PHOTO: Charleston Battery / USL.
By Théo Gauthier
The Ottawa Fury put in a shift on a hot and humid Saturday night in Charleston, South Carolina, holding the second-place Battery to a scoreless draw
The away draw confirmed a willingness on the part of Fury head coach Nikola Popovic to adjust his tactics to fit a particular situation. They pressed very little in the opponent half of the field. In an environment where energy is sapped from the body by merely existing, it was conserved for defending and the odd foray into the attacking third.
The Fury were content to sit back and absorb pressure, relying on a back four that has gelled in recent weeks to become one of the league’s best. With Maxime Crépeau in charge from the 18-yard box, and anchored at the back by Colin Falvey, the Fury are now riding a 373-minute shutout streak. Even with the last-minute illness that kept Doneil Henry out of the starting lineup—forcing Popovic to call on Thomas Meilleur Giguère to slide into the centre and Onua Obasi to slot into the left back position—the Fury looked impregnable.
The balance of the game essentially boiled down to a penalty awarded to the Battery in the 50th minute. With Colombian midfielder Vincenzo Candela attempting to drive a cross into the Fury box, Adonijah Reid came flying through the air to block it. Unfortunately for the FC Dallas loanee, he leapt with his arms raised, and the ball hit his hand like a perfectly aimed shot hitting a clay pigeon. Reid looked exasperated at his bad luck but did not protest.
Up stepped the Battery’s leading scorer, Ataullah Guerra, to take the penalty. Crépeau stood stoically, unmoved as if one of the Argonath in Lord of the Rings. No spaghetti legs here. Guerra moved to take his kick, but even before his foot struck the ball, Crépeau was on the move, darting to his left to block the incoming shot. As he’s done thousands of time in training, Crépeau sprung right back to his feet because the danger wasn’t over. His save had deflected the ball back in front of him into the path of Battery midfielder Nicholas Rittmeyer. Rittmeyer pounced, Crépeau squared up to him and kick-saved the shot out for a corner. His teammates ran to him to celebrate, but Crépeau was having none of it. Gesturing them away, pointing at the corner flag, he implored his teammates to focus on the task now at hand: defending the corner.
Ever since Popovic called upon him to replace Callum Irving in goal, Crépeau has shown why the Impact has continued to believe in him and fund his development. His command of the 18-yard box is reminiscent of former Fury keeper Romuald Peiser. He steps to the ball with confidence, kicking and punching any and all threats to his goal to safety. He barks orders at his players with authority. He is dependable, and his confidence radiates outwards, engulfing the team playing in front of him.
The only aspect of Crépeau’s game that needs works is his distribution. From early on in the season, it was clear that the Fury’s opponents ate up the information that they would try to play from the back, and every team the club has faced has embargoed their passing all the way to the keeper. This challenge demanded a bit of pragmatism from Popovic, so long balls from the keeper are now a permanent feature. The problem is, Crépeau’s ability to find his targets is fleeting. The chart below, Crépeau’s distribution against the Battery, illustrates this:
Every red arrow represents a moment in which the Fury had the ball, in full possession, only to give it away in the name of relieving some pressure. Laying this all on Crépeau’s shoulders is problematic, as well. If the Fury is to make this long passing strategy successful, his teammates need to show more commitment to retrieving these missives.
But that’s just a small concern when you consider where this team was, and where it presently finds itself. From one point in its first five matches to eight points in its last four and a three-match homestand at hand; the Fury have rounded the corner, are firmly in the slipstream of the teams ahead of them in the standings, and are ready to overtake.
- New Rule: From now on, Only French-speaking keepers are allowed to be the #1 for the Fury.
- Eddie Edward looked…sluggish. He was even caught on camera a few times holding his right hamstring. Playing hurt?
- Gerardo Bruna has now gone unused in the past two matches (on the bench last week, did not travel this week). We’re told this is a coach’s decision, no injury concerns. Has Popovic seen enough? Or is this a wake-up call?
- Teams don’t appear to be scouting the Fury very well. Any corner from the right side is going to be an Olympico attempt by Portilla, after the Fury midfielder was able to score on just such an attempt against North Carolina FC. Crowd the keeper, send the ball to the far post, hope for the best. The Fury almost pulled it off again against Charleston, only for Lady Luck to laugh in Jamar Dixon’s face, trapping the ball between his body and the post. Looked painful.
- The Fury looked like the stronger side as the match went on, despite some clearly tired legs. A good omen as we transition to hot and humid summer weather in the National Capital Region.
Fury Man of the Match: Colin Falvey. Despite Crépeau’s heroics, the Irishman was called on throughout the match to interject his particular brand of aggressive defending to keep the Battery from bombarding the Fury goal.