Furious Offseason: Exodus

The Ottawa Fury were consistent in their message in the latter part of last season, reminding media and fans that the success they were having on the field came despite the club’s budget being one of the lowest in the NASL.

The reality of that situation landed square into the Fury offseason this afternoon as the club announced that three of the team’s key players had been transferred, at least two to rival NASL clubs. Captain Richie Ryan, who had spent much of his final interactions with the local media imploring Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) to spend the money to keep the team together, was transferred to Jacksonville Armada. Siniša Ubiparipović, the midfield maestro that came to life in the 2015 Fall season, was shipped off to Indy Eleven. Ryan Richter, destination yet unknown, was lauded by former head coach Marc Dos Santos as being one of, if not the best right back in the league.

All three players handed in transfer requests, which is perhaps the most troubling aspect of the day. Richter and his wife are expecting a child shortly, and family considerations were cited by the player for his departure. Ubiparipović’s motivations can only be divined by the quote he gave his new team, and caution is warranted in reading too much into a press release, but here it is: “I wanted to be a part of an organization and team that has a healthy relationship with its players, as well as high ambitions.”

The most worrying departure, in terms of optics, is that of club captain Richie Ryan. At the Fury’s post-season press event, the Irishman was unequivocal about what was needed for the club (25:34):

“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.” Unless details emerge of extraneous circumstances surrounding Ryan’s transfer request, that quote is the biggest clue we have that the captain was unhappy with OSEG’s plans.

A weak Canadian dollar is sure to be linked to this purge, unless OSEG and new head coach Paul Dalglish can find a way to make up for the losses. Major question marks remain regarding unsigned players. Canadian national team captain Julian de Guzman had a very positive impact on the club in 2015, but remains unsigned. His understudy, Mauro Eustaquio, grew into the Fury midfield to become a crucial player. His future is also uncertain.

It’s thought that Dalglish is well-connected in the soccer world, and can dip into this network to attract new players to replace the departed. One can assume, though, that the team will take on a very different flavour compared to what Dos Santos offered. The former coach’s network was continental, tapping into his Portuguese roots to recruit players from Central Europe, the Mediterranean and Brazil. Dalglish’s network is presumed to be more anglo-saxon in nature.

The current perception is that the Ottawa Fury is a selling club at the moment. Dalglish and OSEG have a lot of work on their hands to convince their fan base that last season’s championship run wasn’t just a fever dream. The very nature of the current NASL means a high turnover rate is expected (unless, of course, you’re the New York Cosmos or Minnesota United FC). How the club cope with this kind of exodus is just another test in its short existence. If the club can do this bit as well as it has the other tests put before it in its first two seasons, Fury fans may be forgiven for a showing a sliver of optimism.