Underdog Fury set sights on rankled MLS Whitecaps in cup semi rematch

It's been a tale of two teams as Paul Dalglish's new look Ottawa Fury squad have looked dominant at times this season despite dropping valuable points in league play.

Ottawa's NASL side hoping to make history against major league foes

Ottawa Fury FC's Jonny Steele celebrates an early goal with Fernando Timbo, the game-winner against the Vancouver Whitecaps during the Amway Canadian championship semifinal. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

It's been a truly odd season for Ottawa Fury FC.

With a new head coach and a largely remade roster from last year, no one was sure what to expect from this year's club. Nine weeks in, we still don't. 

Fury head coach Paul Dalglish says the pressure is off his team in the Canadian championship semifinal. (Ottawa Fury FC)

What exactly is it that first-year field boss Paul Dalglish has here?

The struggling regular season team that sits third last in the NASL spring standings with just two wins and eight points in nine games? Or the upstart giant killers that stunned FC Edmonton 3-0 on the road and then shocked Major League Soccer side Vancouver in front over over 9,000 fans at TD Place last Wednesday in the first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semifinal? 

We should know more after this week's second and final leg of the two-game, total-goal series scheduled for Wednesday night, 10 pm EST at BC Place in Vancouver. 

You dream of playing in front of that many people, on the road, against a great team. It's a great opportunity.- Ottawa Fury midfielder Lance Rozeboom

Despite the fact Ottawa goes in with a two-goal advantage, the Fury remains a big underdog to survive to the final against the winner of the Toronto-Montreal series later this month.

Even Fury midfielder Jonny Steele, who scored one goal and set up the other in last week's win, sounded unconvinced in his post match scrum. 

"It's going to be tough going up there. Had we gotten a third maybe the game would have been over, but 2-0 is going to be tough," said Steele. 

And that was immediately after a big win. Not exactly a Mark Messier guarantee.

Here are some of the reasons Steele may not be far off in his assessment:

  • FATIGUE: With no games scheduled in between, Vancouver went home immediately after last Wednesday's loss to lick their wounds and begin preparations for the rematch. The Fury, on the other hand, were busy flying to Florida for a weekend league game against Tampa Bay, losing 2-1.
  • TRAVEL: After the 4,700-kilometre trek to and from Tampa, Fury players boarded another plane Tuesday for the 4400-kilometre ride to Vancouver. They will also need to adjust to the three-hour time difference.
  • COMPETITION: The defending tournament champions won't take kindly to being embarrassed by a second-tier NASL club. Whitecaps head coach Carl Robinson fielded a very young team in leg one, with only one player — the goalkeeper — over 25. He won't make that mistake again in front of the home crowd at BC Place. 

Still, Ottawa has a couple things playing in its favour.

One, it welcomes back veterans Julian de Guzman and Marcel de Jong, both on international assignment with the Canadian national team. 

Two, as Dalglish emphasizes, the Whitecaps are the team doing the chasing here, not the Fury. 

Ottawa Fury captain Julian de Guzman, right, returns to the team after playing in FIFA World Cup qualifying games for Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"All the pressure is on them. They're the MLS team. No pressure on us at all. We won our home game, and now we have to go and enjoy the occasion," said the head coach.

Since this format was adopted in 2011, no NASL team has ever beaten an MLS side in a two-game championship series. Ottawa has a chance to become the first to climb that mountain this week, and midfielder Lance Rozeboom can't wait to get started.

"This is what you want as a kid. You dream of these types of moments. You dream of playing in front of that many people, on the road, against a great team. It's a great opportunity," he said. 

Great, assuming the right version of the Fury show up to BC Place for the game.

A win would be huge for the franchise with a chance to host the likes of Montreal Impact's Didier Drogba or Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco at TD Place in the Amway Canadian Championship final.


Dan Seguin is CBC Ottawa's sports anchor. Follow him on Twitter @SeguinSports