ALSO ON SLAM!
Friday, May 12, 2000
Fury take to the field for first time
The Ottawa Fury, an expansion team that comes with a winning tradition, make their debut in the women's soccer W-League today.
The Fury plays host to the second-year Laval Dynamites while the Toronto Inferno, also in their sophomore season, visit the Cleveland Eclipse.
The three Canadian teams are joined by the Rochester Ravens in the Northern Conference of the 16-team W-1 League. Another 20 clubs comprise the second-tier W-2 circuit.
The Fury might be new to the W-League but they have long been a power in Canadian club ranks. As the South Nepean United Spirits, they were national champions in 1997 and '98 and bronze medallists last year. They have captured the Ontario crown the last three years.
Fourteen members of last year's Spirits team are on the 25-player Fury roster.
"Our strength will be that some of these players have been together for a long time," said coach Andy Nera. "We play very well as a unit."
Key players include midfielder-forward Kristina Kiss and midfielder Danielle Vella, both in the national team player pool. Kiss has been named to all three tournament rosters chosen by Canadian coach Even Pellerud and will be lost to the Fury while she competes at the Pacific Cup in Australia from May 31 to June 11.
Former Canadian international Tania Singfield, 30, is the Fury 'keeper with striker Jen Biondi joining Ottawa from Laval.
The team, which will play at Keith Harris Stadium at Carleton University, is owned by a group of 11 people with an operating budget of $150,000. It's an amateur club so players don't get paid.
Breaking even might be a stretch this season, given the franchise's late start. The team had figured on joining the league next year but the W-League wanted the club in earlier to complete the Northern Division.
Team officials are not sure how many people they will draw, figuring on 500 a game -- the league averaged 551 last season.
"It's all new to us," Nera said. "We have absolutely no idea what to expect."
Gone this year from the league are the Jackson Calypso while the Delaware Genies, Atlanta Classics and Charlotte Speed, now the Lady Eagles, have dropped to the W-2.
They have been replaced by Ottawa and W-2 champion North Texas Heat plus the Hampton Roads Piranhas and Jacksonville Jade, who also competed at the W-2 level last season.
The W-1 clubs play 11 games within their league and three games against W-2 opposition.
Division playoffs have been abandoned this year with only the four conference winners advancing to the post-season.
A poll of the league's 36 coaches picked Laval, Boston, Raleigh and Chicago to win their conference with Chicago defeating Raleigh in the final.
The league is in its sixth season, knowing next year it will be overshadowed by the Women's United Soccer Association, a U.S. pro league with a substantial bankroll behind it.
In contrast to the W-League, a largely amateur circuit where only a few stars get paid, WUSA plans to pay its players between $24,000 and $45,000 US.
The Raleigh Wings successfully defended their league title last year after going 13-1 during the regular season. They downed the Chicago Cobras 3-2 in a shootout in the championship game. Those two elite clubs feature two big-name Canadian strikers: Silvana Burtini with Raleigh and Charmaine Hooper at Chicago.
Here's a look at the other two Canadian W-League teams:
(3-11 last season, 24 GF, 40 GA, fourth in five-team Central Conference)
The Inferno will count on returning veterans Tina Blaskovic (11 goals last season), Jo Hinks (seven goals) and Tanya Franck, and hope to shore up a defence led by sweeper Jane Lea.
Coach Tony Marmo went through seven goalies last season.
New faces include Kristin Robertson, Maggie Mason and Julie Pigozzo.
Toronto ranked 10th in the 16-team league in attendance last season with 380 per game. The Inferno was ignored by local media.
Marmo reckons inexperience cost his fledgling squad last season. In nine of the team's 11 losses last year, the Inferno were either tied or leading at halftime.
The franchise's five owners each lost about $4,000 last season. The annual budget is roughly $75,000.
"We made at least a three-year commitment and we'll see that through," said Marmo. "Obviously we can't keep digging into our pockets . . . We're still looking for corporate sponsors."
Unable to get a field before June in Toronto, the Inferno will play its first three games at the Oshawa Civic Stadium before returning to Birchmount Stadium in northeastern Toronto.
(5-9 last season, 19 GF, 28 GA, fifth in six-team Northern Conference)
The Dynamites have loaded up in the off-season, signing English international Pamela Bedzrah, Irish international Sonia Moore, Haitian international Marie-Ange Jacynthe, American goalkeeper Amy Rudge and England's Rachel Yankey, who was with Arsenal women's team in London.
Coach and GM Gaspard D'Alexis, whose 18-woman roster includes eight new faces, hopes the additions will bolster a weak-link offence. Last year's leading scorer was Annie Perreault, who had six of the team's 19 goals.
Canadian newcomers include Marie-Claude Henry, Marie-Eve Nault and Julia Scrase.
Laval averaged 626 fans a game, fifth-best in the league, at Stadium Berthiaume de Tremblay.