The Canadian Championship tournament got under way this week, as Canada’s four professional teams battle for soccer supremacy.
John Pugh, owner of Ottawa’s fledgling North American Soccer League (NASL) franchise, is looking forward to the day when his club will be able to compete in the Canadian competition.
News emerged from Ottawa this week that the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled against the Friends of Lansdowne group in their attempt to stop the planned refurbishment of Frank Clair Stadium and Lansdowne Park. With that, Pugh has the go ahead to implement his plans for the stadium that will be his future NASL team’s home and he has now set a firm year of 2014 as the date his franchise will begin competing in the North American second division.
While Ottawa still does not have a coach, any signed players or even a name or logo, Pugh told sportsnet.ca that he believes all of the right basic ingredients are in place for the Ottawa NASL team to be a success on and off the pitch.
He also said that his team will be a valuable addition to the Canadian professional soccer pantheon. According to Pugh, Ottawa is a prime market for professional soccer and a city in Canada that has been yearning for a pro soccer club to support.
“Every time we put first-class soccer in front of these fans, they come out in droves. The last time, unfortunately, was a while ago when the stadium was filled to capacity in 2007 for the U-20 men’s championship. We had five nights here which were all pretty much sellouts at 27,000. That event in particular indicated to us that there was a real appetite for good class soccer and I think that people really want to support their own hometown team,” said Pugh.
When you look at the organization behind Canada’s next professional team, it has more going for it than just a ripe market. In fact, the club looks like it will bring a nice blend of the elements that have made the Montreal Impact, FC Edmonton, Vancouver Whitecaps and Toronto FC successful franchises.
Pugh was quick to stress that his team will be focusing on developing young Canadian talent in the same way that Edmonton has in their short time in the NASL. Given that Ottawa is also the headquarters of the Canadian Soccer Association, developing players who can represent their country via the national team program will also be both a focus and a point of pride.
Similar to Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment and TFC, Ottawa’s NASL club will be part of a larger organization that consists of multiple professional teams competing in several high profile sports. In addition to establishing NASL soccer in the nation’s capital, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group also owns the Ottawa 67s junior hockey team and was founded in part to re-establish CFL football in the city.
“One of the objectives of our Sports and Entertainment Group is to very much build on the fact that we will have a hockey team, a football team and a soccer team. We want to build on the synergies of that to do a lot of cross-marketing and so on,” Pugh stated.
Furthermore, Ottawa shares some parallels with both the Whitecaps and Impact, who both have rich histories and soccer traditions in their cities and excelled in the North American second division before graduating to Major League Soccer.
Similarly, the Ottawa franchise has been an important soccer entity in the city since 2005 and currently operates both the Ottawa Fury in the USL Premier Development League and the Ottawa Fury Women, who play in the USL W-League. Pugh believes that having operated lower level soccer teams in Ottawa already will give his NASL side a real head start.
“We are somewhat fortunate in that we have a PDL team and a W-League team here and a strong youth development program that has already produced players that are playing in Europe and even playing in the NASL,” Pugh said.
Pugh and company now have their work cut to build on their existing soccer legacy. In terms of the on the pitch product, the next step is to hire a coach and technical staff for the NASL side. According to Pugh, Ottawa soccer fans should expect a manager who is familiar with the North American game and who can marshal the side to success right from inception.
Off the pitch, the number of things to do is equally plentiful. Marketing the team and building further ties in the community will be ongoing initiatives leading up to the 2014 launch. Many of the experienced marketing and business staff from the Ottawa 67’s will be involved in promoting the new soccer club. Pugh will be focused on implementing a lot of the things that recently-launched NASL clubs like FC Edmonton and San Antonio did to ensure their teams kicked off on a solid business and marketing footing. One of those initiatives will likely include a name the team contest.
Pugh sees a strong business and marketing foundation as one of the fundamental keys to sporting success.
“It is very important is to have the right people backing the team and the right staff on the business side of things. And that’s why we are excited to be working with these three sports franchises in very much the same way as MLSE has done in Toronto, but hopefully with some great results on the field as well,” Pugh said.
It is early days yet for Ottawa’s still unnamed NASL franchise. That said, the behind the scenes work that is ongoing and the quality of the ownership group certainly bode well for Canada’s soon to be fifth professional soccer club.
For national team supporters, the new Ottawa team brings further hope in terms of Canadian player development and providing another facility in which Canadian talent can compete at a high level and play regularly. Those who are old enough will likely recall first hand that Canada’s lone appearance at the World Cup back in 1986 is due in large part to so many Canadian players having the opportunity to play professionally in a North American Soccer League of a different era.
Furthermore, symbolism aside, the emergence of the Ottawa NASL franchise is undoubtedly another sign of the fantastic growth that the beautiful game has enjoyed in Canada in recent years.
Is it 2014 yet?
Steve Bottjer is a Toronto-based writer, podcaster and editor for RedNation Online, on online magazine covering all aspects of Canadian soccer. Follow RedNation Online on Twitter.