On April 12th, the Ottawa Fury will kick off their inaugural season in the NASL. It’s been almost 3 years since the league awarded a franchise to the Canadian capital city, and with the support of Graeme Ivory, the Fury’s Media and Communications Director, 10Soccer will be doing a series of articles describing that journey.
In the next few weeks, we’ll cover how the on-the-field team is being built by head coach Marc Dos Santos, and we’ll talk with the front office about all the non-soccer things that have to be taken care of to put on a professional soccer game. But we’re starting with a conversation with John Pugh, the Fury’s President, about how this whole thing got started.
John purchased the Fury in 2002. At that time it consisted only of a W-League team. Under his leadership, the organization added an Academy (U9-U20) and a PDL team, with a real emphasis on growing soccer in Ottawa through camps and community programs.
And the Fury has been very successful in doing just that. Since 2003, they’ve had almost 100 youth players earn NCAA athletic scholarships. Fury players have also been a strong presence on the Canadian national teams.
With these successes already in place, I asked John why he wanted to add an NASL team. Turns out football was a big reason. But not our football, the other football.
“To go to the next step, to add a truly professional team, would have required some additional partners and some resources,” Pugh recalled. “We had a group of 4 businessmen in the city who had the notion of bringing back Canadian Football, CFL, to the city.”
Ottawa had a long history with the CFL, but the team had gone out of business a few years back. This group of 4, the Dream Team as they were known, wanted to bring it back.
Shortly after Ottawa hosted the FIFA U-20 Men’s World Cup in 2007, it was discovered that the South Stands in the city’s stadium had to be demolished. So now a new stadium had to be built for the CFL team. And that led to the realization that the 40-acre Lansdowne Park around the stadium really needed to be refurbished. As a result, a lot of money was going to be spent by the city and the football partnership, essentially to host 9 CFL home games every year.
Pugh explained what happened next. “The city counselors pointed out that most of their constituents had a member of the family playing soccer, so why didn’t we have soccer in the mix. That was where I came in. That’s how the dream came about.”
So everyone in Ottawa agreed that having a professional soccer team would be great. I asked John, “Now what do you do? How do you go about getting an NASL franchise?”
“At the time we were starting out on this path, it was a time when Division 2 soccer was a little bit in turmoil,” he explained. “That eventually sorted itself out and the NASL was the place to play at Division 2. “
“So you call the NASL and you speak to the commissioner and he gives you the rules. The US Soccer Federation set really quite significant standards for what it takes to be a Division 2 league and club. There are financial requirements to be satisfied, there are lines of credit to be posted, there are technical standards and stadium standards which need to be met, organizational standards.”
“And you need a city that’s ready for soccer, and we had proven during the FIFA 2007 event, when we did have sellout crowds of 27,000 five times over, that there was an appetite for top class soccer.”
“We felt we could meet all these. We went to present it to the Board of Governors on one occasion and then were invited back. The NASL bought into what we were doing, the quality of the ownership group, the quality of the city. We negotiated a franchise fee. And we were on the road to announce an NASL franchise.”
The NASL made that announcement official on June 20, 2011.
Obviously the Fury already had a solid organization in place for their successful W-League, Academy, and PDL teams, but I asked Pugh what was the first position they filled for the NASL team.
“The first and most important position was to hire a head coach,” he replied. “We were very excited about the caliber of people that we interviewed. We were delighted when we attracted good people and were absolutely delighted when we were able to hire Marc Dos Santos.”
Dos Santos has a stellar resume, winning a league championship and the Amway Canadian Championship (the Canadian equivalent of the US Open Cup) with the Montreal Impact. He most recently spent a couple of years in Brazil, working with two different clubs’ youth programs.
I asked Pugh if the Fury had a style of play they wanted the team to have, and did they try to hire a coach to fulfill that, or did they just want to hire the best coach they could and let him determine the team’s personality.
“We might have had some of our own thoughts,” Pugh replied. “We like to play nice football to watch, possession soccer. The joy of Marc was that he fit in with all of that, but it was definitely his own vision of how he wants to play, and the strength of his vision that really impressed us. He embraced the fact that we have an Academy and wanted his vision of how the first team played to mirror itself in our Academy teams.”
The soccer goals that the Fury have laid out include winning the NASL championship and the Amway Canadian Championship. But the goals also include continuing the organization’s heritage of player development and being a pipeline to the national team. I asked Pugh how the Fury was going to balance these goals, in that successful player development often leads to the player leaving.
“We’ve been balancing them for quite a while,” he said. “We’ve been a supplier of young players to Montreal, to Vancouver, and to TFC. We’ve always celebrated that. The motto we’ve always had is, ‘Our success is based on the success of the players.’ I think that still holds at the higher level. We’re hopeful now that some of those players who have left for Canadian MLS clubs won’t feel the need to do so because they can aspire to play on our NASL team. And if we do have players that are good enough to play for Canada, that would be great. If players come here and end up in the MLS or playing in Europe, it will only increase our ability to recruit even better players. ”
In addition to their soccer goals, the Fury have stated goals about being an important part of and contributing to the Ottawa community. Pugh says he and his partners look at their endeavor from a broader perspective.
“The reason I’m so happy to be with these partners is that they are very philanthropic to our community. There are hospital wings, college buildings, an arts complex, that wouldn’t be in existence if it weren’t for the philanthropy of these folks. And this is basically a continuation of that.”
“We want Ottawa to have back an outdoor stadium that it can be proud of. We want to put it back on the [CFL] football map. We’re starting pro soccer. This is an opportunity to give back to the community and leave a legacy. At that grand level, that’s why we all got into this project.”
“In terms of the Fury, we’ve got about 65,000 people [in Ottawa] that are involved in soccer. We’ve been watching what’s happening in other cities like Portland and Seattle and Kansas City, Montreal and Vancouver, in terms of the great game day experiences people are having when they go to a game. That’s what we’re trying to bring to Ottawa.”
Soccer success is sure to come soon on the field for this team. But there’s more to it than that for the Fury. John Pugh defines his organization’s success by his people’s success, and by giving back to the city he and his family have called home for more than 25 years. That’s a great formula. It’s going to be fun to watch this transpire.