In a game that made a statement to Canadian soccer fans, the Ottawa Fury defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps 2-0 in the opening leg of the Amway Canadian Championship semi-finals. It is a night that will be remember in Ottawa for a long time to come, especially if they can repeat the performance next week.
Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson must have underestimated the Ottawa Fury, as he decided to field a team comprised almost exclusively of youngsters and reserves. That decision would prove fatal as Ottawa exploited gaps, overturned possession all over the pitch and took the Whitecaps to task for their overconfidence.
Irishman Jonny Steele scored in the 4th minute to open the score, while Brazilian Paulo Jr. scored again in the 41st for both goals in the game.
Romauld Peiser, NASL Golden Glove winner in 2015, had the save of the night in the 78th minute when a zig-zagging ball from a Vancouver free kick bounced into the box. Ultimately, it was ruled offside, but it was evident to all in attendance why Peiser is considered a stalwart in the capital. He made another magnificent save in the 92nd minute to end the ambitious Whitecaps offensive late in the game.
At least the Whitecaps made history with their roster choices. 15 year old Alfonso Davies, a Liberian-born soccer prodigy, made history by becoming the youngest player to play in the Amway Canadian Championship. Despite barely playing 20 minutes, he was an excellent addition to the Vancouver line-up, and was part of a catalyst that ignited the Vancouver attack late in the game. He is applying for Canadian citizenship, and may one day suit up for les rouges.
However, if Canadian fans are eager to see Davies in red, they should be downright disappointed in Fraser Aird. Paulo Jr. terrorized the Canadian defender all night. The Brazilian beat Aird on nearly every attacking play in the Vancouver defensive zone for the first half, and scored in the 41st minute by whizzing by a ball watching Vancouver defense. It would be the goal that ended Vancouver's hopes at Place TD.
With leg 1 firmly in Ottawa's hands, Vancouver must now be asking, ''how do we come back and win this?'' History is on Vancouver's side at least. No NASL team has eliminated an MLS side from the Amway Canadian Championship since its inception. However, the Montréal Impact did eliminate Toronto on several occasions, albeit while in the USL A-League.
Any Impact fan can tell you that 2-0 in a home-and-home series is the hardest lead to defend. We all remember Santos Laguna in 2009 and Alajuelense in 2015. However, Ottawa have proven that they have what it takes to make history and become the first NASL team to eliminate an MLS side. The Whitecaps are missing all their big name players in Copa América, or to duties with the Men's National Team, and Ottawa have a two goal lead. If anyone can do this, it's the team that in only their second year managed to make it to the Soccer Bowl against the famous New York Cosmos.
We will find out if Ottawa will advance next week in Vancouver. Until then, Ottawa Fury fans will be content in knowing that Vancouver will now be taking them seriously, and that the rest of the country considers them a serious soccer market.
Ottawa: Paulo Jr, Chin, Haworth, Steele, Mozzi, Bailey, Obasi, Timbo, Alves, Rozenboom, Peiser, Olivera (Sub), Eustáquio (Sub), Porter (Sub)
Vancouver: Tornaghi, Aird, Parker, Seiler, Adekugbe, McKendry, Teibert; Froese, Mezquida, Bustos, Hurtado, Manneh (Sub), Rivero (Sub), Davies (Sub)