“Moral of the story is I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way. I’ll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter.”
– Mike Ehrmantrout, Breaking Bad
There were a few scenarios on Saturday in which the Fury would have finished the season with the best record in the league. The simplest one was to beat an Atlanta Silverbacks team that was playing out the string. Unfortunately, the Fury could only manage a 1-1 draw in a forgettable match in Atlanta.
You can sugarcoat it all you want; 12-match unbeaten run to end the season, one loss in their last 25, Fall Season champions, a keeper who smashed all records, a home playoff date. The eventual retrospective on the season will be rose-coloured and there will plenty of time for that. Despite these achievements, the Ottawa Fury were in the driver’s seat to win the league – and they didn’t.
In what may be the only misstep of his tenure as head coach of the Fury, Marc Dos Santos made no secret prior to Saturday’s match that he cared little for the Supporters Cup. His focus was strictly set on fielding the strongest possible team in the semi-final on November 8th, rather than trying to bring home an extra piece of silverware. Judging by the mood of supporters at the Fury’s official watch party back in Ottawa, it’s a decision with which they vehemently disagreed.
And so it was that a collection of players who have rarely played as a unit were trotted out as the starting XI in an unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 formation against the Silverbacks. The lack of familiarity showed from the get-go, as the passing fluidity and cohesive shape that have become the hallmarks of this club’s success were nowhere to be found, especially in midfield. With a lack of balls making their way from the Fury midfield to the attacking third, scoring opportunities were nearly non-existent.
The selection mistake was compounded by the decision to leave the experienced core of the Fury midfield back home to rest. This meant that even as it became clear that the personnel on the field wasn’t performing up to standard, there was no relief coming from the bench; Mauro Eustaquio, Julian de Guzman, Paulo Junior and Richie Ryan were all thousands of kilometers away. The possession stats tell the rest of the story: Atlanta dominated control of the ball to the tune of 63% to 37% for Ottawa.
Once the final score of 1-1 was confirmed (with goals coming from Junior Burgos for Atlanta and Aly Alberto Hassan for Ottawa), the New York Cosmos knew exactly what they needed to do to win the Supporters Cup and secure the #1 playoff seed – a 2-0 win against the Tampa Bay Rowdies. They knew it, and that’s what they went out and did.
The loss of the #1 seed means the Ottawa Fury’s semi-final opponents are a Minnesota United team that finished over 10 points above what could have been the Fury’s opponent (Fort Lauderdale or Tampa Bay) had they won in Atlanta. Minnesota is also the only team to beat the Fury since May 9th, a 2-1 loss at Lansdowne Park Stadium in front of the season’s largest crowd. That, more than missing out on a trophy, may come back to bite the Fury hardest.
It also means that the Fury will not host the Soccer Bowl if the New York Cosmos win their semi-final match against Tampa Bay or Fort Lauderdale, a huge opportunity for the team to market itself in the region and to bring in casual fans. An additional gate, one that would most likely rank in the top five in franchise history, will surely be rued as a missed opportunity by Fury brass if it doesn’t come to pass.
There were some positive points for the Fury in Saturday’s match. The lack of fluidity was not an indictment of the players on the pitch, but was the result of a lack of familiarity with one another. Montreal Impact loanee and Canadian international Jérémy Gagnon-Laparée was a solid stopper in his role in defensive midfield, and Marcel DeBellis proved to be up to the task of being a starting keeper at this level, just as the coaching staff has been telling anyone who will listen. His save at the death off a dangerous Silverbacks free kick kept the Fury’s shot at the #1 seed and the Supporters Cup alive for at least a few more hours.
In the end it was not to be, and the Fury have a much more difficult road to travel should they see out 2015 with a Soccer Bowl win. That situation was largely due to a managerial gamble, one that Dos Santos seemed very comfortable in making, even if it cost him another trophy. Now comes the hard part – the team will now need to make good on his gamble and capitalize on their fresh legs, or else it will be a gamble that will have cost the Fury a shot at two trophies, not just one.
No more half-measures, Marc.
Man of the Match: Marcel De Bellis. The 24-year-old from Oakville was superb throughout the match, making two outstanding saves and bossing his 18-yard box.
Next Match: The Ottawa Fury take on Minnesota United at Lansdowne Park Stadium in the semi-final round of The Championship on Sunday, November 8th at 3pm. The winner of that match either takes on New York Cosmos in New York, or host Fort Lauderdale/Tampa Bay.
Save Our Silverbacks: Spare a thought for Silverbacks supporters, who may have just watched the final match in their franchise’s history. You can help them avoid that by pledging here.