Fury keeps raising the bar

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:47 PM ET

The game has surely changed now for the Ottawa Fury. And that's long before the first ball is even kicked to open a new W-League season.

No longer is it good enough for the Fury to call a season that ends with a post-season berth a successful one. Two straight trips to the W-League North American finals will do that to your perspective.

"The standard has changed for us," admitted Fury GM Chris Roth, for whom there really is not much of an off-season.

"In years past, our goal was to make the playoffs. Now, the goal is to be really competitive at the W-League championship."

The Fury have done that, and then some, for two seasons running now. Two years ago, the Fury finished fourth at the W-League's championship tournament. In 2004 as host team, Ottawa climbed one step higher on the ladder, blanking the Chicago Cobras 1-0 in the third-place match.

Clearly, this is a program that has done a lot to establish itself as a perennial contender in the 34-team league -- the highest level of women's soccer on the continent.

"Showing well for the past two years has given us respect around the league," said Roth. "People don't ask anymore: 'Who are the Fury, where is Ottawa?' We're a known quantity now."

Players around the league have eyes, too, and they're eager to jump on board with a winner. Enter a pair of big-name midfielders setting up shop in Ottawa this summer -- Veronique Maranda of St-Lambert, Que.,, who played last season for the Montreal Xtreme, and Mississauga's Carmelina Moscato, a member of the 2004 league champion Vancouver Whitecaps.

Both are members of Canada's World Cup team pool, with Maranda also suiting up for the red and white at last year's FIFA World U-19 tourney in Thailand.

"Big signings," said Roth, who's working on one other "major" addition to boost the team's attack.

While Roth acknowledges the Fury's success has made it easier for the club to lure talent, there's a flip side, too. Other sides around the league are pushing harder to maintain the slim gap they now own over the Fury.

"The bar has been raised," he said. "Our big challenge is to keep pace with the top clubs."

Top stars return

The core of last year's strong team -- which posted a 12-2-0 regular-season mark -- returns almost intact among the 18 signees so far. Included are Saskatoon's Kelly Parker, the W-League MVP in 2004, and four other members of the current Canadian World Cup pool: Diana Matheson, Linda Consolante, Leah Robinson, Rhian Wilkinson and 'keeper Taryn Swiatek.

But the off-season hasn't gone without its losses. Leisha Alcia, the other half of the Fury's dynamic 2004 goalkeeping duo, has returned to the Hampton Roads Piranhas. Forward Aisha Alfa is now teaching and playing in a men's league in Korea. Defender Katherine McShane has chosen to bow out of W-League play.

There's also a new coach, Joel Rosas, at the helm, replacing Frank Lofranco, who stepped down for personal reasons. Rosas was Lofranco's trusted assistant, so he knows the state of program well.

And when the Fury assembles May 9 at Kemptville Agricultural College to begin workouts -- the season opener is is May 29 at the Sudbury Canadians -- the mind-set will remain the same.

"We're quite hopeful (about 2005)," said Roth. "This year, the goal is to reach the W-League championship again. Anything less will be a disappointment.

"Once we get there, we want to really compete."


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