Every Wednesday throughout the 2014 NASL season, a guest writer who regularly covers the NASL and soccer in North America will give their take on the league or the sport in general.
By Carlos Verde
The NASL's single-game attendance record, in the modern era, currently sits at 13,151 and belongs to the San Antonio Scorpions, who set it during their 2012 home opener against the Puerto Rico Islanders. If you ask anyone involved with Ottawa Fury FC, however, they'll tell you that the Scorpions' league record won't stand past this Sunday, when Ottawa will christen their beautiful new home, TD Place, against the visiting New York Cosmos.
"Our players and our fans have a chance to be a part of something special this Sunday," says Fury FC manager Marc Dos Santos, whose side finished in sixth place during the NASL Spring Season with a record of 3-1-5. Playing their inaugural NASL season, Ottawa picked up seven of a possible fifteen points at their temporary home, Keith Harris Stadium, and will be hoping for more consistent results once settled at TD Place.
The stadium complex sits off of Bank Street, a very 'happening' street with multiple pubs to crawl to, either before or after events at the stadium. Bordered on one side by the picturesque Rideau Canal, which runs through the heart of Canada's capital, TD Place will be easily accessible by both bike and municipal transportation, something OSEG is banking on while the parking situation at the stadium is ironed out. Boasting a massive video board, many luxury suites, and an on-site housing development, TD Place is sure to make a positive impact on the Ottawa landscape as a whole.
Fury FC captain Richie Ryan describes the new stadium, nestled in the heart of the trendy 'Glebe' neighborhood in Canada's capital, as a, "First-class facility - easily the best in the league." Ryan would know about quality stadiums, having played for established European clubs like Sunderland (England), Dundee United (Scotland), and Royal Antwerp (Belgium). The Ottawa skipper admits that the entire squad, "Have been looking forward to July 20th for a long time," as the promise of a shiny, new home kept Fury FC's noses to the grindstone during their stint at their temporary spring home. Keeping an eye on the future, the Ottawa skipper is hopeful that his team and its supporters can turn their new home into a fortress.
After structural deficiencies came to light in the wake of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup, it was decided that Ottawa's stadium would need to undergo some serious renovations. After a long, winding bureaucratic process, Ottawa's City Council approved a proposal by the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) in June 2010, which saw them give the green light on an all-encompassing redevelopment of the stadium grounds.
Fast-forward to over four years, and OSEG's two outdoor sports franchises - the Canadian Football League's Ottawa RedBlacks and the NASL's Ottawa Fury FC - are mere days away from christening the new stadium. Ottawa sports fans are in for quite the treat this weekend, as the RedBlacks will open up the building on July 18th against the Toronto Argonauts before Fury FC will play their first true 'home game' in franchise history on Sunday the July 20th against the fiveNew York Cosmos.
The clubs are hoping for what should be an automatic spike in attendance through the move to the 24000-seat stadium. Ottawa's home gates were limited to the 3044 seats that Keith Harris Stadium offered them during the spring season, and the club should also see more walk-ups and casual fans attending games if for no other reason than to see the new stadium.
Glossy and colorful, the new stadium at Landsdowne Park, named TD Place, is a stark contrast with the drab, concrete-heavy facility that previously sat on the property. The area has always been a hotbed for sports, with the Landsdowne Park area having been used as a sports venue as early as the 1870s, but TD Place is objectively the nicest facility ever on the premises, and in Ottawa as a whole. Named Frank Clair Stadium in 1993 after the long-time Ottawa Rough Riders CFL head coach, the facility was left cracked and bare until OSEG began the massive renovation project.
Including Fury FC's home opener this weekend, the Landsdowne Park area will have seen nine separate tenants in four different sports - including the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's, whose 10000-seat home arena sits underneath the north side stands of TD Place in a unique set-up not seen anywhere else in professional soccer in North America.
"We are thrilled to be opening the 2014 NASL Fall Season at TD Place and to welcome the storied New York Cosmos as our first guests," said John Pugh, President of Ottawa Fury FC and a partner in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. "The dramatic new south stand with its iconic wooden veil, the state of the art turf field, incredible sight lines, free wi-fi access throughout the stadium, high tech scoreboard and in-stadium signage, along with innovative food and beverage offerings, will guarantee our fans a terrific game day experience at TD Place," continued the long time club president, who has invested countless hours and resources into building both the club and its academy into the professional set-up it is today.
From an on-pitch standpoint, one thing is clear - Ottawa will need to improve upon their .500 home record during the NASL spring season if they want to climb their way back into the NASL wildcard playoff picture. Fury FC sat four points behind Carolina in the race for the final qualifying berth to 'The Championship' when it entered the fall season, and will need to pick up a few victories early at their new home if they're to keep pace with the rest of the NASL.
Echoing the sentiments of his captain, manager Dos Santos explains, "We hope to make TD Place a tough place for our opponents to play." While Ottawa did finish their spring season home schedule on a high note, defeating FC Edmonton 1-0 on a late Tom Heinemann winner, the club will need to be sharper in their home matches, as Fury FC dropped two of their five home games during the spring on injury time winners.
Having a first-class facility like TD Place is sure to make Ottawa a more appealing destination for foreign imports looking to make the move to North America, and in some ways already has, with the signing of arguably Fury FC's biggest import - French goalkeeper Romuald Peiser - just one week before the start of the fall season.
Fury FC coach Dos Santos kept it simple but true when asked about the match-up with the New York Cosmos on Sunday. "This is a huge moment for our club," he said, as Fury FC prepare to open up what is sure to be one of the nicest stadiums in the NASL. "It's a huge moment for our players and of course, our city."
Dos Santos, President Pugh, and the rest of club management have meticulously made sure everything they do is for the benefit of the club and the city's soccer supporters, and all of their efforts will culminate on July 20th in front of what they hope will be an NASL record crowd.