In what coach Nikola Popovic calls Year Zero, Ottawa Fury FC started its 2018 season off with just one point in its first five games. In its first two games, Fury FC was outscored 9-1.
Now, on the heels of a 2019 season-opening 1-1 tie in Charleston, expectations have been heightened several levels. Fury FC is in Birmingham for a Saturday matchup with Legion FC, an expansion team with plenty of veteran experience. While coming out of Game 2 with a point might have seemed like a great idea not so long ago, part of the culture that Popovic is trying to build is a team that won’t just settle for a draw.
“We had a good result on the road,” said Popovic. “Coming out of Charleston with one point, if you’d have asked me before the game, I’d say it would be a fantastic result. But after the game, we felt it should have been three points.”
The season-opening draw was the first time in club history that Fury FC had taken a point on the road in Game 1.
“Look at last year, we only had one point during a lot of games,” said Popovic. “We already have one point, that’s fantastic. But what we want is a team with a winning mentality. No matter who we are playing, home or away, we have to go in and try to take three points.”
As a unit, Fury FC increased its number of passes in 90 minutes by 35 per cent in the first match in comparison to its average in 2018, stringing 448 passes in this game (2018: 332.1 / 2017: 357.3). This reflects well on the changes brought in the off-season, not only in roster personnel but also in the application of the desired model of play favoured by the coach. Popovic wants his team to be consistent on the soccer field, playing the same way from start to finish.
“We have our idea,” he said. “We don’t change that. Whether it’s 1-0 or 2-0, we want to continue to dominate the opponent. We’re still developing the idea. It’s going to take a little more time.”
Last week, newcomer Charlie Ward was a standout in Fury FC’s midfield, maintaining a passing success rate of 96.3 per cent, completing 77 of his 80 passes. Six different Fury FC players created chances and scoring opportunities, including goal scorer Kevin Oliveira. Christiano François was the leader in shots on goal, with three.
Legion FC is coming off a 2-0 loss to Bethlehem Steel FC. The team made a splash when it announced hometown standout Chandler Hoffman as its first signing midway through last year. The team later hired former Major League Soccer coach Tom Soehn. Also on board are former New York City FC and San Antonio FC midfielder Mikey Lopez and former Houston Dynamo midfielder Joe Holland, who should make an effective midfield tandem. There’s experience in goal with Matt van Oekel, while Daniel Johnson (Chicago Fire) and Femi Hollinger-Janzen (New England Revolution) join Hoffman in the club’s attacking corps.
Popovic isn’t putting too much emphasis on Birmingham’s loss a week ago.
“The scoreboard is a very deceiving,” he said. “They played very well, they had a lot of chances, but they weren’t very lucky. They have very, very experienced players who have played in MLS and USL. Both teams have similar ideas on possession. It’s a tough opponent playing at home.”
Asked how Fury FC is looking a bit more than a week removed from the end of training camp in Florida, defender Dakota Barnathan said, “I think we’re in a good spot. We got a point on the road in Charleston, which is a pretty historic point for the organization, and to go from here we just need to continue to dominate, enforce our will on the team, play our style, our type of culture, and we’ll be fine.”
IT’S A CULTURE THING
Nikola Popovic isn’t in a hurry to get his team’s latest signings into the starting lineup. The Ottawa Fury FC coach wants to make sure they’re up to speed on a lot of things before they see the field in a United Soccer League game.
Goalkeeper Callum Irving, signed Thursday, is an exception. He already has two years with Fury FC under his belt. After being a starter for the club in 2017, he was a backup to Maxime Crepeau, the USL Championship goalkeeper of the year in 2018.
Forward Shaan Hundal, defender Robert Boskovic and midfielder Aidan Daniels were obtained last week on year-long loan from Toronto FC. They could work their way into Fury FC’s lineup, and a two-week bye coming up after Saturday’s game will help them better get a grasp on the expectations from the team.
“When we bring in players, what we want is for them first to understand the culture,” said Popovic. “Last year was like the Year Zero where we implemented the culture. Now, whoever comes in has to feel this culture. The level of play is very demanding. It will take a bit of time for these to players to understand. We are stopping for two weeks after this game, so they will have more time to understand the idea of how we want to play and the culture. It’s part of a process.”
Asked about Irving, Popovic said, “He has the advantage that he knows what was built last year so he will need less time to adapt. It’s easy for him to come in and understand.”
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