Fury Switch Nothing to Get Hung Up About
Photos courtesy of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group.
Okay. Everyone get a grip.
Breathe deeply. Relax.
The soccer community in the National Capital Region might be in hand-wringing mode concerning the move of their Ottawa Fury from Division 2 football to Division 3, but in reality, there’s not much to rattle your marbles over.
“Right now there’s a small difference. With the NASL you’re going to get a few more established veterans but with the USL you’re going to get a few more up-and-comers,” said AJ Jakubec, the voice of the Fury since inception on TSN 1200.
When the Fury made the announcement they were skirting away from the NASL (North American Soccer League) in 2017, and hopping into the USL (United Soccer League), the general consensus was ‘this is bad joo joo.’ After all, the Fury created a tremendous amount of interest, good vibes and hype for themselves (and the NASL) when they made it to the 2015 Soccer Bowl against the eventual-winning New York Cosmos.
This was something to build on. Right?
Well, this past season didn’t quite go as planned and the Fury finished well out of the playoff chase.
Still, the notion was there that this was high-quality soccer; the best a fan can expect barring a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise (see: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver).
And then the announcement that Ottawa is dropping down a division.
Perception trumped reality, and the frowning and grimacing began.
A completely inappropriate reaction.
Let’s check the facts.
First and foremost, the USL has already applied for Division 2 status (as with the NASL) and will hear on that appeal from the United States Soccer Federation by the end of this year.
Secondly (and perhaps the biggest concern for Ottawa football followers), the thought that the USL is a gigantic drop in quality of play rings untrue.
Team president John Pugh puts it into logical terms.
“They are a great fan base (in Ottawa) and have supported us . . . If we tell our fans that Cincinnati (USL) is coming, can they really distinguish that from say the Carolina Railhawks (NASL)? The answer to that is mostly no, unless it’s the New York Cosmos which everyone recognizes. Obviously if they think we’re moving from a Division 2 to a Division 3, that might be a concern but if they look a little deeper – look, NASL teams beat MLS teams and USL teams beat NASL teams in the US Open Cup (An annual knock-out tournament between the three leagues).”
Stability-wise, the USL shines.
This is now a 29-team league – not including the 2017 additions of Ottawa and Tampa Bay. The NASL has 12 – not including the exits of Ottawa and Tampa.
Just a few years ago, the USL sported but 14 clubs.
Attendance-wise, the USL shines. FC Cincinnati averages 17,000 per game; by contrast, the darlings of the NASL, the Cosmos, average slightly more than 3,000 per (and quite frankly play in a crumbling stadium).
Look at it this way, the top three teams in ticket sales are all leaving the NASL (Tampa and Ottawa to the USL, and Minnesota moving up to MLS). This is not what you call growth.
Attendance across the USL is up 33 per cent, said Pugh.
“I think NASL gave us a good three years where we were able to build a foundation of pro soccer here in Ottawa. We are very comfortable that Ottawa is a great market, but we needed to think about what would be our next step, and making sure that soccer would be here for years to come.”
Jakubec applauded the move.
“OSEG has doubled down. They could have easily pulled the plug but they’ve made the commitment and they’ve paid the money. They clearly want soccer to be viable for the long term in Ottawa. And when you see a team like the Tampa Bay Rowdies making the same move, and they initiated it before Ottawa, and this is a club that’s well supported and has money and they’re established and have a great tradition in the Tampa market, you know it’s a smart move.”
And don’t expect a huge shift in talent. Pugh has indicated the bulk of last season’s Fury roster will be back. (Of course this is also professional soccer where turnovers are as commonplace as at Betty Crocker’s.)
“I know it’s going to be good. It’s a league on the way up,” said Jakubec.