After an undefeated regular season and conference playoffs last season, the Ottawa Fury were forced to settle for the club’s third USL W-League silver medal when they lost in the championship game. The team will have the chance to win that elusive crown when they host the W-League’s final four July 27-29 on their Algonquin College home field. Photo: Dan Plouffe
By Dan Plouffe
Yes, they don’t yet have that elusive championship trophy. They’ve been runner-up three times. But with their record of nine consecutive division crowns, an all-time winning percentage above .800 and a home-field unbeaten streak extending into the 30s, there’s no question the Ottawa Fury are doing something right.
The missing crown of course is a USL W-League championship. But the club will have a chance to provide the storybook end to that quest when they host the league final four July 27-29 at Algonquin College.
There’s no doubt the pieces are in place to make it happen. The single squad that brought the Ottawa Fury Soccer Club to life 13 years ago has created a formula for success that few of their competitors are able to match.
“It is a pro team in all but one thing – we don’t pay the players to play,” says Fury owner and CEO John Pugh, who is the instrumental first ingredient to the club’s success. “We try to act as professionally as we can both on and off the field.
“We look after the players well. We make sure that their health, their physio and all these things are taken care of – food, accommodations, good facilities, and good coaching.”
Housing provided for players
Each year the team brings in around 15 players from out of town. Most are NCAA college players or recent graduates, while a handful hail from other points on the globe, including this year’s contingent from New Zealand, Australia and Norway. As head coach Dom Oliveri recruits players to join his squad, all the extras the club provides is a major selling point.
“Right off the bat, it’s very important to tell them about the accommodations and the setup of the club,” Oliveri notes. “That’s one of the reasons they come here, it’s the professional setup, which is something they’re not used to where they’re coming from. It makes us really attractive.”
The Fury rent eight houses near the Byward Market for its W-League and men’s Professional Development League players. During the day early in the season, the players lead the club’s highly successful Soccer in Schools program, where they provide instruction and an introduction to soccer for over 5,000 participants each year.
“It’s cool. You get to meet a lot of different kids and they’re excited,” explains Rochester, NY native Jessica Shufelt, a key offensive weapon for the Fury. “They kind of make you feel like a superstar.”
Once school is out, the Fury players help run summer camps for younger athletes. It provides an opportunity for players to earn some money without compromising their NCAA eligibility status as amateur athletes. The work gets split evenly between the out-of-towners.
Local Fury players generally already have their own jobs and places to live, but they often spend time at the players’ houses since it’s such a great atmosphere.
“It’s so much fun. There’s never a dull moment. If one person’s down, another one’s going to bring them up,” describes Shufelt, who was sporting a black eye earlier this season when the fun and games ended for a quick moment anyhow. “We were just messing around, wrestling, and I got elbowed in the face. I woke up in the morning and I had a black eye. I’d like to say it was from a game, but I can’t.”
Elbow drops notwithstanding, there’s no doubt the teammates establish close connections as they live in close quarters.
“They’re like sisters,” Shufelt adds. “I came back this year and knew a couple of the girls and it felt like we never left. Same thing with the new girls, it feels like I’ve known them forever.”
Ask any Fury player what they like most about the team and chances are they’ll say it’s the camaraderie. Oliveri believes that’s another key ingredient.
“For a women’s team, I think it’s essential,” he says. “They get along on the pitch and off the pitch, and part of that (comes from) staying together. They’re always doing stuff together.”
Gearing up for finals
Oliveri believes his first-place team is “on the right path” this year, but the end goal is to win just two games – the semi-finals and the final.
He doesn’t doubt that he’s got the horses. The Fury have a steady back line that features Ottawa product Gillian Baggott. They’ve got some jazz in the midfield with Katrina Gorry (who returned home mid-season to play for her Australian national team) and Norwegian Lisa-Marie Woods, the team’s top source of offence. There’s also Shufelt up front alongside last year’s league-leading scorer Mallory Outerbridge.
And then in goal there’s Jasmine Phillips, who established a new club record for career shutouts earlier this season. The Ottawa native couldn’t be much more thrilled to have the opportunity to win a W-League title in her hometown.
“It’s really exciting,” smiles Phillips, a coach in the club’s youth system who is headed to teacher’s college at the University of Ottawa in the fall. “Who wouldn’t want to be here for a championship? We always have a really amazing, supportive crowd, so it should be a really great tournament.”
The Fury players naturally have a desire to win for themselves, but they also want to do it for the club, and the man who started it.
“We all want to win it for John,” Shufelt emphasizes. “He’s put so much into the program. I don’t think there’s words to describe what he’s done. The money he puts into it, the time he puts into it – the support is endless.
“We’ve got to come out with it this year.”