The Ottawa Fury take on the Tampa Bay Rowdies Saturday night in Florida with a playoff spot clinched and a new objective of securing a home date in the semifinals of The Championship.
The Ottawa club have already announced that three players who usually figure in the starting eleven will get a break on Saturday: Paulo Jr., Tommy Heinemann and captain Richie Ryan will be spelled in order to recover from knocks and weary legs. This does not pose a particularly challenging obstacle for head coach Marc Dos Santos, as the squad has been rotated throughout the season, save for the back line. Oliver, Carl Haworth, Ali Hassan, Uğur Albayrak and Andrew Wiedeman are all rearing to go up front and Julian de Guzman or Drew Beckie can slot in for Richie Ryan at defensive midfield.
One player who is likely to get a rest in the remaining four matches is MVP candidate Romuald Peiser, but not until he takes care of a bit of history-making. The Frenchman, who recently picked up his second NASL Player of the Month award (June, September), is vying to become the keeper with the most clean sheets in NASL in a year. He is currently tied with Puerto Rico Islanders keeper Richard Martin on 13. As soon as that landmark is reached, it’s not hard to imagine Dos Santos giving his keeper, who has played every minute of every match this season, a rest and provide an opportunity to backup keeper Marcel de Bellis to get some game time.
With four matches remaining, the Fury hold a five-point advantage over second-place Minnesota United FC in the Fall season table. Winning the Fall season remains the easiest path host at least one playoff match, as the winners of each half-season are the hosts in the semi-finals. That five-point cushion isn’t as comfy as it would seem with 12 points left up for grabs on the board. Although the Fury are 10 points up and practically free and clear of third place New York, Minnesota United are a team that haven’t lost in 10 matches and will be eager to pounce on any slip-up by the Fury. However, the Fury themselves have lost only once in 21 matches and are unlikely to drop the points necessary for Minnesota to make up ground.
Tampa is one of three teams tied for the final playoff spot, along with FC Edmonton and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. The Rowdies find themselves in such a position based mostly on their strong showing in the Spring season under then-head coach Thomas Rongen. Their form in the Fall season has been erratic, but the Rowdies represent one of the only squads in NASL that the Fury haven’t beaten this year, having only managed a couple of draws.
The Rowdies will have to be on the lookout for a resurgent Siniša Ubiparipović, who is coming off a two-goal match and has otherwise been a menace to all opponents in the past month. The Fury midfielder, who has recently occupied the traditional no. 10 role at the tip of the midfield triangle, was recognized for his efforts in the NASL’s Team of the Week, along with Peiser. Fury fans catching the match at one of the watch parties back in Ottawa will want to keep an eye on former TFC attacker Maicon, who has seven goals this year. Fans can also catch a glimpse of former phenom Freddy Adu as he tries to resurrect his career in the NASL.
The season is winding down and the Fury are scratching items off of their 2015 to-do list. Playoffs was the first item, and they now move on to securing a home playoff date, and then home field right through to the Soccer Bowl. Dos Santos will be trying to strike a balance between these goals and ensuring his squad is fresh come November. Grabbing three points off the Rowdies would provide him with a lot more wiggle room than he currently possesses.