In what promises to be the match of the weekend in the NASL, FC Edmonton makes a trip to its nation’s capital on Sunday to take on the league-leading Ottawa Fury FC. The encounter is loaded with playoff implications, with the Eddies having snuck up on its competitors to position themselves in a playoff spot with five matches remaining in the 2015 season. Both teams enter this weekend red-hot, having won their past three matches respectively.
In ancient Rome, returning legions would be paraded down Via Triumphalis to cheering crowds. Tomorrow will be a conquering legion’s return for the Fury, who have just completed a three-match road trip in which they swept their opponents by a combined 9-2 score scoreline, which included a 4-1 win against the NASL’s flagship franchise New York Cosmos. It was a trip on which Tommy Heinemann and Paulo Jr. shifted into another gear, netting six of the team’s nine goals. Heinemann now leads the Fury with seven goals, which puts him five goals behind league-leader Stefano Pinho of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers.
For their part, the Eddies have just dispatched the Tampa Bay Rowdies, Indy Eleven and New York Cosmos in succession. They have regained the defensive form that has historically led them to their greatest success, allowing only three goals in their last five matches. Combining that defensive prowess with the goals of Jamaica’s Lance Laing (9), Englishman Tomi Ameobi (8) and Northern Irishman Daryl Fordyce (7), FC Edmonton represent a balanced squad that can do some damage going forward.
Historically, FC Edmonton has had the edge on the Fury. In nine matches, the Eddies have won four matches compared to Ottawa’s two. Three of those four FC Edmonton victories came in the Voyageurs Cup, the mention of which makes Fury supporters’ eyes dart and speech stumble as they desperately seek to change the subject. Much is made in the media and from team officials about the supposed “rivalry” between the Fury and the Eddies. In truth, many Fury supporters express a muted satisfaction that FC Edmonton is making its way back into the playoff picture. There’s a Canadian pride at work that overrides the disappointment of having succumbed to Edmonton in the Voyageurs Cup two years on the fly. That’s not to say that a rivalry can’t continue to be sown between the Canadian cousins – regional rivalries are never too far from boiling to the surface in our expansive country.
Off the field the Fury got down to the business of looking beyond 2015, securing the services of one of its better players in Mason Trafford through the 2017 season. The signing ensures that the Fury back line, the best in NASL in 2015, will mostly be back together in 2016. The only one of the four who has not put pen to paper for 2016 is centre back Rafael Alves. One wonders if the departure of the Fury’s Portuguese-speaking head coach will weigh heavily in the Brazilian’s final decision.
The Fury will be without the services of Mauro Eustaquio on Sunday, as he is presently representing Canada in their quest to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Canada lost their first match of the tourney against the United States by a score of 3-1. Eustaquio started the match and played 66 minutes, playing very well before being replaced with Toronto FC’s Jay Chapman. FC Edmonton’s Hanson Boakai was also recalled to the Canadian team for this tournament. Other than Eustaquio, the Fury appear to be at full strength (minus Nicki Paterson who is out for the season).
Points of any kind for the Fury would be a victory at this point in the season, as they are all but mathematically guaranteed of acceding to the post-season. These being professional athletes, however, means that the Fury will be looking to run the table for their remaining five matches and finish on top of both the Combined and Fall tables, which would also lead to a frigid Soccer Bowl date in November should they win their first match in The Championship.