The Ottawa Fury put the San Antonio Scorpions’ already-slim playoff hopes on life support with a 1-0 with at Lansdowne Park Stadium on a frigid fall afternoon on Sunday, and in so doing all but mathematically claimed the Fall Season title.
The Fury found that they had their hands full with an opponent who hadn’t quite given up on their season. Fury keeper and NASL MVP candidate Romuald Peiser was called to make a number of highlight-reel diving saves to preserve the 0-0 scoreline, while Rafael Alves and Colin Falvey were rock solid in front of their French keeper. Tommy Heinemann could have added to his team-leading goal tally (8) with a few golden scoring opportunities, but on this day could not find the back of the net. The Fury were finally able to break through in the 68th minute in what might go down as the Fury’s goal of the year. Following some intense pressing deep in the San Antonio half, Siniša Ubiparipović performed a slide tackle pass to an onrushing Julian de Guzman, who then executed the prettiest heel pass you’ll ever see, straight into the path of Mauro Eustaquio, who curled a shot onto the left post and in.
The bad blood that had been building throughout the season between these two clubs boiled over when Scorpions head coach and former Ottawa Wizards midfielder Alen Marcina sent in forward Eric Hassli as a substitute in the 73rd minute. The former Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps man, an imposing player who stands at 6’3, went on to throw his 210 pound frame around, first throwing an elbow into Heinemann’s chest that went unpunished, then going into Falvey with a two-footed, studs-up tackle from behind that turned his substitute appearance into a cameo. Referee Yusri Rudolph was having none of these shenanigans and flashed the red card.
No amount of bad blood could damper the celebratory atmosphere at the stadium, however, as over 5,000 fans braved the occasional snow flurry, near-freezing temperature and a biting wind to cheer on their near-champions. The victory, combined with Saturday night’s Minnesota loss in Indianapolis, all but clinches the Fall title for the Fury. The math is actually quite simple: if the Fury earn one more point, or Minnesota drops one point in their respective two remaining matches, the Fury take home their first trophy and would host a semifinal match November 8th. In the event that the Fury lose both their final matches and Minnesota win both of theirs, the Fury still currently would win the tiebreaker on goal differential (+8). It would take catastrophic losses by the Fury combined with a Minnesota goal-fest to swing the Fall season the Loons way. So yeah, get your toques and parkas ready, Fury fans. In the Combined table, the Fury also find themselves ahead of the field, leading the New York Cosmos by two points and the Loons by three.
As part of Fan Appreciation Day, fans in attendance were invited onto the pitch to meet the players, which, considering the near-clinching of the Fall season, had the feel of a pitch invasion with smiles, handshakes, and hugs in abundance. Children were given mini soccer balls to get signed by players, with some giving up their match shirts and signing those as well. One of the city’s two supporters groups, Stony Monday Riot, presented a banner and custom-made t-shirt to Marc Dos Santos, who was managing his last regular-season match in Ottawa. Dos Santos, who is known as an emotional guy, got a little teary-eyed and his voice cracked as he thanked supporters for all their hard work. There’s a mutual understanding between the club and its supporters groups, Stony Monday Riot and the Bytown Boys, that their respective efforts have had a large hand in growing the Fury and instilling a soccer culture in the city. As Fury Communications Director Graeme Ivory told Total NASL this week: “In the first season, people would call us wanting to switch their seats away from the Supporters Section. This year, people are calling us wanting to switch NEXT to them. The culture has changed.”
Indeed it has. The organization deserves a tonne of credit for bringing a winner to Ottawa in only its second season. People have embraced the Fury, and it keeps on garnering more and more mainstream media attention. First place tends to evoke that in people. For a franchise so young, nothing but winning could shower it with attention so quickly. The questions that remain are now on the scale of how far they can take these winning ways. Can they win the Combined table? Can they win a playoff match and host the Soccer Bowl? Can the Fury sweep the individual awards? For a team that’s lost only once in its last 23 matches, the answer may just be “yes” to all of them.
Man of the Match: Julian de Guzman. The Canadian international was instrumental in the Fury’s victory, filling in for injured captain Richie Ryan and acting as simultaneous creator and destroyer. The heel pass to Eustaquio to set up the goal is bound to go down in Fury lore as “That time Canada’s captain gave us a Zidane moment”.
Next Match: The Fury travel to Jacksonville to take on the Armada on Wednesday night, needing a single point to become Fall season champions. Don’t expect the Fury to relax just yet, however, as the Combined table Championship becomes their new target. The Scorpions, their season in tatters, will travel to Fort Lauderdale where they will play on Wednesday night.