By Théo Gauthier
March 9, 2018
The Ottawa Fury have had a busy offseason. Having promoted a Canadian national team legend and former Fury FC player Julian De Guzman to the position of General Manager and naming Nikola Popovic head coach, the Fury have built a potentially explosive squad that culminated in the signing of a familiar face: Irish defender Colin Falvey returned to the fold in a move that was universally applauded by both media and supporters.
Falvey isn’t the first professional athlete to return to a club whose fans were aggrieved by his departure. Mark Messier (Rangers), Ken Griffey Jr. (Mariners), Jason Taylor (Dolphins) and Lebron James (Cavaliers) are just a few high-profile examples of players going back to the place where their legend was most prominent. Although it’s slightly delusional to place Falvey’s return on the level of those transactions, the impact of his signing for this club cannot be overestimated.
Colin Falvey returning to the Fury could be seen on its face as an attempt to pander to a fan base that in the past few years hasn’t felt particularly well-served. There’s something to that, but one gets the sense that the Fury brass purchased a DeLorean and Falvey is the plutonium that will allow the club to hit the rewind button and pick up where it left off at the end of the glorious 2015 season.
Back in those heady November days, the Fury had just lost a thrilling Championship match to the New York Cosmos for which over 1,000 Fury supporters made the trip to Long Island. You remember the names: Richie Ryan, Romuald Peiser, Mason Trafford, Ryan Richter, Tommy Heinemann, Ubi, Rafael Alves and, of course, Colin Falvey. This is the squad Marc Dos Santos had assembled, moulded, made whole. Dos Santos had already announced he was leaving the club. What wasn’t clear was that an exodus of players was coming. Of all those names, only Peiser would remain.
There exist a few theories as to why so many players seemed to flee the Fury’s clutches through the course of that offseason. Some observers, eager to reinforce their belief that Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) regard the Fury as an unwanted remnant of their land deal with the city, argued that the Fury were tightening the purse strings (the same observers point to Richie Ryan’s words as he moved to Jacksonville). Others speculate that these players, realizing their value had appreciated under the wisdom of a coach who was a master at squeezing every bit of talent out of what he was given, decided their best career move was to cash in. Yet another school of thought holds that once the players found out who was on his way in as coach and general manager, a stampede formed towards the exit. As in all things, a combination of all these theories were likely factors.
One thing’s for certain; by pressing the reset button this offseason, the Fury have acknowledged to some degree that the past two years didn’t turn out as desired. It also means you can rule out a lack of ambition from OSEG—it’s clear that having a winning product is a priority. What’s also emerged as a priority is the signing of Canadian players. The Fury boast the most impressive lineup of young Canadian talent of any professional team in the world, with 13 players being eligible to play for Les Rouges. When young Fury fans watch the Fury play this year, they will see themselves reflected back.
The new-look Fury has been framed as a reset, but de Guzman cleverly held on to the best players of the Dalglish era. Eddie Edward will continue to patrol either side of the pitch from a defensive position, as will Onua Obasi. Steevan Dos Santos, the club’s 2017 leading scorer (despite a lengthy injury spell), will lead the charge along with Mr. Fury FC Carl Haworth, who’s been with the club dating back to its pre-NASL days and was recently named captain. Gerardo Bruna will provide the creative spark in the midfield while Sergio Manesio and Jamar Dixon cover the centre backs. Sito Seoane also returns to what will be an interesting fight for playing time up front.
They will all be striving to impress the new man in charge, Nikola Popovic. Popovic, who comes to the Fury after having led Swope Park Rangers to the USL Championship last season, has promised entertaining, attacking football. New coaches tend to not come into a job promising clean sheets and a boring product, but Popovic deserves the benefit of the doubt. Swope Park boasted an impressive goal differential last season at +18 (the Fury was +1), but most importantly for Fury fans, Popovic was an assistant to Marc Dos Santos two years ago with a Swope Park team that made it to the USL Final. In observing Popovic, it’s clear that Dos Santos either brought him into the job because of a shared footballing philosophy, or that the former Fury coach rubbed off on the Serbian. In their tone and manner of speaking, they are very similar. If the results are analogous…
The Fury of 2018 will be looking, most of all, to repair their relationship with supporters. Promising exciting football and then switching philosophies mid-stream led to a group of players struggling to find the beat in both of Dalglish’s seasons at the helm. Regardless of final scores, the product was dull and uninspiring. The current coaching staff is committed to not repeat these mistakes. They exhibit a zealous commitment to their philosophy of play above all else.
“There will be no changes to the system and the players know this,” said assistant coach Victor Oppong at a media event Wednesday night. “Whatever happens, we believe in this philosophy. We won’t be boring.”
De Guzman believes that splitting the general manager and head coaching roles has already been beneficial to the process. “It allowed me to be patient and go out and get the players who fit Nikola’s system. In the past we’ve brought in players who, despite being talented, weren’t right for the team’s style of play.”
And what is this style of play that’s been the focus of the pre-season? Possession within a 4-3-3 False Nine. Think Manchester City, minus the superstars. It’s a system that puts strenuous demands on its players. Lapses in concentration are more easily punished than in other systems, but if Popovic and his players pull it off, it will be beautiful to watch.
“I can’t stand here and say that 100% of the players get it yet,” specified de Guzman. “But we’ll get there. It will click.”
Fury fans can only hope that, this time, the promise will be fulfilled.