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Ottawa should be competitive in its first NASL season

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When the new Ottawa franchise enters the North American Soccer League as an expansion franchise in 2014, it should have all the ingredients in place to have as successful a debut as FC Edmonton has enjoyed in 2011.

FC Edmonton is 6-4-2, second in the league, with Alberta-bred players consisting of more than half of the roster, and players from exotic locales like Mississauga, Ont., Quebec and Prince Edward Island filling places.

Ottawa — which was officially announced Monday as a 2014 expansion team — has even more of a local soccer program to build on than FC Edmonton had, said FCE owner Tom Fath.

“I think this is fantastic news,” said Fath. “For us, it’s very good. We need another Canadian rival. But Ottawa has one thing we didn’t have. They have the Fury (the PDL side which is breeding young talent, including FCE defender Adrian LeRoy). They have an excellent soccer program that acts as a foundation for them to build on.”

In fact, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which is looking to bring a CFL and NASL team to a new Lansdowne Stadium in 2014, announced that John Pugh, the owner of the Fury, will be the team’s president.

“This will be, by far, the highest calibre of soccer we’ll have seen in Ottawa since the 2007 FIFA Men’s U-20 World Cup,” said Pugh in a release issued by the league. “We are committed to fielding a competitive team from the get-go, providing a lively, entertaining game-day experience for families and establishing strong ties with all soccer players and fans across the region. It’s a privilege to have this opportunity.”

The new 24,000-seat Lansdowne Stadium was called “soccer-friendly” by the NASL today. Look for that to be a new watch word. As municipal, provincial and state budgets get tighter, look for soccer entrepreneurs to sell MLS and NASL on the idea of “soccer-friendly” rather than “soccer specific” stadiums, understanding that they need multipurpose facilities in order to get government backing. Seattle has proven that this model works; it is better to play in a multipurpose facility that can be made intimate for soccer than play in a soccer-specific stadium that’s way out in the burbs, like we see for FC Dallas or the Chicago Fire.

“Residents are excited about NASL soccer, our bid for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, CFL football and other events that will take place in Ottawa, thanks to a newly redeveloped Lansdowne Park,” said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson in the release. “With 65,000 registered players in our region playing the world’s game, it’s high time Ottawa had a professional soccer team and a world-class stadium.”

Season-ticket holders for the Fury and/or junior hockey’s Ottawa 67’s can reserve season tickets for the 2014 NASL season with no money down. Other soccer fans will need to make fully refundable deposits of $25 each.

OSEG had mentioned an expansion soccer side as a possibility when it was battling to get the stadium deal approved. At the time, Ottawa Senators’ owner Eugene Melnyk had put his hat in the ring for a soccer-specific stadium out by the arena in Kanata — with the goal of attracting MLS to Ottawa. In the public eye, it became a battle between suburbs and the city, CFL vs. soccer. By adding the promise of bringing soccer to Ottawa, OSEG head Jeff Hunt and his group sweetened the pot.

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