Ah, summer – that magical season when Canada’s top domestic cup competition comes out of hibernation to crown one of its five (sigh) professional teams the undisputed champion of Canadian soccer. For Vancouver Whitecaps FC supporters, this means another play-date with our friends from across the Rocky Mountains, FC Edmonton. This year’s edition promises to be another…
…Wait, hang on. Ottawa Fury? That’s not a team from Alberta. What gives?
Venue: TD Place Stadium, Ottawa
Time: Wednesday, June 1 @ 4:30 p.m.
Radio: TSN 1410
Ottawa: Enemy unknown-ish
It’s difficult to get a read on a team you’ve never faced before, let alone one from an entirely different league. The Fury play in the NASL, the second tier in the North American soccer pyramid under MLS, and above USL. Considering that the Whitecaps’ usual NASL foe, FC Edmonton, is no pushover in this competition, assuming the worst may be a smart strategy against Ottawa.
Heck, look at the Fury’s roster: Canadian men’s national team veterans Julian de Guzman and Marcel de Jong currently ply their trade in the nation’s capital. Considering both have extensive experience playing soccer in Europe to go with their MLS time, discounting Ottawa’s pedigree would seem to be foolish.
Foolish, that is, until you look at the NASL standings and see Ottawa sit in 9th place after eight games with eight points, only three points ahead of last place. The Fury have conceded 11 goals in those eight games, meaning they’re not exactly scaring off NASL attackers on other teams.
In short, I’m not exactly sure how 3rd-place FC Edmonton managed to screw this one up over two legs but here we are. Did I say “assume the worst”? I’m sorry, I meant “they are the worst”.
Pride something something fall
Still, Ottawa dispatched FC Edmonton 3-2 over two legs, so clearly the Eddies did something wrong. At the very least, Edmonton didn’t do enough to see out a victory after 180 minutes. In that respect, Vancouver got an unintended boost with the red card shown to midfielder and captain Pedro Morales this past weekend.
A one-game suspension in MLS only applies to MLS, not the Voyageurs Cup. Morales is thus eligible for the first leg against Ottawa and it would be a good bet to see the Chilean maestro dictating play in the centre of the pitch.
Considering how much Carl Robinson likes to play the Residency and Whitecaps FC 2 kids in the first match of the Voyageurs Cup, I can only imagine how stoked the likes of Alphonso Davies and/or Daniel Haber will be to have that kind of service, assuming they play (and they should, this being the Canadian championship and all. More Canadians on the pitch, please).
That said, Morales alone can’t turn a team of reserves and kids into superhumans. It’s all well and good to talk about using depth right up until said depth falls to pieces in a cup match without solid leadership. Mixing in a few more first-team pieces – say, Nicolás Mezquida amidst the attackers and Tim Parker on defence beside Cole Seiler – will ensure Vancouver doesn’t run the risk of overconfidence.
And if you’re worried about fixture congestion, worry not; the next MLS match (home vs. the New England Revolution) isn’t until June 18th, 17 days after the trip to Ottawa and 10 days after the return leg in Vancouver. Who knows? Maybe we even see Matías Laba slot into his traditional destroyer role. I certainly wouldn’t say no.
You only get one first impression
For those of you not familiar with cup-style competitions from European soccer, there’s a rule you may want to be aware of: away goals.
In short, if the teams are still tied after 180 minutes, the tiebreaker is whichever team scored the most goals away from home. The theory is that the home team should be winning anyway, so whichever team bucked that trend better than the other is probably a deserving winner. Ah, Europe – thank you for writing “home field advantage” into the rules.
What this means for Vancouver is that scoring at least one goal in Ottawa is mandatory. Obviously, the more the merrier; for example, a 4-4 draw in the away leg might be a disaster on the defensive end but it sets the Whitecaps up for a fantastic home leg, where even a 0-0 draw sees them through to the final.
Again, in ideal circumstances, the Vancouver Whitecaps are not conceding four goals. Zero would be ideal. Regardless, the most important thing is to get that all-important away goal in Vancouver’s collective back pocket and come home knowing you have that edge.
Naturally, Ottawa will be thinking the same thing. If they can keep the score low at home before unleashing hell at BC Place, they’ll move on and continue their fairytale journey. While not impossible, I’m not going to dwell on that outcome simply because it’s too improbable.
Vancouver should win in Ottawa by a goal or two. What matters is that they score that goal. Coming home tied 0-0 or losing 1-0 (perish the thought) is simply not acceptable.
2-0 Vancouver. The Whitecaps have beaten FC Edmonton over two legs every time they’ve faced off. The Ottawa Fury are, with the notable exception of the Voyageurs Cup preliminary round, worse than FC Edmonton.
This should be an open-and-shut away leg for the ‘Caps, provided they don’t try and sleepwalk through it. If Alphonso Davies sees 90 minutes of playing time, I may squeal a