‘Ottawa’ Fury Knocks Off Whitecaps in Opening Leg
It wasn’t supposed to happen in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship soccer series, but it did. Goals by Jonny Steele and Paulo Junior staked Ottawa Fury FC to a two-goal lead and the team from second division North American Soccer League held on for a 2-0 victory against the Vancouver Whitecaps of first division Major League Soccer at TD Place stadium on Wednesday night.
The second leg is next Wednesday at BC Place stadium in Vancouver, with the eventual winner playing for the Voyageurs Cup against the winner of the other semifinal between MLS sides Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, which won 4-2 in their opening match.
Since the nine-year-old Amway championship adopted a knockout-round format in 2011, no NASL club has eliminated an MLS club in a two-leg series. However, FC Edmonton did beat the Impact 2-1 in 2014 and drew 1-1 with the Whitecaps in 2015.
During the round robin era between 2008 and 2010, when the Impact and Whitecaps were in second-division USL, Vancouver posted two wins and three draws against Toronto FC. Fury FC assistant coach Martin Nash scored on a penalty to give the Whitecaps a 1-0 in Toronto on Canada Day 2008.
“We had a game plan right from the start and we stuck to it,” said forward Carl Haworth, perhaps Fury FC’s most proficient player all night. “We were going to come out and play our game, we weren’t going to sit back and let them come at us. It looked like it worked in the first half for us.”
That it did. The contest wasn’t yet three minutes old when Steele accepted a pass from Haworth, took a few strides at the edge of the box and left-footed a slicing shot past Whitecaps reserve keeper Paolo Tornaghi.
Just before the break, Haworth forced Tornaghi to make a save on a header, but the rebound landed on the right foot of Paulo and he pounded the ball into the back of the net to double the advantage that Fury FC nursed all through the second half.
Overcoming a 2-0 deficit “has happened before,” said Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson, who started a roster half-composed of reserves. “Teams do do it. It’s not ideal.
“All credit to Ottawa. They deserved to win today because they won their individual battles. They played the way they like to play, they got their noses in front early, and the game became a little bit easier for them because they were able to soak up the pressure.”
Fury FC began the match with a roster shortened not only by injuries, but also by the call-ups of captain Julian de Guzman and fellow midfielder Marcel de Jong for international duty with the Canadian men’s squad. On this night, however, they weren’t missed.
“There was absolutely no fear,” Ottawa head coach Paul Dalglish said. “We have good players. The players know they’re good. This is what they live for. They try very hard to showcase themselves on the big occasion and (Wednesday night) they did.”
Fury FC keeper Romuald Peiser was rarely tested in the first half, but he came up big on a couple of occasions in the second.
In the 64th minute, Nicolas Mezquida forced the NASL keeper of the year for 2015 to tip one ball over the ball over the crossbar. Octavio Rivero whistled a header wide of the goal in the 88th and he delivered a strike from close range in extra time only to have Peiser stand firm to the delight of the crowd of 9,057.
That was the third largest turnout ever to see Fury FC in Ottawa, trailing only the 2014 NASL fall season home opener against the New York Cosmos (14,593) and last year’s league semifinal against Minnesota United FC (9,346).
The Whitecaps subbed in 15-year-old Alphonso Davies in the 72nd minute. Born in Liberia, but raised in Edmonton, Davies had become the youngest player in USL when he signed with Vancouver in February, and he made history as the youngest scorer in USL with a goal against L.A. Galaxy II in mid-May.
Davies didn’t look out of place on the pitch, but neither he nor his teammates applied enough pressure on the Fury FC defence to break through.
Now the Fury FC players must come down from their understandably emotional high and regroup for a regular-season away contest against the Tampa Bay Rowdies on Saturday before gearing up for the rematch with the Whitecaps four days later.