Ottawa is Finally Capitalizing on the Power of Soccer

The inaugural season for Capital City FC, Ottawa’s newest soccer franchise, proved to be quite a successful commencement, creating excitement and anticipation for the future of soccer in the nation’s capital. While victories, impressive milestones and a spot in the Canadian Soccer League’s cup final were among the accomplishments won on the field, the full achievements of the club’s first season success extended off the field, with larger community developments proving to be beneficial for the greater Ottawa public.

In 2007, Ottawa was one of the six Canadian cities to play host to the Under 20 (U-20) FIFA World Cup, sparking a soccer craze in the capital. While venues for the tournament were spread across some of Canada’s largest metropolitan areas including Toronto, Montreal and Victoria, Ottawa hosted Group D which included a strong amount of high quality and competitive action from the tournament.  Ottawa was able to witness some of the world’s highest-calibre soccer with skillful, cohesive and exuberant performances from the likes of the Mexican, Brazilian and American national squads as well as group stage matches between the two finalists, the Czech Republic and the eventual Champions of the tournament, Argentina. The impact of the successful host was felt across Canada, however Ottawa in particular was eager to capitalize on the momentum of the local fascination that was brewing with the world’s sport.

Building on the success of the tournament, in late 2008, rumours began to circulate suggesting that Ottawa’s business billionaire and burgeoning sports tycoon Eugene Melnyk was on the verge of securing the nation’s capital an official Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise. The news added to the city’s soccer hungry frenzy in anticipation of having an Ottawa club to participate in the most competitive professional soccer league in North America among the likes of world renowned soccer players such as Thierry Henry, David Beckham, Landon Donovan and Freddie Ljungberg.

Despite the buzz, Melnyk’s whopping $40 million bid to secure Ottawa a franchise for the 2011 MLS expansion – which included the construction of a $110 million, 30,000 capacity world-class soccer stadium to be conveniently located in the suburbs of Kanata across the street from the nesting grounds of Melnyk’s other company – was rejected. The end result saw the final MLS expansion spots awarded to Portland and Vancouver, leaving Ottawa and its soccer craving public empty-handed with disappointment.

Yet the disappointment was eventually overcome. While Melnyk’s 2008 attempt to bring the world’s sport to Ottawa fell short, another local soccer supporting business entrepreneur, Neil Malhotra – President and Founder of Claridge Homes – was able to fill the gap with a slightly less prestigious but considerably more sustainable franchise. In early 2011, Malhotra confirmed that Ottawa would receive a new, non-profit, professional soccer franchise in the Capital City Football Club, set to compete in the 2011 Canadian Soccer League (CSL) – the third-tier league of the Canadian soccer pyramid preceded by the North American Soccer League (NASL) and the top-tiered MLS.

Capital City Football Club Logo (source: http://www.capitalcityfc.com/)

Capital City FC made a pleasant surprise after taking the CSL by storm with an impressive start to their first league appearance. With a 2011 regular season record of 15 wins, 7 draws and 4 losses which included a twelve game unbeaten streak, a third place finish in the league standings and a clinched playoff spot halfway through their first season, City battled to make an unforeseen but well-deserved appearance in the CSL championship final. Despite losing the final, the club came together surprisingly well, producing strong results with less than a year of experience under its belt.

While City may not have the star-studded lineup to match that of an MLS franchise, a few notable up-and-comers made quite a name for themselves this past season. Brazilian native and City’s star-signee, Sullivan Silva, made appearances in nearly every City match netting a total of 19 goals and 9 assists throughout the 2011 season. The home-grown talent of Mahir Hadžirešić, who developed through Ottawa’s youth ranks playing local club soccer for the Nepean Hotspurs, Ottawa South United, and Capital United, emerged as a young prospect with great potential, effectively contributing to City’s championship run with 12 caps resulting in 6 goals and 7 assists.

The first season success of City has earned the club some much deserved community recognition in the form of local television coverage provided by Rogers TV Ottawa as well as through a dedicated and growing local fan base known as the Bytown Boys who serve as City’s 12th man – a popular metaphor used in soccer culture which relates the impact of a strong and supportive home fan base to the same effect an extra player on the pitch (i.e., the 12th man) would create. While City’s fan base remains incomparable to the religious-like devotion witnessed by some Turkish or Argentinian clubs, the initial response from the Bytown Boys is certainly admirable.

In return, City continues to provide benefits for the local community through its affiliation with the Ottawa South United (OSU) youth soccer club. As City’s official youth club partner, OSU offers on-going development for youth soccer players, growing the sport by providing hope and opportunity for Ottawa youth to pursue professional soccer careers.

The club also contributes to the local community through fundraising activities including the hosting and sponsorship of the first annual Ottawa Emergency Services Appreciation Day, a day-long event which paid homage to the community’s emergency service workers through a charitable soccer game.

The success of Capital City FC is timely as Ottawa is only a few years away from adding a second professional franchise for the NASL. The Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (who currently owns the Ottawa 67’s OHL franchise) is responsible for bringing the NASL club to Ottawa. While the name of the new team has yet to be revealed, the soon-to-be-renovated Lansdowne Park, which upon completion is anticipated to seat 24,000, will serve as the franchise’s home field – a primary location in the heart of the downtown Ottawa community.

With Canada’s top three census metropolitan areas each with an MLS franchise (Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver), the possibility of Ottawa attaining a future team of its own seems increasingly likely, especially considering the developments already under way. And as the sport continues to thrive within the nation’s capital, the increased benefits to Ottawa’s diverse local community are expected to continue, especially in regards to the development of local youth soccer and a strong, passionate and united fan base – both of which reveal the true value of soccer to the Ottawa public.

Perhaps a potential taste of what can be expected to come from a stronger fan base and youth soccer program… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0aVDRMq5Fs

References:

Capital City Football Club. (2012). The Official Site of the Capital City Football Club of Ottawa. <http://www.capitalcityfc.com/>.

Capital City Football Club. (2012). YouTube. Capital City FC of Ottawa. <http://www.youtube.com/user/capitalcityfc>

CBC News. (2008, Sept. 17). Proposed Ottawa soccer stadium faces environmental hurdle. CBC Sports. <http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/story/2008/09/17/ot-stadium-080917.html>.

Desaulniers, D. (2011, Oct. 28). Coach’s orders: Enjoy championship game. Ottawa Citizen. <http://www.ottawacitizen.com/sports/Coach+orders+Enjoy+championship+game/5619889/story.html>.

FIFA. (2012). FIFA U20 World Cup Canada 2007. Argentina’s joy of six. http://www.fifa.com/tournaments/archive/u20worldcup/canada2007/overview.html

InsideSoccer. (2011, March 12). Capital City FC Joins The Canadian Soccer League. InsideSoccer Magazine. <http://www.insidesoccer.net/2011/capital-city-fc-joins-the-canadian-soccer-league/>.

Protopapas, G. (2011, Sept. 30). Goalkeeper leads Capital City from behind. Centretown News Online. <http://centretownnewsonline.ca/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=2576&Itemid=99>.

Willing, J. (2011, June 20). Soccer league confirms Ottawa franchise. Ottawa Sun. <http://www.ottawasun.com/2011/06/20/soccer-league-confirms-ottawa-franchise>.

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