakora. The young Canadian from Répentigny, Québec, understands the opportunity he’s been afforded and has no intention of relenting: “I don’t want to play the victim, but I felt I deserved this opportunity last year,” he recently said following the second leg of the Voyageurs Cup victory in Ottawa. “It didn’t come, so I just kept working hard. When I was told I was coming back to Ottawa, I was disappointed because I wanted to play for the Impact. However, I’ve gotten my opportunity this year, and things are going well. We’re playing well defensively, not conceding any goals, and I hope things continue to progress and that we’ll go far into the playoffs.”
Slotting in as Meilleur-Giguère’s defensive partner has been a shared task between the now-departed Doneil Henry, veteran Canadian Nana Attakora and fan-favourite Colin Falvey. To their credit, all of them have been up to the task with their take-no-prisoners approach to defending. Together, the three have accounted for 140 clearances, 15 shot blocks and 41 interceptions. Add to that Meilleur-Giguère’s 61 clearances, five blocks and 25 interceptions, and a picture begins to emerge of a no-nonsense central block.
You can’t have a successful central defensive partnership without cover from the fullbacks, and this is where Onua Obasi and Eddie Edward shine. These two are always tirelessly patrolling the Fury’s flanks, providing an essential attacking element to the squad, all while doggedly protecting their defensive third. Obasi is the Fury’s 70/70 man; 69.6% tackling success rate to go along with a 68.9% pass completion rate. Ottawa native Edward also has an impressive tackling percentage over 70%, and it’s a shame “Distance Covered” is not tracked at this level, because there is little doubt he’d be among the league-leaders. The man is the living embodiment of a Porsche at Le Mans (if Porsches were built like CFL linebackers); he just keeps motoring.
What you have, when looking at the sum of the Fury defence’s parts, is a five-man unit that is relentless in its defensive duties. The result is a team that is conceding less and less, and a backline that acts as a springboard for launching attacks. With the offence beginning to click, the rest of the USL is on high alert.
What comes next is a six-match homestand in league play as the Fury try and chase down the league-leaders, beginning this coming Sunday afternoon at TD Place against the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The Fury will have plenty of opportunities over this stretch to put their stamp on the Eastern Conference. The Riverhounds are currently in second place, having won four and drawn one over their last five. The Fury’s other five opponents over the course of the homestand all sit above the Fury in the standings. On their current form and with the comforts of home in which to bask, the Fury are poised for an assault on the summit of the conference.
To do so, they will have to continue to capitalise on their defensive solidity while hoping to see just a bit more from their offensive output. Jamar Dixon and Adonijah Reid, in particular, have been putting in exceptional performances of late, but they will need help from Tony Taylor, Carl Haworth and a fit Steevan Dos Santos to put the ball in the back of the net with more consistency. The signs of an offensive emergence are there for all to see. The chemistry between Taylor and Reid continues to grow (albeit not at its best against Indy Eleven on Wednesday night), and Haworth continues to pop up everywhere he can be of service.
General manager Julian de Guzman has assembled a roster stocked with local players capable achieving great heights in the USL, and Popovic has found the model of play that seeks to augment his charges’ strengths. Fury fans in Ottawa have a special squad in the 2018 vintage, and now, they get to see them up close for an extended period.
- Adonijah Reid successfully attempted a scorpion kick pass in the 56th minute against Indy Eleven. The boy’s special.
- Hydration breaks are a new innovation by FIFA since 2014, but has there ever been one in a dome? There has now.
- Speaking of which, Indy Eleven needs a stadium solution pronto. We’ve all seen it’s possible to play in an American football stadium and maintain self-respect, but this is not that. Faded NFL logos are one thing, but the upraised lip of artificial turf running parallel to the left-sided goal around the 10-yard mark was disgraceful. Indy Eleven was a jewel in the NASL’s crown. What happened?
- Best performance of Jimmy Sanon’s Fury career. The young Haitian international was popping up everywhere on the field after he was subbed into the match to replace Reid in the 68th minute. He terrorised the Indy defenders as they struggled to keep up with his blistering pace, and made some key defensive contributions as the Fury scrambled to maintain their 1-0 advantage. Mission accomplished.
- Speaking of pace, former Swope Park Rangers winger Tyler Pasher was a handful on the left side of Indy’s attack after coming onto the field in the 73rd minute. The young Canadian has two great tools which were on full display Wednesday night: speed and crossing ability. Future CPL player?
- Fury Man of the Match: Maxime Crépeau. We mentioned last week that Adonijah Reid was making a case for Fury Player of the Year, but it will take something special to yank the honour away from Crépeau. Plenty of season left, hopefully someone catches fire. to challenge him.