Monday, June 29, 2009

Long Island Rough Riders 0 at Ottawa Fury 1 - PDL - June 28, 2009


After a long, sportsless week in Ottawa, I discovered that there were in fact two semi-professional teams in the city. Both known as the Ottawa Fury, there is a men's team that is a member of the USL's Premier Development League, and a women's team that plays in the W League, also under the auspices of the USL. With nothing else to spend my sports dollar on, I ended over to Algonquin College to catch a game on Sunday afternoon.

What is the USL?

The United Soccer Leagues are a collection of soccer leagues throughout North America. They form the lower rungs of professional soccer, falling underneath Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as the top levels of amateur soccer. The top pro league is known as the USL First Division and has teams ranging from Puerto Rico to Vancouver. This league is also home to the Montreal Impact, who won the Canadian Championship last year and represented all of Canadian soccer in the 2009 Concacaf Champions League, making it to the quarter-finals before a shocking last-minute collapse in the second leg sent them packing. This is good soccer, and well-supported - the Impact average nearly 13,000 per game.

The next level down is the USL Second Division, with teams mostly on the east coast, although there is one team in Bermuda, so a road trip is a definite possibility! It is possible for teams to move between the first and second division, as the Cleveland City Stars did recently, winning the 2nd division championship in 2008 and moving up to USL1 for 2009.

The PDL

The Premier Development League (PDL) is the amateur men's league in the USL. For 2009, there are 8 divisions arranged geographically, each with between 7 and 10 teams for a total of 68, making it one of the largest leagues in North America and a road trippers dream (if you like soccer). The PDL functions as a minor league of sorts, as several players in MLS and the upper levels of the USL got their start in the PDL. Most of the players are college athletes who cannot earn money while playing as long as they are in school, so the PDL allows them the chance to compete during the summer without forfeiting their college eligibility.

Despite the wide geographical nature of the league, teams generally only play within their division during the regular season. In the playoffs, division champions get a bye while the 2nd and 3rd place teams battle it out in the first round. The winners of the divisional playoffs then move on to face each other in a typical elimination format. The reigning champions are the Thunder Bay Chill, based in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

The Stadium

The Fury's home ground is the Algonquin College Soccer Complex. The word complex is misused here, as I could only see one field. It's a nice field, but there are few amenities. There are some metal benches near the entry gate, and some more benches on the far side of the field. There is a small concession stand which I did not try, and the toilets are of the portable variety, which I found surprising. That's all. It really is a small-time operation here, but still quite professional, as their program and website show.

Parking is free and plentiful though, as the field is part of a college campus in west Ottawa. Tickets are $12 apparently, although I arrived early and entered for free.

The Game

The undefeated Fury (7-0-3) were hosting the Long Island Rough Riders, who were leading the Northeast Division with a 10-1-1 record. Ironically, Ottawa's old CFL team was known as the Rough Riders, so it was kind of a return to the city, for the nickname at least. There were about 300 fans in attendance, which was not surprising given the lack of publicity for the team.

Ottawa scored early when local boy Will Beauge (playing with what looked to be a broken wrist, pictured below) found a deflected ball on his foot and sent it home in the 19th minute. Long Island countered, but were denied by a great save from Stefan Caufield, who, while lying on the ground after making one save, managed to stick his hand up to deflect the rebound wide and the Fury led 1-0 at the break.



The second half was dominated by the home team, who had several glorious chances but were let down by their poor finish, the woodwork, or some last-second defensive heroics. The Rough Riders had a few chances of their own, but could not score and the Fury held on for the 1-0 victory. The Fury have yet to allow a goal during normal play (they did give up a penalty goal against Newark on Saturday) while playing at home, and it was clear their defense was better than the Rough Riders offense.

The game was entertaining and the quality of soccer was quite good. Both teams executed set plays quite well, and there were plenty of scoring chances generated, particularly by the Fury, whose passing was often very impressive. Finishing was weak though, which is why the score was only 1-0. Both these teams look to be playoff bound, so I'll follow their progress and let you know, but the Fury look quite good and should contend for the division championship come playoff time.


A free kick at the wall, which was quite useless, as seen below.



Thoughts

It always surprises me when these minor leagues have teams in such far-flung places; I can't figure out how they make money with such small attendance figures. The travel costs should be prohibitive, even a bus ride from Long Island to Ottawa would seem to cost far more than the revenues generated by the game. I suspect that the USL subsidizes the minors to some extent, as the smaller leagues grow in popularity, the USL will attract more attention and generate more revenue themselves.

One of the problems with soccer as a spectator sport is that it is two non-stop 45 minute halves with a short 15-minute halftime. This doesn't provide much chance for fans to participate, as they do in minor-league baseball, which might hurt casual attendance. The game is certainly the main attraction here (as it should be) but many younger fans seemed distracted throughout.

Despite the good show today, I'll probably not return for a game here in Ottawa, as I'm not that much of a soccer fan, but I will follow the league and the playoffs this year, and should I be near a game elsewhere, I'll try to check it out to compare the experience.

Summer 2009 trip starts tomorrow!

I'm off to Manchester, New Hampshire tomorrow to start my summer trip to see the two new ballparks in New York. I'll also be stopping in Pawtucket, RI and Norwich, CT before arriving in the Big Apple on July 2nd, just in time for the 4-game set between the Jays and Yankees. There should be lots of activity here, so stay tuned!

Best,

Sean

2 comments:

  1. Lots of these teams also run camps, leagues, and have youth programs to generate revenue

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  2. Thanks. I see the Fury have a number of programs but am not sure what is going on elsewhere. Clearly the business model is different from the big leagues, and seems to be working well. Hope it continues and Canada can field a competitive team in the near future.

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