PHOTOS: Steve Kingsman/Freestyle Photography/Ottawa Fury FC
By Théo Gauthier
That sound you heard over and over again on Sunday afternoon at TD Place—soccer ball thumping against plastic piping—may have been the death throes of the Ottawa Fury’s 2018 playoff hopes.
The Fury’s playoff hopes are still alive, but the goal the club set for itself in the preseason to attend the postseason dance in 2018 was made more difficult as the Fury drew the penultimate match of the season 0-0 at home against Bethlehem Steel FC. The Fury now have to rely even more on favourable results from fellow playoff contenders—as well as victory at home on October 13th against fourth-place Charleston Battery—to graduate to the postseason. It’s not the only math that works, but it’s the most likely scenario.
If goal posts were an endangered species, the Fury would have made them extinct on Sunday as they rattled the woodwork on four separate occasions, starting with a missed penalty by Steevan Dos Santos in the 5th minute of play. The penalty was given when Steel FC right-back Olivier Mbaizo struggled to keep up with a Thomas Meilleur-Giguère long ball over the top that found a streaking Azake Luboyera, making his second start of the season. Luboyera’s speed was too much for Mbaizo, who tugged back on the Luboyera’s shoulder, which threw him off balance and sent him tumbling to the pitch. Referee Fabrizio Stasolla did not hesitate, lifting his whistle to his lips and pointing to the spot.
The stadium erupted with the satisfaction of a wrong being made right, while the Bethlehem players raised their arms in disbelief. Dos Santos, the Fury’s leading scorer in 2017 and currently tied with Tony Taylor in 2018, stepped up to take the penalty. Keeper Jake McGuire dove to his left; Dos Santos went the other way, and struck the upright. 0-0.
In the 22nd minute, following a turnover forced by Taylor and Chris Mannella near the centre circle, Mannella latched onto the loose ball and sent a long pass upfield to Dos Santos. The Cape Verdean, with only one defender to beat on the right side of the 18-yard box, let fly a right-footed shot that was parried off the post by McGuire. All Dos Santos could do was raise his arms to the sky in despair. 0-0.
A few minutes later, the Fury had Bethlehem pinned deep in their own end. A goal was in the air, and the Fury players knew it. As they knocked the ball in and around the 18-yard box looking for an opening, the ball came to Luboyera near the goal line. He wheeled and found a seam towards Cristian Portilla, sliding a ball to him on the edge of the box. The Spaniard unleashed a powerful left-footed strike which…yep, ricocheted off the left upright and out of play. 0-0.
Four minutes later, the Fury were awarded a free-kick about 30 yards out from the Bethlehem goal. Carl Haworth, playing right-back once more, put in a beautiful cross into the box, which was greeted by an unmarked Meilleur-Giguère. Why would this time be any different? His cracking header flew off the crossbar and out of play for a goal kick. 0-0.
So that was the first half. It was a half completely dominated by the Fury save for a few flashes from Bethlehem’s Santi Moar. Minus all the struck posts, the second half would go much the same way. At least, that’s how it seemed as the Fury possessed the ball at a far greater rate (46.5%) than they have for much of the season, even if the Steel saw more of the ball.
Following the match, Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic hit on his usual themes: pride in his players, difficult travel schedules, and how far the team has come since April. In his longest post-game press conference since joining the Fury, Popovic held court on a number of subjects ranging from how pleased he is with his team’s progress—especially in the transitions from possession to defence and vice-versa—to how important the Canadian Premier League will be for the development of Canadian soccer players.
Popovic believes that the 2018 edition of the Fury has never played better than it has in the last month, adding that if they can squeeze into the playoffs, anything can happen. With Sunday’s draw, however, it’s a big ask.
All of the teams chasing the Fury have two matches in hand. The Fury and their fans will be doing a lot of scoreboard-watching over the next two weekends. Recently, most results that would affect the Fury’s playoff chances have been favourable. That will need to continue and, yes, the Fury must win their final match against a tough Charleston squad, whom they drew 0-0 back in May. To make the postseason, the Fury will have to declare Post Season over, and start hunting with nets.
No matter what happens, the Fury have delivered something unseen by their fans since 2015: a meaningful match in October. Here’s hoping Ottawa responds in kind and rewards their pro soccer team with a large, energetic crowd on October 13th at TD Place.
- Another match, another clean sheet for the Fury. Maxime Crépeau’s name will go into the record books, both for the USL and Fury clean sheets record for a season. Crépeau is my pick for season MVP, but as with most clean sheets, a team effort was necessitated in order to achieve the feat.
- Fury Man of the Match: Carl Haworth. You take your team captain, a lifelong forward, and ask him to slot in at right-back. He doesn’t complain; in fact, he relishes the opportunity. He excels, making a case for the move to be permanent. His defending is above-average, his decision-making i.e. when to make forward runs and when to drop back is near-flawless. His ability to whip a cross into the box gives your team an added dimension. On Sunday, Popovic even suggested Haworth could be the solution to Canada’s right-back conundrum. Crépeau may be the team’s MVP, but Haworth is making a late-season run at the honour. There were so many good performances to pick out on Sunday afternoon: Thomas-Meilleur Giguère was a rock at centre-back; Luboyera had a very good run out on the left wing replacing the suspended Adonijah Reid; Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé and Chris Mannella bossed the midfield box-to-box, Steevan Dos Santos was stellar in the #9 role. How the Fury didn’t run out 3-0 winners is a cruel reminder of the game’s temperamental nature.