By Théo Gauthier
April 10, 2018
“It’s a learning process.”
These were Ottawa Fury head coach Nikola Popovic’s words in a pre-game interview recorded for the Tampa Bay Rowdies broadcast on Saturday night. They may also have been a warning to Fury fans on what to expect in these, the early days of his tenure.
The universe has conspired to deal the Fury and its fans a foul hand in early 2018. First, the league handed the club a bye week after its opening match. Second, the Fury was made to wait an extra week for their second match of the season when Toronto FC II unceremoniously postponed their matchup due to poor field conditions at BMO field, as the parent club chases the CONCACAF Champions League to add to its trove of recent trophies. Finally, there’s the bonus winter weather in Ottawa wreaking havoc on the club’s ability to practice in anything approaching normal conditions.
A list of laments that will read as justification to some; excuses to others. Whichever side of that divide you find yourself, it’s clear that the Fury Project, release 3.0, looks like it’s still in beta testing. Having faced a series of irregular challenges to start their season, the club now finds itself in a six-point hole to start the season following a 5-0 spanking at the hands of an impressive Tampa Bay Rowdies team.
The result itself is enough for Fury fans to want to look away, but the manner in which they were defeated was worrisome. Not quite panic-inducing, but enough to elicit a worried frown. The Fury put together a series of face-palm-worthy mistakes, but it was the players making those mistakes that raised eyebrows. Fury observers have long known that Colin Falvey is a rock in defence; Mr. Safe Feet. On Saturday night, however, those feet let him down more than once and led to golden opportunities for the Rowdies. Callum Irving, the Fury keeper who’s play so far this season has prompted more groans than cheers, was repeatedly made to look as if the ball had been greased. Onua Obasi, playing at left wing-back, looked nothing like the player of the past two years who could bring the Fury faithful out of their seats with his skilful runs up the flank. His ejection in stoppage time for stomping on a prone opponent is likely to come with a stiff sentence from the league office.
The Fury players looked gassed by the 60th minute. The lack of fitness could be a result of the team training in below freezing weather, only to be dumped into a hot and humid environment (more justifications, more excuses). However, it doesn’t change the fact that the Fury never really got a sniff of goal after the opening minutes, except for one bright buildup in the second half that appeared to be a hint of the promise from Popovic that his team would possess the ball and play attractive football. Something on which to hang your hat, then.
Five-nil, and not much to show for it. It’s early, and we’re told it’s a learning process. No broad conclusions should be drawn so early in a season under a new coach, a new system and a set of challenging circumstances. The club may be getting a pass from fans early in this campaign, but a lack of visible improvement will test even the most patient of observers going forward.