Fury FC’s play­off drive go­ing right down to wire

Ottawa Citizen - - SPORTS - DON CAMP­BELL

Win and you’re in?

Ot­tawa Fury FC only wishes its path to the United Soc­cer League play­offs were that sim­ple.

Hav­ing put it­self in a pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion for the post-sea­son through an up-and-down 2018 sea­son, Fury FC en­ters the fi­nal week­end of the USL reg­u­lar sea­son hav­ing to win — and then hope, with maybe a lit­tle prayer thrown in.

Fury FC, ninth in the East­ern Con­fer­ence, must de­feat the fourth-place Charleston Bat­tery to­day in the sea­son fi­nale (2 p.m.) at TD Place. That’s just the start of the domi­noes that have to fall for the Fury to play on.

Lose or draw and it’s time to start think­ing about the 2019 train­ing camp in Fe­bru­ary.

If they win, Fury FC will then tune in to ESPN on Satur­day night and hope first-place Cincin­nati beats sev­enth-place Nashville.

If Cincin­nati wins or the two play to a draw, Ot­tawa will next turn its at­ten­tion to Sun­day af­ter­noon, with the hope that 12th-place Tampa Bay earns a win or draw ver­sus eighth-place Beth­le­hem to get the Fury into the post-sea­son.

The three-step for­mula is a moot point if Fury FC doesn’t beat Charleston.

“I think it’s fan­tas­tic that we are go­ing to be in the play­off (mix) un­til the last mo­ment,” said Fury head coach Nikola Popovic. “A num­ber of teams have noth­ing to play for. It’s a big dif­fer­ence to have some­thing to play for.

“I think if we get the three points, we have a very good chance of the play­offs. Our mind­set is very good. But some­times there’s a dan­ger of think­ing about what’s go­ing on out­side of our own game. We must fo­cus just on our game.

“Then, if we make the play­offs, any­thing is pos­si­ble.”

Ot­tawa hasn’t ex­actly launched a play­off push down the stretch.

The club’s win one, lose one tempo through Septem­ber led to three wins, two losses and a tie. To its credit, it has ac­cu­mu­lated four of a pos­si­ble six points in the past two games.

Au­gust, though, is where the sea­son re­ally may have come off the rails when Fury FC had just two wins and a draw in seven games, in­clud­ing a three-game los­ing streak be­tween Aug. 22-31 when it was shut out in all three con­tests.

“For sure, we dropped points along the way that we should have had,” said cap­tain Carl Ha­worth. “And we put our­selves into a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion.

“But we can still put our­selves into a po­si­tion where we can still make it. Other teams have helped us (to give us a chance), but we have to win our game first.”

Ha­worth, like many of Fury play­ers, spent the past bye week watch­ing the ESPN feeds of games in­volv­ing teams Ot­tawa must hop over, namely Nashville and Beth­le­hem.

Just Tues­day night, his eyes were glued to a game be­tween Nashville and Toronto FC II in which Nashville took a 2-0 lead late into the game, only to have Toronto re­bound with a pair of goals to earn a draw and keep Nashville within strik­ing dis­tance.

“It’s prob­a­bly the most stress­ful Tues­day night I have ever spent,” Ha­worth said. “There’s re­ally noth­ing we can do about what hap­pens else­where.”

Ha­worth says if the team fails to make it, there would be three key stretches in a gru­elling reg­u­lar sched­ule that did them in.

“The three sit­u­a­tions where we played eight games in a 21-day pe­riod,” Ha­worth said. “That was re­ally tough on us.

“There was all the trav­el­ling, the hot sum­mer months, all things we can’t con­trol. I think they were the tough­est times.”

If Fury FC fin­ishes eighth, it will play in Cincin­nati on Oct. 20 at 4 p.m. If Fury FC fin­ishes sev­enth, it will be in Louisville the same day for a 7:30 p.m. kick­off.

Nikola Popovic

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