NASL Championship Final: Ottawa to New York, The Journey to the Soccer Bowl
Article by Kendra Lee
No one thought a team in their second year of existence could make it to the league final. At the beginning of the season a prediction of 5th place overall seemed optimistic. But the Ottawa Fury FC in the NASL proved everyone wrong. This group of dedicated players and coaches showed everyone what a team can do when you fully support and believe in one another. They dominated the NASL Fall Season and finished second overall to the New York Cosmos by a 1-point goal differential. The post season Championship clash was set for the two strongest teams in the league to battle for the Soccer Bowl.
Bleary-eyed and barely coherent but shaking with an excited nervous energy, we gathered at the ungodly hour of 5:30 am on Sunday morning. 120 fans on two buses, 20 hours of driving time there and back, bound for New York to witness North American soccer history. Many others were making the journey by car or plane. The bus was quiet with sleep early on but once we crossed the US border, we could contain our excitement no longer. The beer came out and the bus became a social club. It’s difficult to describe the feeling of solidarity I felt with every person in that vehicle. Some were long time friends, some I was just getting to know. But we are all bonded together by the game and team that we love. I felt like I had known everyone my entire life.
We rolled into Hofstra University on Long Island just in time for a pre game beer in the parking lot. We were greeted by Cosmos supporters launching beer at our bus. Although, they also hit their own supporters’ bus so maybe that’s just the custom in New York. We responded by politely waving back with our middle fingers raised. We had little time for pre-game festivities before we assembled for our march to the stadium. Chanting and singing the whole way, we gave New Yorkers no chance to ignore our presence. Our voices reverberated through the university stadium and we didn’t stop until the game was over.
Through all of the excitement, it was important to us to recognize and stand together with French citizens against the attacks to their country. Since the Cosmos had sent a long list of prohibited items, no flags on poles, no drums, no alcohol in the section, etc, etc, resources were limited. But every traveling fan played a part in holding up blue, white and red cards painted with the Paris peace symbol during a minute of silence for the victims of the attacks in Paris.
This game was perfectly positioned for international marketing. The storyline had been set up perfectly. Raul and Marcos Senna ride off into retirement with a championship trophy. A few hours later, European media were talking about this game more than any other in North America. The NASL thought this game would showcase their superstars and leave the Fury as an afterthought or at most, an underdog. But no one thinks that. What the world saw on Sunday night was a group of players who never stop fighting. Despite going a goal down early, and the sending off of defender Mason Trafford, the Fury fought for that trophy until the very last minute. Ottawa Fury head coach Marc Dos Santos said it perfectly, “My guys played like champions all year, and they lost like champions. They can leave here with their heads held high. If you have to lose, lose like champions and that’s what we did.” We feel nothing but pride for the way our players finished the season.
As bitter as the loss feels, nothing can take this year away from us. It was the year we saw soccer break in Ottawa. 2 years ago, there were 5 of us sitting in a bar. Now we’re filling buses and doing 24-hour away trips. It’s incredible to see how the passion has grown. Supporter culture in Ottawa is in its beginning stages and we feel a great freedom in being able to develop our own traditions and customs. We look at other countries and can admire their culture and tradition, but we want our own. We feel that being a carbon copy of European support is doing a great disservice to the game, not only overseas, but here in Canada as well. The supporter experience is different here but it is our own.
As I washed the last of the previous day’s travel off my tired body the next morning, I thought, “what a time to be a soccer supporter in Canada!”
Fury We’re Always With You