Pro soccer back in Ottawa? Group hoping to field team in 2020 CPL season

Tim Baines, Postmedia

Professional soccer could return to Ottawa as early as this coming season.

While it wasn’t long ago — a bit more than two months — that Ottawa Fury FC suspended operations, sources say there is considerable momentum toward having a franchise in the coast-to-coast Canadian Premier League, with the hope being that the team is added to the 2020 schedule.

While it seems like fielding a team for the 2020 season might be rushing it, there are positives in making it happen. For one thing, it would help the league in its scheduling, going from a seven-team league to eight. The CPL’s teams are Pacific FC (Victoria), Cavalry FC (Calgary), FC Edmonton, Valour FC (Winnipeg), Forge FC (Hamilton) York 9 FC (Toronto) and HFX Wanderers (Halifax).

It’s believed a major partner in the new Ottawa soccer organization would come from Spain. While it may mean nothing, it’s worth noting that Atletico Madrid partnered with Ottawa South United in a soccer camp here in 2016. FC Barcelona will also host a couple of soccer camps in Ottawa this year.

Fury FC ran out of patience with soccer’s governing bodies. Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which had owned Fury FC since its inaugural season in the North American Soccer League in 2014, pulled the plug on the team when it couldn’t get sanctioning to participate in the United Soccer League (USL) Championship this year. Unlike a year ago, when they were ready to take the battle to a Court of Arbitration for Sport, Fury FC walked away with the OSEG collective wanting out.

All professional soccer clubs based in Canada need sanctioning from Canada Soccer, the United States Soccer Federation and Concacaf to play in a league that’s based in the U.S. In 2018, the year preceding the inaugural CPL season, there was a strong desire for Fury FC to become a member of the CPL. Fury FC, instead, decided to remain in the USL.

But this is different. While TD Place would provide the venue for the professional soccer team, OSEG, as a group, wouldn’t be involved in ownership. And in many ways a partnership with the CPL at this time makes sense.

Fury FC played the first half of the 2014 season at Carleton University as construction was completed at TD Place. In 2015, the team won the NASL Fall Season title and advanced to the league final against the New York Cosmos, losing 3-2.  In 2017, Fury FC moved to the USL and last season hosted its first USL Championship playoff match. Over its first five years of operation, Fury FC ownership spent more than $15 million to cover startup costs, two league entry fees and operating losses.

Last month, Fury FC sold its franchise rights to Miami FC, whose head coach and general manager Paul Dalglish coached the Ottawa club from 2016-17.

If a deal to get an Ottawa CPL team on the field for 2020 is going to get done, time is of the essence. It’s believed there are meetings going on this week that could provide an answer either way. The CPL has talked about releasing a schedule by the end of the month or early in February so we should expect a decision soon. The CPL season runs from late April to October. Each team plays 28 games, including 14 at home and 14 away.

There’s also the matter of Ottawa putting in place a coach, GM and a lineup of players, who will mostly be Canadian. There’s a heavy emphasis on giving exposure to Canadian talent. League rules say that 50 per cent, plus one, of every team’s roster must be made up of Canadian players (with a limit of seven foreign nationals). Teams must also start a minimum of six Canadians. At least three Canadians on each team must be under 21 and those players must combine to play a minimum of 1,000 minutes per season.

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