Ottawa Fury FC gets green light to play in USL for 2019 season
As it turns out, the CONCACAF Grinch couldn’t steal the Ottawa Fury FC’s Christmas — or its 2019 United Soccer League season.
It never should have been a question in the first place, but the Fury found out Friday they will be allowed to play in the USL in 2019. The club was informed by Canada Soccer it has now been sanctioned by CONCACAF, the governing body for soccer in North America, to play in the USL, subject to approval by FIFA, soccer’s international governing body.
Notification was provided to Canada Soccer after the Fury sought urgent relief from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to permit the team to play in the USL after its sanctioning had been brought into question in a shocking move by CONCACAF a week ago. The Fury had committed to the USL, choosing a wait-and-see approach to joining the new Canadian Premier League, which kicks off in 2019.
“The outcome is where we wanted to be,” said Mark Goudie, president and CEO of the Fury FC’s parent company, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. “Relief is a good word. It’s not happy because this was an emotional ordeal. This had negative undertones about it. We’re happy to emerge from the negativity and worry about building a roster for next year. I still feel it was unnecessary to go through this process. I don’t think it’s helpful to us, the USL, the CPL, Soccer Canada and CONCACAF. Hopefully we can figure out a way to happily avoid this next year.”
CONCACAF is run by Victor Montagliani, the former Canada Soccer boss and thus a booster of the new Canadian Premier League, which will start in April. The timing of CONCACAF’s announcement was about as bad as it gets. Players had been signed based on the USL’s salary cap. USL schedules have been drawn up that included Ottawa. Season tickets have been sold.
“I was very surprised in what happened,” said Goudie. “We had heard the rumours through 2018 that there was a desire to get the Ottawa Fury into the CPL. But we’re not talking to CONCACAF directly and we don’t have a ton of direct communication with Soccer Canada. So we believed we were sanctioned for play in 2019 and that wouldn’t be an issue. They formalized that process with Soccer Canada back, I believe, in October.
“They ask, then, the country we’re going to — which is the U.S. and the U.S. Soccer Federation — ‘Hey, the Fury want to come down and play in the USL, are you cool with that?’ They say, ‘Yeah, we’re cool with that.’ Having somebody outside of two governing bodies reach over top of them and changing the outcome, that was the surprising part.”
While GM Julian de Guzman’s efforts to build a roster for next season had been put on hold, he can now continue his work without a cloud of uncertainty lingering.
“It’s a very important time, it’s the busiest time of the season if you’re Julian de Guzman,” said Goudie. “I don’t think it will put Julian’s blueprint for 2019 in jeopardy.”
Through the dispute, there wasn’t much direct communication.
“The whole sanction process is pretty opaque,” said Goudie. “You really don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes, which is one of the reasons we felt it necessary to file a claim with the Court of Arbitration for Sport so we had a process we could understand to go through. We don’t speak to CONCACAF, that’s normal course. Canada Soccer talks to CONCACAF directly. There were really no negotiations happening over the last week, it was really just the lawyer process.”
And while the Fury are committed to the USL for 2019, nothing is set in stone for 2020.
“There are no conditions on the sanctioning,” said Goudie. “The sanctioning is an annual thing. It happens for all teams, not just the Ottawa Fury. We are subject, like everybody else, to sanctioning next year. We can’t be in this position at this same time next year. So we have to take a couple of days here and figure out what the answer is.
“We’ve been clear from the start that we’re happy to watch the CPL evolve — it’s a pretty exciting time for them. In 2019, we’ll see how that’s coming together and hopefully we’ll all be in a better position to avoid what was a pretty difficult, emotional process this year.”
The Fury are getting ready for their sixth season as a professional club, and third in the USL, with action set to begin on the road over the weekend of March 8-10. The team’s regular-season home opener against Nashville SC will be played April 6 at TD Place.