PHOTO: Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Fury FC
By Théo Gauthier
Ottawa Fury fans were singing in the rain on Pop Culture Night at Lansdowne on Friday as their club flew out of the gates like a bat out of hell to score in the first minute and hang on to beat Bethlehem Steel FC 1-0.
The win extended the Fury’s streak of matches without a loss to five and its shutout streak to 463 minutes. The successful run of matches has sprung the Fury from the bottom of the Eastern Conference and into the playoff discussion, with only two points separating them from eighth-place New York Red Bull II, with the same amount of matches played. With the logjam in the Eastern standings, it also places the Fury within two points of fifth-place Charlotte Independence.
It was a Cape Verdean Connection that put the Fury ahead in the first minute, as Steevan Dos Santos sprung Kévin Oliveira on the left flank with a perfectly-weighted pass. From there, Oliveira danced with wolves before ever-so-delicately swinging through the ball with the outside of his right boot, placing it past Steel FC keeper Jake McGuire, kissing it off the right post and in. If luck were a factor in the ball bouncing into the net instead of back into play, it wouldn’t stick around. Just ask Carl Haworth.
Three times over the course of the game, Haworth would smack the ball off the woodwork as if Groot was playing keeper for Bethlehem. The Fury captain was active throughout the match but especially came alive in the second half, weaving his way through the Steel FC defence and, more importantly in the context of this match, tirelessly came back to defend as Bethlehem tried to push for an equaliser. It was his misfortune with the goalposts that would stick with him as he took to Twitter to apologise:
— Carl Haworth (@ccaarrllitos) May 26, 2018
Head coach Nikola Popovic showed that he has a touch of the gambler in him, choosing to give Colin Falvey the night off despite Doneil Henry continuing to feel under the weather. The move was a tactical decision with the Ottawa side contesting three matches in eight days. That meant a Fury debut for Canadian international Nana Attakora and a second straight start in the centre of defence for Thomas Meilleur-Giguère. After a few shaky moments in the early parts of the match, the centre-back pairing was solid.
Of those nervous moments was a miscommunication that saw Fury keeper Maxime Crépeau landing in no man’s land and gifting an open-goal opportunity for Steel FC forward Santi Moar. It wasn’t a bridge too far, however, as Attakora recovered with a brilliant slide tackle. The most significant threat to the Fury defence was a concerted effort from Steel FC to break the offside trap. It’s a testament to the solidity of the Fury back line that even on those rare occasions when they were successful, the clear and present danger was snuffed out.
Cristian Portilla was once again masterful as the maestro conducting his orchestra from the central midfield position. He was a thorn in the side of the Steel FC attack, consistently getting into the correct lanes to thwart threats, intercepting passes and recovering possession for the Fury. He would then spray passes near and far to turn the tables and put the Fury on the front foot. Portilla has been a joy to watch this season and has gotten stronger with every match.
Popovic was pleased with how his team executed his game plan:
“We always controlled the game. Always. Our strategy was this: maintain (Steel FC) very far from our goal. It’s a very dangerous team, an attack with four players who have a lot of speed and we knew this. So, the idea was to keep them away from our goal and not allow them to break us, and to control the rhythm of the game. I think it was accomplished. I’m very proud of our players.”
Despite his club’s recent run of form, Popovic made clear he doesn’t believe the system he is trying to implement has fully arrived:
“It’s not because we’ve had five good results that we are the best, or that because we started (the season) not so good that we are the worst. No. It’s a process. It’s going to take much more time than this because this is a completely new coach, a new team, a new general manager. We don’t know the players, the players don’t know us. It’s going to take time. We are showing what is possible, and in the future we will show even more what is possible.”
There is reason to believe that the Fury are on the brink of an even greater breakthrough than what is suggested by this recent run of success, and it appears the coach is promising to deliver on that suggestion. The Ottawa Fury are coming together beautifully, and the league has been put on alert that the Fury squad, as it presently exists, still has a vast reservoir of potential into which to tap.
Consequently, a new hope seems to have taken root among the Fury faithful, a hope that was clouded by doubt as recently as a month ago. Anyone who has been shy about calling this a turnaround can now come out of the woodwork with confidence. The Ottawa Fury have arrived and are ready to seek and destroy.
- Head Coach Popovic was on fire in his post-match comments, going after the assembled media for a perceived lack of enthusiasm for the project being put together by he and general manager Julian de Guzman. I’ll have more on this early this week in a separate article. Watch this space.
- Nine clearances, two blocks, one game-saving tackle; Nana Attakora had a dream debut for the Ottawa Fury FC, the first time the 29 year-old from North York has donned the jersey of a Canadian club since 2011 with Toronto FC.
- Meandering runs that look like they were conceived on an Etch-A-Sketch are fun and exciting to watch, but you’d hope Dos Santos, Reid and Haworth would have better passing outlets to alleviate the need to hold onto the ball for so long.
- The Fury have six goals on the season, with six different goal-scorers: Seoane (since departed to sign for Icelandic club UMF Grindavik), Dos Santos, Falvey, Haworth, Portilla and now Oliveira.
- Yes, there are more pop culture references in this piece than usual. It was pop culture night!
- The only all-Canadian matchup in USL is coming up this week with a night match on Wednesday against Toronto FC II. No need to worry; the match will go ahead because OSEG aren’t in the habit of bumping their own team off their own pitch.
Fury Man of the Match: Carl Haworth. As mentioned previously, the Fury captain was all over the pitch (in a good way), making tackles and helping out his defence on top of fulfilling his attacking duties. If he can zero in on a target just a few inches inside the woodwork and start popping goals in, Haworth would be a great depth player for Canada when the CONCACAF League of Nations kicks off later this year. Nothing to apologise for, as far as we’re concerned.