I'm beginning to find that supporting soccer, Canada or otherwise, is like a good dish. Satisfying to the end and made a little differently in each region you try it. This was no different this week when I was in Ottawa to take in the CanWNT's second tune-up game against Brazil. The first game, an uninspiring 2-0 loss in Toronto went as typical friendlies do. No particular consequences, general post game statements about missed opportunities, and another standing ovation for the perpetually popular women's team.
For a team that doesn't play regularly, or spectacularly on home soil I continued to be amazed by the attendance that the women continue to draw in. Over 28k were present in Toronto while a near sellout was expected in attendance Ottawa. I wonder how many more performances it will take like the one on Saturday before a dent is made on audience numbers.
The near sellout in Ottawa ,however, was more hope for the women, and for soccer in the region. Since the NASL's expansion in the capital the Fury have been drawing well, recently pulling in over nine thousand for their recent game against the Vancouver Whitecaps in the Voyageurs Cup. This would be Ottawa's first time hosting the CanWNT's since their most recent visit in 2003, a 2-1 win against Brazil.
From the get go this was an event that was well received from a supporter's perspective. Those of the Bytown Boys and Stoney Monday Riot had gathered earlier than you would think work would allow, at the Georgetown, a pub down the street from the stadium. The open concept bar was flooded with natural light when I entered from the street, shirts of red scattered around the bar. Upon entry a chalkboard scheduled laid out the week's TV schedule; categories of hockey, football, soccer and more soccer laid out Fury games and the upcoming European Championship.
Myself, and a few other V's had travelled in from the GTA and were warmly welcomed in by the locals. Instead of the usual Fury scarves, Voyageurs scarves hung around every neck as people picked up flags and shirts before heading into the game. As we gathered outside prior to marching I noticed far more youth than I had at stadium marches before. There were a handful of kids under 15, supervised by their parents, who were marching and taking part in the festivities - judging by their knowledge of songs it wasn't their first march either.
We left the bar and marched north towards the stadium. Flags high and voices loud we caught glances of those stuck in traffic on Bank Street, spurring on some honks as walked onwards. As the afternoon moved to the evening we crossed the bridge over the Rideau Canal, our elevated position allowing the stadium to come into view. Beyond the curved exterior of the south stand we could see fans piling up at the gates and making their way into their seats.
Reaching the bottom of the stairs to the stadium we congregated and sang songs in front of the entrance, fans who were making their way in stopping to take photos and clap along. Past the security and the gates we walked on to section W, our home for the night.
From kickoff, there were a few noticeable differences to the Ottawa experience vs other ones I had seen in Hamilton and Toronto. The first one were the capos, two women would be guiding our songs for the evening. Both were members of local supporter groups it was refreshing to see some variety in the organisation of the vocal support. The second difference was the variety in the songs. As expected a few modified Ottawa Fury songs were sung out to the women while my variation of "They Build the House in Lansdowne for the Reds" wasn't picked up on very well.
As for the game, Canada looked far more lively than on Saturday. With plenty of speed down the wings paired with accurate through balls the fans in Ottawa were in for a spectacle. It wasn't until the dying minutes that Ottawa would witness a cracker end to the game. With a substituted Brazilian goalkeeper Canada was given an extra minute onto the 3 minutes of added time. A final long ball through found Janine Beckie twenty yards from goal - the ball crossed the line before it hit the ground, a perfect chip with one of the last kicks of the game and TD Place erupted. The Voyageurs, once organised in standings rows became a giant red mass jumping and screaming; it was an exclamation point to end the game.
Upon the final whistle, most fans stood politely and clapped for the victors before exiting the stadium. It was those who stayed behind that got a unique experience. With each friendly the women's national team makes the habit of circling the stadium and signing autographs and taking photos, leaving their fans with a few more memories to go home with. Signs and jerseys were autographed while short conversations were made with the players - all of which were kind and thoughtful, thanking those in the first rows for coming.
Before I exited and the players were still making their rounds a fan leant in and asked what Allysha Chapman thought about playing pro. She responded quite simply "I didn't want a real job" before laughing and walking off. I could see why. Touring the country and playing in front of different markets was a treat, and for Ottawa, a great event hosted and viewed for the Voyageurs - and hopefully more national team appearances in the future.