By Théo Gauthier
March 16, 2018
On Saturday night, the Ottawa Fury will attempt to parlay the excitement surrounding the club into an opening night victory, on the road to Charlotte Independence.
There’s been a lot of talk about individual signings, the Canadian Awakening, footballing philosophy, and the general mood of the team (hint: very positive). But how do all these pieces work in concert?
Let’s take a look at the False Nine system of play, and try to predict who fits where on the pitch for the 2018 Ottawa Fury.
First, a bit of history. The False Nine system, although it had been used here and there before by the Austrian national team and River Plate in the 1930’s, really came to prominence in the 1950’s with the Magical Magyars of Hungary. Without diving too deep into this rabbit-hole, the Hungarian national team thrilled audiences with their spectacular approach to the game, which featured a deep-lying striker who wandered between the midfield and defensive lines (as opposed to playing just off the shoulder of the last defender like a traditional striker). In this role, the striker sows confusion with the defensive midfielder and the centre backs, who have to figure out who is tracking him.
The system was lost to history until the late aughts, when Roma flirted with the system. However, it was Pep Guardiola’s introduction of the False 9 system in a historic match against Real Madrid in 2007 that really brought it back with a bang. By moving Lionel Messi between the Los Blancos lines, a crazy amount of space was created for Thierry Henry to move into and receive the ball. Long story short, Barcelona destroyed Madrid 5-2 at the Bernabeu that day to clinch the Spanish league.
That’s a lot of name-dropping to explain how the Fury are vowing to set up this season, but context is important. How does this translate to the Fury? Let’s speculate.
In a system that prioritizes possession such as the False Nine, the keeper is your first line of attack. He has to be good with his feet, and play the ball on the ground to the three options that are usually at his disposition: the two centre-backs having split out wide, or the defensive midfielder who’s dropped deep to receive the initial pass. Opponents will usually try to press the keeper into making mistakes, so he has to keep cool with very thin margins for error. For the Fury, it looks like Callum Irving will be the man relied upon to deliver. The Vancouver native will be pushed hard by Montreal Impact loanee Maxime Crépeau. It’s a lot to ask of Irving, and definitely something to watch for in the early stages of the season.
As House of Pain so aptly put it:
“And just like the Prodigal Son I’ve returned
Anyone stepping to me you’ll get burned”
You can slot the prodigal son into the first centre back position; Colin Falvey is going to assume the club’s defensive leadership. He’s perfectly suited to the role, as Fury fans will recall he was the attack-minded half of the “Falves” partnership of 2015. Raphael Alves is long gone, but Nana Attakora will be looking to cover defensively when Falvey gets adventurous. Both are impeccable defenders, with Falvey also having a reputation for crunching (legal) tackles.
Out wide, the Fury are likely to start Onua Obasi and Eddie Edward. Both are capable of trekking long distances with ease, which means they are great options to overlap near the touch line and put increased pressure on the opposing midfield and defence.
Here’s where prognostication gets difficult. The Fury have plenty of options in midfield and at forward. Officially, they have 16 players vying for six of these positions.
The defensive midfielder is the biggest question mark. Who fills the Sergio Busquets/Fernandinho role? This has to be a player who is an expert at anticipating and intercepting opposing passes, as well as picking out his player’s runs. He is the pivot, the epicentre of all of his team’s activity. The best Fury player to ever occupy the position was Richie Ryan, now plying his trade with FC Cincinnati. On this Fury roster, it isn’t immediately evident who will fit the role. Sergio Manesio has the defensive chops, and Gerardo Bruna has the creative side of things locked up. However, you need a player with both attributes. That player may very well be Jamar Dixon. The hometown boy has so many tools; he’s been used all over the pitch since coming to Ottawa from Finnish side FF Jaro.
Who will be the Fury’s Iniesta and Xavi? The coaching staff is already high on Kevin Oliveira, partially due to his previous work under head coach Nikola Popovic at Swope Park Rangers, so he’s in the starting eleven. You have to think that a player who’s already experienced some success at MLS level would get strong consideration for a starting role, and that means Michael Salazar slots into the final midfield position. Salazar can play midfield and forward, so look for that type of interchange, which would also allow for Bruna to be a starter.
Now we get to the fun part; who gets to score all those goals the coaching staff has promised? Having been named captain, Carl Howarth is an obvious choice—but where? It’s been suggested that Steevan Dos Santos will be the man occupying the false nine role, and that means Mr. Fury FC will slot into one of the wing positions. That leaves the final winger position to returning Spaniard Sito Seoane.
As previously mentioned, there’s going to be a tonne of competition for these roles, and it’s likely that the Fury will rotate a lot of their personnel in and out of the forward positions.
The Fury boast its largest roster in memory, which gives the club some insurance against injuries (of which there are already a few). It also creates an atmosphere of competition, and a feeling that making it to the bench is in itself an accomplishment, considering the options.
Here are just some of the notable depth players: Kyle Porter, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, Maxim Tissot, Christian Portilla, Tony Taylor.
All in all, one of the most impressive Fury rosters to open a season in their history.
What do you think? Did Théo get it completely wrong? Is Bruna a lock to start over Salazar? Who’s in your starting eleven?