PHOTO: Laura Gauthier
By Théo Gauthier
“This is the most important competition we are in this year.”
– Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic
Under a blood red sky in Laval, the Ottawa Fury made like a thief in the night by beating AS Blainville 1-0 in the first leg of the second round of the Voyageurs Cup, Canada’s national cup competition.
The Fury entered the match heavily favoured on account of their standing in a higher-calibre league than the Première ligue de soccer du Québec champions. Exploding out of the starting blocks like thoroughbreds at the start of the Queen’s Plate, the Fury looked primed to administer a beating on their less-experienced Canadian rivals. In the second minute, Tony Taylor latched onto an inch-perfect Adonijah Reid long ball, deftly manoeuvred past his marker and curled the ball past Blainville keeper Erwann Clark for his first goal in Fury colours.
The early goal momentarily hushed the lively crowd at the Complexe Sportif Bois-de-Boulogne but did nothing to damper their team’s work rate and ambition. The suburban Montreal outfit, helmed by three-time PLSQ Manager of the Year Emmanuel Macagno, came out to play; this was no Icelandic approach to football survival. Every ball was contested, often in an imposing physical manner, and the ball was played out of the back as often as possible. When it was pointed out that his team had perhaps unnerved the Fury with their physical play, he denied that it was a strategy: “No, we cannot be more physical (than them). They have an average height of 5’10”. Those guys are titans, so I don’t see how we could engage them in that manner.”
When asked if he was happy with his team’s performance against a higher-rated side, Macagno was philosophical: “They play at a higher level if you measure them over a full season, but over 90 minutes skill levels can be averaged out,” he mused. “We had a good match. I’m not disappointed by the boys, but I am disappointed in the final score. With all due respect to our opponents, I feel that it’s a harsh score based on how our team played.”
The major difference-maker in this match, however, was Maxime Crépeau’s goalkeeping between the Fury sticks. The Montreal Impact loanee made no less than three highlight-reel fingertip stops, saving the Fury some blushes. The Greenfield, Québec native was in full command of his 18-yard box on this night, putting on a goalkeeping clinic in his backyard. “We weren’t at all surprised at how well they played,” he explained after the match. “It’s a cup match, and we know anything can happen and that they had nothing to lose. They were at home, and they gave it their all in front of their fans. We’ll see how they approach the next leg.”
Fury Head Coach Nikola Popovic echoed his keeper’s lack of surprise at AS Blainville’s performance. “Don’t think I didn’t know anything about Blainville; Blainville was scouted. We knew everything about them,” he explained. “We didn’t come here thinking that we are from a bigger league and it’s going to be easy. No way. We are very responsible and we want to face this competition. For us this is like Champions League. This is the most important competition that we are in this year. We knew very well what we were going to face.”
The Fury, whether under former coaches Marc Dos Santos or Paul Dalglish, have always placed great importance in the Voyageurs Cup. Popovic, by referring to it as the most important date on the Fury schedule, seemingly takes this to another level. It’s difficult to resist linking Popovic’s statement to the shadow of the Canadian Premier League looming over the Fury’s 2018 USL season. “Will they or won’t they” is still a valid question as the club hasn’t come out and denied the suggestion outright. Until they do, reading the tea leaves will remain a favourite pastime of Canadian soccer observers, and placing more importance on the Canadian cup competition than the American second division league season is just the kind of mana from heaven that feeds the “Ottawa to CPL” narrative.
A 1-0 victory going into the second leg was the minimum that the Fury needed to declare this night a success, and it is all they got. Playing on the larger TD Place pitch next Wednesday will translate to more time on the ball, which will limit Blainville’s ability to press the Fury as much as they did in the first leg. Having secured the away goal—which will come into play should the total goals scored over the two legs end in a tie— should give the Fury the licence to impose themselves on home turf.
Macagno is already armed with a bit of motivation for his underdog team, even if he relayed it in a tongue-in-cheek manner: “Look, (the Fury’s) qualification into the next round isn’t assured, even if they’re already selling tickets for the semi-finals against Toronto FC. Our goal is now to make sure they have to refund their fans.”
- The Voyageurs Cup match, a showcase for the game in Canada, got underway with 18 out of the 22 players on the field holding Canadian passports.
- The Fury’s travel hell isn’t over, as they are set to spend a minimum of 12 hours on the bus for their road match in New Jersey this weekend—if all goes well. The way this season’s travel plans are going, not something to take for granted. Last week, the Fury flew to North Carolina and played NCFC; made the six-hour bus trip to Atlanta; waited for three hours for their match to start due to lightning in the area; played 41 minutes of said match before having it interrupted with the score 1-1; waited another two hours before the match was suspended; got to their hotel at 2am and had to leave at 6am for their flight home. It all sounds pulled straight out of the movie “Major League”, which begs the question: who on the Fury roster best represents Charlie Sheen’s Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn character?
- The FieldTurf at Complexe Sportif Bois-de-Boulogne seemed to give the Fury players fits: players were slipping, swinging for the ball and only hitting air, misjudging bounces. The field looked fine, but the evidence seems to suggest something was amiss.
- The organisation around the Voyageurs Cup tickled Popovic’s nostrils: “It smells like European football.” That was a compliment (we think).
- As per team President John Pugh, the Fury had to spend Tuesday night in Laval, due to Canadian Soccer Association regulations requiring travelling teams to be in place 24 hours before a match.
- Fury Man of the Match: Maxime Crépeau. The Fury keeper was instrumental in securing an away cup win with his ball-stopping skills and command of his area. Of note was yet another stellar performance for the Fury by fellow Impact loanee Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, who keeps on relegating Colin Falvey to the substitutes bench with his consistent play.