• By: Ron Guillet

Potential Soccer Growth in Ottawa Rests with Ottawa Fury

Photo courtesy of Ottawa Fury

With the Ottawa Fury FC having wrapped up their inaugural season in November, it is perhaps premature to start envisioning an MLS team in the nation’s capital.

The NASL doesn’t employ a promotion and relegation system, so the Fury won’t play in the MLS by simply rocketing up the standings—the two leagues are separate entities. While MLS league commissioner Don Garber has been expanding his league at a torrid pace, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk had already attempted to bring an MLS team to Ottawa back in 2008, but he couldn’t garner the support of the Ottawa City Council, as they opted to pursue a CFL team instead—now the Ottawa Redblacks.

For Ottawa to secure an MLS team, they’d have to purchase one and likely invest in a new arena. In any case, it’s not an impossible task for Melnyk to import a soccer club in North America’s top-level soccer league. It starts with the Fury and establishing a loyal, expansive fan base.

So far, the Fury’s average attendance has been somewhat of a mixed bag. During the spring half of the season, which runs for nine games, the club finished last in average attendance with under 3,000 seats filled. However, in the fall half of the season, which runs for 18 games, Ottawa ranked fourth in the league, which is composed of 10 teams, with an average of 4,961 in attendance.

Considering the Fury just finished their first season in the NASL, there are early signs Ottawa could support and sustain an MLS club. While it is still premature to unequivocally state their claim as an upcoming expansion club, there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen in the future.

Potential Soccer Growth in Ottawa rests with Fury FC -- Image 1
Photo courtesy of Steve Kingsman

While NASL commissioner Bill Peterson may not like it, the MLS is indeed the top-level soccer league in North America. While the talent gap between the two leagues may not be as significant as one might think, the NASL is still a level below and boasts half the amount of teams. This doesn’t mean Peterson’s league should not be taken seriously, though, as there is legitimate talent to behold. Christian Ramirez, for example, matched the NASL record with 20 goals at just 23 years old, and it seems only a matter of time before he’s snapped up by an MLS club.

The Fury, too, shouldn’t be regarded exclusively as a stepping stone to more profitable and prominent sporting endeavors. Like the Redblacks in the CFL, the Fury are not immune to the growing pains that accompany an expansion team. It’s not unreasonable to project higher attendance and more success for Ottawa’s sole soccer team as the years progress. All things considered, a 7-6-14 (win-tie-loss) record, placing them eighth in the league, is not a bad result for an expansion club in year one.

Nevertheless, for the sustainability and promotion of growth of the world’s most popular sport in Ottawa, it’s imperative the Fury can coexist with a potential MLS club. We are in the early stages with the Fury still in its infancy as a franchise, but establishing a loyal and expansive fan base is the first step.