Fury FC fanbase divided over team's removal from USL

CBC Ottawa invited two Ottawa Fury fans with opposing opinions to both explain the developments involving the soccer club to casual fans — and also make the case for or against the Fury's possible switch to the Canadian Premier League.

2 fans go head-to-head on pros and cons of team's forced entry into upstart domestic league

Ottawa Fury FC's Eddie Edward, left, fights for the ball in a July 2018 game versus the Carolina Railhawks. Edward's upcoming season with the Fury is in jeopardy following CONCACAF's decision not to allow the team to play in the United Soccer League. (Steve Kingsman / Freestyle Photography)

Ottawa Fury FC's most passionate fans are divided over the news that the club will not be permitted to play in the United Soccer League and must join the newly formed Canadian Premier League instead.

CONCACAF, the governing body that controls soccer in this country, has doubled down on its requirement that the local professional soccer team must begin the 2019 season in the fledgling CPL, despite the strong objections of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), the club's owners.

Friday's news that CONCACAF would not sanction Fury FC playing in the USL next year came a mere two months before the start of training camp, with schedules set, payrolls in place, and tickets sold.

Some of the Fury's most vocal fans are proponents of the CPL, but many don't like the way the team is being treated by CONCACAF.

CBC Ottawa recently asked two Fury fans with opposing opinions to go head-to-head, not only to explain the developments to casual fans, but also to make the case for or against the Fury's acceptance of a new league — which would be its third in recent years.

Arguing against the CONCACAF ruling is Stuart MacTaggart, a Fury supporter and former Fury broadcaster who now lives in Scotland.

Arguing in favour of the CONCACAF position is Matthew Hawkins, a longtime Fury supporter and organizer with the Stony Monday Riot supporters group. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

Stuart MacTaggart, left, feels CONCACAF has taken an unreasonable position by demanding Ottawa Fury FC leave the United Soccer League for the Canadian Premier League. Matt Hawkins, right, says CONCACAF's stance is reasonable and the club should have seen it coming. (Submitted)

On CONCACAF's position

MacTaggart: I can understand CONCACAF's decision to have Canadian clubs play in a Canadian league now that CPL is an option. But what I struggle to wrap my head around is why they would take this position in mid-December, when the Fury and the USL are already in full swing into planning for next year.

Better options, such as addressing this back in September when the Fury announced their decision [to remain in the USL], or giving them a conditional sanction for one more year in USL, would have been much more appropriate and fair to the Ottawa Fury, a club that's done a lot for Canadian soccer in recent years.

Hawkins: Officially, we don't know all of CONCACAF's arguments or what process was taken. The FIFA statute on this is fairly clear: they do not favour clubs playing in leagues based in other association's territories. Only under exceptional circumstances do associations, confederations and FIFA sanction clubs to play in other territories.

With a professional league launching in Canada at a comparable level to USL, the Ottawa Fury no longer faced exceptional circumstances. We can speculate why CONCACAF ripped the Band-Aid off now, but it's pretty clear it was going to come off at some point. 

Fury captain Carl Haworth salutes the team's supporters after a match. (Ottawa Fury FC)

On the Fury's position 

MacTaggart: While I would love nothing more than to see the Ottawa Fury play in the CPL, I can certainly understand the club's trepidation after their experiences with a fresh, yet-to-be established league such as the North American Soccer League in 2014-2016.

The NASL was a great idea on the face of it, but due to poor league execution and management, its downfall also meant the end to many of the clubs that played in this league. And I can understand the Fury's desire to wait until the Canadian Premier League has proven itself a viable long-term option for the club.

Hawkins: OSEG was made aware of the possibility that the Fury could lose its sanctioning, according to well-informed sources, back when they formalized their decision to stay in the USL. 

Given the context, OSEG in public has been naively confident about playing in 2019. From a fan and player's perspective, the timing of the decision from CONCACAF is terrible. But I don't believe the possibility was unexpected. 

The bottom line

MacTaggart: The fact the Canadian Soccer Association went ahead and sanctioned Fury for the USL months ago —knowing that this was a possibility and putting this issue at CONCACAF's doorstep — suggests that perhaps everyone involved should have known better. Or at least have been better prepared for this potential outcome.

We now look down the barrel of potential lawsuits and infighting among federations and organizations that will only do damage to soccer culture in the capital. All parties could have — and should have — handled this better. And the fact it has come to this point is embarrassing for the club, the CSA and CONCACAF.

A peaceful resolution is needed before any court proceedings begin, for the better of all parties.

Hawkins: Whether the Fury should have known better is almost academic. OSEG has done a lot of things right with the Fury: its game day operations, hiring people like [former coach] Marc dos Santos and Canadian soccer legend Julian de Guzman, getting the team and buses of fans to New York for the finals in its second year.

Other decisions, like shutting down the Fury Academy and the women's semi-pro team, have hurt the Fury's identity as a soccer club. And I think OSEG did get caught in its misunderstanding of the wider soccer world.

It's a devastating blow from a fan perspective. It is very hard to be fan of a team that can't play any matches. From a personal perspective, I'm envious of soccer fans in the rest of Canada right now. I remember the excitement of getting a new team in Ottawa, and I wish we were participating in that — rather than dealing with the possibility of the Ottawa Fury losing its sanctioning.

You can follow Stuart MacTaggart on Twitter at @furyfanatic and Matthew Hawkins at @mhawkin2.