The Ottawa Fury celebrated their first-ever W-League championship on their home field at Algonquin College. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
They were a single team that gave birth to the club whose name is now known in the nation’s capital and across North America for bringing a professional approach to an amateur game.
Thirteen years they’d waited.
Three previous trips to the championship game, but no titles.
The chance to win the long-awaited crown on the Algonquin College home field where they’d dominated for several years.
And then a classic final that could have inspired Stompin’ Tom to do a remake called “The Good Ol’ Soccer Game.”
The home team trailed behind after a Pali Blues marker under two minutes in, but on the last play of the game (in the last game of the playoffs too), the Fury stormed the crease like bumblebees with Ashley Seal putting home the rebound off a free-kick to force extra time.
But do it one better, Tom, why don’t ya? How about deciding it all in a shootout? Done.
And then add one more ingredient for good measure. Inject goalkeeper Jasmine Phillips into the role of hometown hero. Have the kids she coaches chant her name from the stands. And then as she lives what are likely the last moments of her W-League career, have her masterfully stop two penalties, set the stage for Kelly Conheeney to blast home the winning kick in a 4-3 contest, and make Ottawa soccer history.
“I couldn’t have written a better script, could I?” smiles Ottawa Fury owner John Pugh. “Somehow, we kind of have to do it the hard way. We were two minutes away from elimination and we didn’t give up. We got the equalizing goal, and then penalty kicks. It was our day.
“This time it was our turn. And we’re very grateful to take our turn.”
Defender Kathryn Williamson was named playoff MVP, but there was no doubt who the fan favourite was – the goalkeeper who’d established a new franchise record for shutouts earlier this season. After Ottawa’s 1-0 semi-final victory, the Fury U14 boys swarmed Phillips in celebration, and countless youngsters hugged and clung to the talented keeper who also doubles as their favourite coach after she'd won the big prize.
“Jas has such an infectious personality. There’s not a person on this team or in this club that doesn’t love Jasmine,” says Fury coach Dom Oliveri, who often leaned on the team’s captain for input like an assistant coach. “She’s a great coach, with a great future in this game.”
Celebrating a title together was exceptionally special for the pair of products from the club’s youth system. Oliveri has known Phillips since she was 13.
“Jasmine’s worked so hard for this for a number of years, she’s been so close a number of times, and now it’s happened for her,” Oliveri highlights. “I’m hoping she decides to come back and play next year, but this might be her last game.
“What a way to finish for her.”
Final puzzle piece – adversity
The Fury have had many talented teams in the past – five former players are currently playing for Canada at the Olympics – but never before a gold medal winner. Oliveri says there was something a bit different with this year’s squad compared to others, including last year’s when they enjoyed an undefeated run all the way until the final when they fell 5-1.
“They had to fight this year. It wasn’t an easy season for us. We had players in and out all season with injuries,” notes the coach of the squad that went 12-2 overall. “When we went down early in the game, it wasn’t a big deal, we’d been down before.”
More local champs
Also celebrating the championship was Ottawa native Gillian Baggott, who came on as a substitute late in regulation and also played the scoreless extra-time sessions. A Fury player since age 16, the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees defender played many important minutes for the new North American champions this year.
“It was nerve-racking to watch and be a part of,” Baggott recounts. “It was a once in a lifetime kind of thing to have the final four in Ottawa. It was awesome.”
It isn’t just young players who drew inspiration from the local hero of the day, she notes.
“Jasmine is an awesome person on and off the field – so reliable,” Baggott says. “She led us the way here, and I’m so thankful to have someone like that on my team.”
For her part, Phillips was thrilled by the backing she received from the hometown crowd, which naturally included many Fury jerseys, although young players with T-shirts from just about every local club also filled the stands for what Pugh called a “tremendous” weekend overall.
“The support we had was amazing. It was amazing all weekend and it’s been amazing all season,” emphasizes Phillips, who will start teacher’s college at the University of Ottawa this fall. “And we just won our first national championship in 13 years, how much better does it get?”