How April’s Cup defeat put the Ottawa Fury on course for NASL glory By Steven Sandor Posted on October 22, 2015 2 0 578 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter PHOTO:NASL There’s an irony that, on the evening that the Ottawa Fury clinched the NASL fall season title, that FC Edmonton was eliminated from the post-season picture. Ottawa, as the Fury has done all season, went over its hurdle in style, a 3-1 come-from-behind win against a Jacksonville Armada team that’s tough to beat at home. The Eddies could only watch as Fort Lauderdale’s 0-0 draw with San Antonio put them out of their misery. Now, back up to April. Had this scenario been laid out then, most Canadian soccer supporters would have guffawed, or at least had a bit of a snicker. When the Eddies faced Ottawa in the opening round of the Amway Canadian Championship, the Fury were hammered by a 6-2 aggregate score over two legs. The Fury had massive gaps between its midfield and backline, and was absolutely savaged down the wings. So, what happened? Fury coach Marc Dos Santos, interviewed in the current issue of Plastic Pitch, spoke about the franchise-wide soul-searching that followed the Edmonton defeat. “It was the week where we were knocked out of Amway and we also lost against Fort Lauderdale. In one week, we had given up nine goals in three games. We had a lot of new players. And, we looked at some of the problems in the way we were playing. There was a lot of humility. It wasn’t about the players in the back, but how we defended as a unit. Our lines were too far from each other. Maybe our players were thinking too much about offence, so we had to go back to our basics. We looked at our four moments of play and what we needed to do as a team. We assessed what was going right, we assessed what was going wrong and we did it with the utmost humility in the locker room.” What we saw was a Fury team that was reinvented. A phoenix had risen from the ashes of a heavy Cup defeat. The Fury went from a team that was routinely getting picked apart to the staunchest defensive side in NASL. And, ironically, that was most clear in the league games against the Eddies. The Eddies scored six times in two Cup games against the Fury; in three subsequent league games against Ottawa, no Edmonton shot entered the Fury’s goal. The Fury look good to be the No. 1 seed in the NASL post-season, meaning there’s a chance we’ll see the optic orange ball (They’re real; I’ve seen some of them — FC Edmonton has them on hand, just in case). But, make no mistake, the Fury winning the NASL fall season, is a more impressive achievement than any of the Canadian MLS teams making the playoffs this season. Why? Well, in MLS, the playoffs are pretty inclusive. It’s actually harder to NOT make the playoffs in MLS than it is to be in them. This year, two more playoff spots were added, jumping the number of spots to 12 (out of 20 teams). Do the math. Sixty per cent of MLS teams make the playoffs. If either Toronto or Montreal falls to sixth place in the East after this weekend’s match, their fans should note they’d be in a playoff spot that didn’t exist a season ago. (Don’t misunderstand this as an anti-playoff sentiment; that’s far from the truth. But playoff structures should be exclusive, not inclusive. Playoffs spots should be rewards for good teams, not consolation prizes for mediocre clubs.) In NASL, the post-season is at four teams (out of 11), and it’s a number that Commissioner Bill Peterson has vowed will not increase. Of course, there are competitive reasons, but remember that, without big TV-rights money, playoffs aren’t a profitable exercise. So why play more games that cost teams money? But, under the split-season format, which sees the winner of the 10-game spring season and 20-game fall season get the top two seeds. With the Cosmos winning the spring-season sprint, the rest of the field is handicapped — one third of the overall schedule is gone, and already one of the four spots is spoken for. It made the Fury’s job just that little bit tougher. And the Fury did it without pushing aside its mandate to give Canadian players the chance to play. Out of MLS and NASL teams, only FC Edmonton gave more minutes to Canadian players. In Canada, we’re starved for good-news soccer stories. The Fury has given us one. Now, can it finish in a Soccer Bowl?