Ottawa Fury FC says CONCACAF has moved to block it from playing in the United Soccer League in 2019.
Mark Goudie, president and CEO of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group which is the Fury’s parent company, says it was advised of the CONCACAF move Wednesday by the Canadian Soccer Association.
The CSA told the Fury it had received a letter from CONCACAF, the regional confederation that oversees North and Central America and the Caribbean, that it would not sanction the franchise playing in the USL.
The move by CONCACAF, whose president is former Canada Soccer boss Victor Montagliani, appears to be a bid to ensure that the new Canadian Premier League takes centre stage in 2019. The CPL, which currently has seven teams, is set to kick off in April.
"As I understand it, and we didn’t see the letter from CONCACAF, CONCACAF was pointing to the new Canadian Premier League as a viable alternative for the Fury to play professional soccer in Ottawa," Goudie said in an interview.
While the CSA would no doubt like to have the CPL as the sole league, it had already approved the Fury’s participation in the USL in 2019. But other governing bodies are involved.
CSA president Steven Reed said his organization is going through its normal procedure, awaiting approval from the U.S. Soccer Federation — which oversees the USL — for its OK for the Fury and other Canadian teams, like PDL clubs, to play in the U.S.
While Goudie said the U.S. Soccer approval on the Fury came Wednesday, Reed said the CSA has yet to get official word of the U.S. green light.
Once that comes, the normal Canada Soccer process would be to go to CONCACAF for its approval. But CONCACAF, seemingly willing to play the heavy, has pre-empted that step.
"We’re surprised because we followed the process," Reed said in an interview, acknowledging the CONCACAF letter was "premature" given the consultation is ongoing.
Reed said once Canada Soccer hears the U.S. counterpart has sanctioned the Fury’s participation, it would consult with CONCACAF.
But that seems like Canada Soccer waiting to ask someone out for date, already knowing that her father won’t allow it.
In a statement, Goudie said CONCACAF’s action is "unprecedented and simply wrong."
"Our lawyers have requested that CONCACAF immediately provide further details on the basis for this decision. We also understand that Canada Soccer will be seeking clarification as to the rationale for CONCACAF’s decision. In the event that CONCACAF does not immediately reconsider its position, Fury FC will take all steps — including legal proceedings — so as to ensure that it will be able to continue providing professional soccer to our loyal and new fans and supporters in a league of our choosing."
Goudie said the Fury have received "pledges of support" from all three Canadian MLS clubs.
A request for comment from CONCACAF did not produce an immediate answer Wednesday evening.
Ottawa had been widely expected to be the CPL’s eighth team. But the Fury, while saying they supported the idea of a Canadian league, said in September that they planned to stick with the tried-and-tested USL. At least for the time being.
"Where we are, we’re playing high-quality Division 2 soccer right now," Goudie said at the time. "Our objective is to play professional soccer in Ottawa for the long-term at the best level that we can. And if that’s fulfilled through the CPL, which I really hope it is, that’s great. The question just becomes one of timing."
The USL operated with 33 teams in 2018 with Ottawa and Toronto FC 2 the only Canadian teams. TFC 2 is moving to the new USL Division 3 in 2019.
The USL threw its support behind Ottawa in the wake of the CONCACAF move.
"It’s wrong," league president Jake Edwards said in a statement. "Forcing a team to move from the league it is scheduled to play in — and wants to play in — three months before the season starts is unacceptable. Schedules have been set, players signed, season tickets sold.
"It’s not fair to anyone, including the 35 other teams in our league who are being negatively affected. Allowing this to happen would set a very poor precedent and we’ll do everything in our power to support the Ottawa Fury FC."
CPL teams set to play next year are HFX Wanderers FC (Halifax), York City 9 (suburban Toronto), Forge FC (Hamilton), Valour FC (Winnipeg), FC Edmonton, Cavalry FC (Calgary) and Pacific FC (Victoria).
In September, Goudie also said the Fury did not want to keep changing leagues. Ottawa left the North American Soccer League for the USL in 2017.
In joining the USL, the Fury negotiated an agreement that allows it to exit with proper notice to join the CPL.