PHOTOS: Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Fury FC
By Théo Gauthier
There are times in sport when two opponents are so finely poised, so evenly matched, that a thin blade is necessary to pry them apart. On Saturday afternoon at TD Place, neither Ottawa Fury FC or Indy Eleven got their hands on such an implement as they poked and prodded their way to a 0-0 draw.
When it’s this close, every opportunity takes on a larger significance. Both sides had their chances—including a missed penalty by the Fury and two shots hitting the post for Indy—but great saves and hardy woodwork kept both sides off the scoresheet.
The match was played in a playoff atmosphere. Both clubs are attempting to scratch and claw their way into a safer spot in the USL’s Eastern Conference, and the Ottawa crowd of 5,393 responded by backing the home side through every close call with a loud and energised response.
At the outset, Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic threw everyone a curveball by making significant changes to his starting eleven. Gone from the starting eleven were defenders Nana Attakora and Eddie Edward, and midfielder Kévin Oliveira. Into the lineup were inserted Canadian international centre-back David Edgar for his first appearance with the Fury, Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé in midfield and what appeared to be four forwards in attack. On paper, it looked like a 3-3-4, a formation that hasn’t been in vogue since Tottenham Hotspur deployed it in the early 1960’s. In practice, it was more of a 3-5-2 with team captain Carl Haworth venturing up and down the right flank depending on whether or not the Fury had possession.
“We have a lot of games and in four days we will be playing again,” said Popovic after the match in explaining the change in personnel. “We have to rest some players and this was the best way, the best fit, the best shape that we found to play against our opponent, who is perhaps one of the best sides in USL.” The simple matter that he could make the changes is a sign to Popovic that his squad is progressing: “Being able to change three players—Nana (Attakora), Eddie (Edward) and Kévin (Oliveira)—and being able to fight with (Indy), gives us a very good indication that this team is getting stronger and stronger.”
For the majority of its professional existence, the Fury has been deployed in a 4-3-3, so the change in formation caught many off guard, including centre-back Thomas Meilleur Giguère: “It was a shock to us at first, we weren’t ready for it, so we had to talk a lot. By the second half, though, we were moving well and moving the ball around well. David (Edgar) was a great help in helping to keep the back line organised.” The change was welcomed by the young Quebecer, who felt at home in a back three: “I played a lot in a 3-5-2 before and I feel more free (in that system). I can step between the lines and intercept a ball because I know Dave…is behind me (covering). That’s my type of game so I really like it.”
The Fury looked more dynamic in this system, despite the lack of goals on Saturday. The amount of movement by the Fury was notably increased, opening up more angles of attack. That movement led to a chance for Steevan Dos Santos in the 25th minute. Fury keeper Maxime Crépeau played the ball long to Tony Taylor, who spotted the run of Dos Santos to his left and slid the ball across the top of the 18-yard box. Dos Santos hit it one-time on the run and forced a save from former Tranmere Rovers keeper Owain Fôn Williams.
It was Fôn Williams to Indy’s rescue once more in the 30th minute. After a nifty give-and-go between Gagnon-Laparé and Daniel Kinumbé on the left flank, the youngster from Sherbrooke put in a great cross to the far post that was met by Taylor, who headed it down to Dos Santos near the penalty spot. Dos Santos redirected the ball towards a yawning goal, but the Welsh keeper came flying into the frame to rob the Cape Verdean of his fifth goal of the season.
The Fury looked more comfortable with the ball on Saturday, and their share of the possession kept climbing throughout the match. That’s not to say Indy went without opportunities of their own; as is the case in most Fury matches, it’s the opposition that ends up with the majority of possession. In the 52nd minute, Indy forward Soony Saad received the ball at the top of the Fury’s 18-yard box, turned to get the ball on his left foot and unleashed a rocket destined for the top right of the goal. Destiny and Maxime Crépeau faced off for a split-second and it was the Fury keeper who came out on top as he got just enough of the ball to see it bounce off the crossbar.
The woodwork did its best to earn Man of the Match in this one, as it repeatedly stood firm to keep the ball from bulging the onion bag. The Fury’s best chance to score came in the 64th minute when Dos Santos was brought down in the area by Indy defender Carlyle Mitchell after recovering the ball and dribbling straight into the teeth of the Indy defence. On the ensuing penalty, Dos Santos beat Fôn Williams but could not get the ball past the left upright, as the ball bounced harmlessly back into play.
Then in the 76th, it was Indy’s time to get turned away by the lumber, when Elliot Collier got away from Meilleur-Guiguère, dished off to his left to Sonny Saad, who curled the ball past Crépeau and off the right post. It would Indy’s last notable attempt on goal, as Ottawa’s back line and Crépeau would hold on for the clean sheet, their 14th of the season when counting matches in the Canadian Championship.
The Fury would get a final chance to take the three points in stoppage time when Haworth played Kévin Oliveira into the box with a well-weighted pass on the ground. Oliveira collected it and hit it on the run, only to have his shot pushed wide by Fôn Williams.
It’s a credit to the soccer sophistication of the Ottawa crowd that they were as entertained by a 0-0 draw as by a goal-fest. Throughout the match, the home supporters were on the edge of their seats, realising the importance of the match and reacting animatedly over the smallest details like switches in play and feats of defensive prowess.
“We have to say it was a fair result that the teams split the points,” said Popovic as he shared his reflections on the match.” The Fury coach is loathe to praise—or criticise—individual performances, but he allowed himself to do so after this result. When asked to share his level of satisfaction with a formation that saw one of his attackers spend large portions of the match at right back, Popovic pointed out it wasn’t just Haworth who performed well. “It wasn’t just Carl, but the kid, Kinumbe on the left side and Edgar coming in for the first time and trying to find the chemistry with Obasi and Thomas. All these things have to be worked and we have so many games that it’s very difficult in these situations. We have to be very proud of them on how fast they were able to recover, understand what was asked by the staff and be able to put it in place on the field.”
After factoring in all of Saturday’s USL results, the Fury is tied with New York Red Bulls II for seventh in the Eastern Conference with 35 points. With its hectic summer schedule, the Fury are surrounded both ahead and behind the table by teams with matches in hand. Of course, that also means those teams are headed for crowded schedules of their own before the season plays itself out.
The Fury now head to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania for a Wednesday night clash with Philadelphia Union affiliate Steel FC, who sit in fifth place with a one-point advantage over the men in black and red. Following that match, the Fury will be back in Ottawa on Saturday to face Penn FC for their last home league match until September 30th.
- A bit of a mixup returning from halftime, as Popovic wanted to switch out Taylor for Oliveira. It’s unclear how it all transpired, but somehow the second half started with Taylor nowhere to be found and Oliveira scrambling to find a shirt. It meant the Fury played about one minute with ten men. Popovic did not seem pleased. Rightfully so.
- If the change in formation represents an evolution in the Fury’s progression, colour us impressed. Being able to switch formations from game to game—or even within games depending on different situations—is a valuable new weapon in Popovic’s toolbox. The difference in how the club looks from the beginning of the season to what is currently on display speaks to the level of football intelligence held by the players, and to Popovic’s ability in implementing his systems. There have been casualties—Gerardo Bruna, Kyle Porter and Colin Falvey come to mind—but as the season progresses it’s becoming clear that the Fury is in good hands.
- Indy Eleven is stocked full of familiar names from Canadian soccer and the Fury’s past: Kevin Venegas (Minnesota United), Ayoze (New York Cosmos), Karl Ouimette (Montreal Impact, Jacksonville Armada), Juan Guerra (New York Cosmos), Ben Speas (Minnesota United) and Jack McInerney (Montreal Impact).
- Onua Obasi once more received a tongue-lashing from one of his teammates, this time from Maxime Crépeau as the Englishman failed to close down an Indy shot that beat the keeper and sailed just wide.
- When Owain Fôn Williams isn’t frustrating USL attackers, he turns to painting. Here, he put to canvass his experience with Wales at Euro 2016. Très cool.
- Fury Man of the Match: David Edgar. When he signed we said that, on paper, he was the best defender on the Fury roster. The Kitchener-born defender did nothing to make us take it back in his first start for the club: six clearances, seven recoveries, a clean sheet and perhaps most importantly, instantly a general of the back-line. His vocal approach was a clear benefit to Obasi and Meilleur-Giguère as they settled into their back-three. How Nashville decided to part ways with him is beyond our understanding. Talisman.