Womenís soccer gets a boost in Ottawa

Aedan Helmer, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:46 PM ET

OTTAWA - Ottawa Fury owner John Pugh showed off his gift for understatement at Thursday's team unveiling when he said, "These are exciting times for soccer in the city."

No kidding.

The Fury women host the W-League championship in late July, the city has been awarded a pro North American Soccer League franchise and Ottawa has earned partial hosting rights for the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.

"There's quite a treat in store for soccer fans, and what a way to showcase our city, and our new stadium (at Lansdowne Park) to the world," Pugh said.

"The Women's World Cup is a huge event, we're going to have a new stadium that has been designed with both soccer and football in mind, and we've already acquired an NASL franchise. We're looking forward to opening day.

"Ever since 2007, when we had the FIFA U-20 men's World Cup here, there's been an appetite for soccer, and I can't wait for the next few years. It's going to be an exciting time."

With the NASL team coming, there's already talk about Ottawa taking the next step and joining MLS one day -- just like Montreal and Vancouver have done in recent years.

"You have to walk before you can run," Pugh said.

"They learned their trade and built their fan base and then made that step up. Whether a city of Ottawa's size can support an MLS team, we'll find out and the NASL is the right place to do it."

However, the Fury has more immediate concerns. The women's team is looking to build off an undefeated 2011 campaign.

Coach Dom Olivieri's squad is widely considered the best W-League franchise (106-24-16 all-time) to have never won a championship, but the women are guaranteed another crack at a title as hosts at a newly renovated and expanded Algonquin College Soccer Complex. The tournament runs July 27-29.

On the men's side, coach Stephen O'Kane returns after a three-year hiatus to right the ship after a tumultuous 2011 Premier Development League campaign, assembling a squad on the verge of turning pro.

"The guys we brought in, we all share the same goals and ambitions of winning, and they were excited to be involved in a club that is turning professional in a few years," said O'Kane, the former Algonquin coach who guided the Fury to its first playoff berth after an undefeated 2009 campaign.

Local goalkeeper Chad Bush enters the season as the youngest member of the squad, but already has an impressive pedigree after two seasons with Toronto FC's Academy club earned him a scholarship with Duke University.

Bush called the signing "a dream come true," and said he'll be pushing for the starting job in Ottawa.

Bush was 12 when the city hosted the FIFA U-20 championship, but still recalls the tournament as a turning point in the city's soccer culture.

"I remember in '07 it was a great turnout, all over the city you had flags supporting countries all over the world. As a multicultural city, we have all these fans of the beautiful game, maybe we'll even pass hockey at some point," he said.

Both the men's and women's squads open their season on the road Saturday (men at Seacoast United, women at Rochester), The home openers are June 2, with the men hosting Boston and the women hosting Rochester.

aedan.helmer@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos