It’s not difficult to imagine that in the Ottawa Fury’s incredible 2015 run into the higher echelons of the NASL table and subsequent appearance in the Championship Final, some members of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) could have turned to one another in a dark corridor and, against a backdrop of cheering fans, said: “Uh-oh. We’re in trouble.”
While the Fury were surprising everyone in the league with their play on the field, off it fan expectations were rising in lockstep with each new foothold. As league records kept tumbling and a Fall Championship (plus a virtual tie for the overall season championship) were parlayed into a record NASL post-season attendance mark, the prospect of OSEG financially ramping up the Fury budget in the off-season seemed like a reasonable outlook. Practically identical success for the Fury’s sister team, the Canadian Football League’s Ottawa RedBlacks, helped to extend the belief that the organization’s financial situation was as healthy as ever, and that the Fury could see a bump in expenditure. Trickle down theory, and all that.
The team’s captain, Richie Ryan, made this very plea during the Fury’s season-ending press conference, only days after their valiant but unsuccessful attempt to bring the Soccer Bowl north of the border. “It’s important to keep (those players) here and try and build next season again. This club needs to stay at the top now, because there’s no point in having a season like we’ve had now and being back down to where we were last season. That’s a failure in my eyes.” Mere weeks after uttering those words, Ryan handed in a transfer request and was off to Jacksonville for, we are told, more money. He was not alone.
“I understand Richie Ryan and Colin Falvey’s reasons for wanting to go, I understand Ubiparipovic and (Ryan) Richter’s reasons for wanting to go. Falvey and Richie Ryan were financial reasons, and I get it”, was new manager Paul Dalglish’s way of explaining the departure of the two fan-favourites to Midfield Press’s Stuart Mactaggart . Although NASL clubs don’t release financial figures when it comes to player contracts, in this case it is clearly illustrated that the players were offered more money elsewhere, and the Fury were either unable or unwilling to match.
Ryan, Falvey, Tommy Heinemann; three starters who we know departed for a bigger paycheque. It’s easy to throw stones at OSEG for its apparent thriftiness, and many fans have jumped at the opportunity this offseason. Others have turned their guns towards the departed players. One thing’s for sure, it’s been a season of discontent for all involved.
It’s also entirely possible OSEG isn’t being cheap. It might have increased the budget only to see its wheels spinning due to the current state of the Canadian dollar. FC Edmonton and the Fury are currently operating at a 30% disadvantage with its revenues in a currency that is trading at 0.70 cents against its American counterpart. That, more than anything, is likely affecting the Fury’s ability to retain its players or to make a splash in the offseason. Add to that the fact that OSEG is reporting its revenues were less than anticipated, and you have a financial picture that is less than rosy.
That’s not to say that the offseason has been dull. Dalglish has come in and made a slew of signings. Not that he had a choice, with a cupboard almost as bare as an expansion club. Here’s what the Fury offseason looks like so far, in terms of player movement:
That’s a lot of new faces to get to know, and many new personalities for Dalglish to mould into a working formula. That appears to be the reality of American second division soccer, one which followers of NASL clubs, with a few exceptions, will have to accept.
It’s been an interesting Fury offseason, and not one whose developments many would have been able to predict. In a league as secretive about finances as the NASL, it’s easy to make assumptions, good or bad, about its transactions, and where a particular club like the Fury fits into the picture. One thing is almost certain: the Fury were in the bottom third of player budget in 2015, and based on its offseason movement, figures to find itself in that range again in 2016.
Can the Fury over-deliver on the field once more in 2016? And if it doesn’t, how will fans react? It’s not difficult to imagine supporters in Section W turning to one another at some point in the Spring Season and, against a backdrop of groaning fans, saying: “Uh-oh. We’re in trouble.”