Fury must wait to see what TFC lineup it will face
One hour before kickoff.
Only then will the Ottawa Fury know that full extent of what it is facing in the first leg of their Canadian Championship series with Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC Wednesday night at TD Place.
At 6:30, Ottawa Fury head coach Nikola Popovic and Toronto’s Greg Vanney have to exchange lineups and that’s when the Fury will find out which stars Toronto left behind and what is the strength of the lineup that made the trip.
Either way, the lineup card will make for interesting reading for the Fury head coach, his staff and the Fury players as they quickly assess what they are up against before heading out for warmup and the 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
“One hour before is when we tick off who will play and it’s, right now, very difficult to understand who Toronto will have,” said Popovic, after a short training session Tuesday morning. “Our starting 11 is a bit unpredictable too. We still have some players in doubt for (Wednesday) but this is a huge game for us.
“We want to have a good performance and come away with a result that will give us a chance next week at BMO Field (in Toronto.
“It’s an important part of our philosophy that we want to be a reference point in Canadian football. We will take (Thursday) off, then prepare for the second leg.”
Toronto FC arrives in Ottawa eighth in the Eastern Conference, a spot only one better than the ninth-place Reds of a year ago.
Their nine wins, five draws 10 defeats has them 15th overall on the league but they are hardly out of playoff contention.
The top seven in each conference advance to the conference quarterfinals and Toronto is just a single point behind both the Montreal Impact and New England, who share a tie for sixth. Toronto is also just five points back of the third-place New York Red Bulls and with roughly 10 games to go for each team it’s wide open with just seven points separating second (Atlanta) and Toronto.
“I still think they have a very strong team,” said Popovic. “That’s one of the most expensive teams in the MLS and this year, that they are not doing so well in MLS, they may put more into winning a Canadian championship.
“The MLS is a very difficult league to win in and sometimes you just need some breaks and some luck to turn things around.
“Toronto is still very capable of winning it all. They have the potential. They are still in the middle of a fight for the playoffs. And everyone knows, once you make the playoffs, anything can happen.”
The Fury, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing scoreless draw last Friday at home to Birmingham Despite outshooting their opposition 12-5.
And with a bye week in their United Soccer League schedule, the Fury can focus their attention entirely on the two-game set with Toronto.
The Fury next plays a league match August 17 in Connecticut and don’t play another home game until the 24th against St. Louis.
READY FOR THE REDS
The captain, Carl Haworth, feels strongly that this edition of the rebuilt Ottawa Fury FC compares more favourably to the Major League Soccer powerhouse Toronto FC than in any of the two previous meetings in 2017 and 2018.
Haworth is quick to qualify that the comparisons end with the size of cheques members of the two teams cashing.
And it is a little David versus Goliath as the United Soccer League’s Fury face Toronto in the first leg of the Canadian Championship semifinal after Ottawa barrelled past the Canadian Soccer League’s Halifax Wanderers in the quarterfinal round.
Haworth sees hope, however.
“It’s not like these guys are in this upper echelon where we can’t achieve a good result,” said Haworth, the Fury with a single wins and three defeats in four previous meetings with Toronto, the one win (2-1) coming at home in 2017 before Toronto amped it up at home and won 4-0. “These guys are not unbeatable.
“We’re not worried about who they bring because anybody they bring, even at the lowest end of their roster, is making more than anyone here. But as soon as the (Canadian Championship) draw came out and we saw the fixtures and the potential for a matchup with Toronto FC, we certainly circled the dates on our calendars.
“We want to show we can compete and it’s a tale of two legs really. And team that comes (to TD Place) will have a tough game. We are comfortable playing here and strong at home.
“It’s all about performing over the 180 minutes and keeping the tide close and hopefully getting a good result.”
Haworth said it’s not like he and his teammates will be caught standing around watching the exalted Toronto side.
To the contrary.
“It’s like a CPL team going against us and we can take that as extra motivation,” said Haworth. “There’s no so much extra pressure as there is a desire and an extra motivation.”