It’s not always recent history, nor is it always logical, but it’s a shared past that turns two clubs or fanbases against each other.
When Atlético Ottawa joined the Canadian Premier League this winter, one of the country’s greatest footballing rivalries was reborn, with FC Edmonton now slated to meet their old foes once again. In the last decade, the NASL-era Eddies and Ottawa Fury locked horns time and again in what we can probably call, at least, the second-best Canadian soccer rivalry — we won’t dare put it up against the 401 Derby between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.
Now, Edmonton and Ottawa will rekindle their rivalry in the CPL when they square off at The Island Games on Sunday.
Beginning in 2014, the two sides met regularly in NASL league play (until the Fury moved to the USL in 2017), as well as in the first round of the Canadian Championship. Their record against each other is a dead-even 3-3-3, as is the history of their Voyageurs’ Cup ties (with two victorious ties apiece).
That roller-coaster of a past is why Eddies coach Jeff Paulus is unequivocal in his belief that Atlético Ottawa, and not necessarily Cavalry FC, is his side’s biggest rival right now.
“My favourite games with FC Edmonton were always travelling to Ottawa to play in Ottawa, in that beautiful stadium in our nation’s capital,” he told CanPL.ca. “We were the two Canadian teams in an American league, fighting for relevancy, fighting for the league to acknowledge the two Canadian sides.”
He added: “Within (the NASL), we had Jacksonville coming in for a game, or Puerto Rico coming in for a game, and there’s nothing in that, I have to say.”
Ottawa, though? That’s a foe fans can learn to cheer against. League matches aside, the Eddies used to go head-on with Ottawa every year for a shot at playing an MLS side. Those Canadian Championship ties were heated — fans may remember Edmonton’s close second-leg win in 2014, or the quick red card that tipped things in Ottawa’s favour in 2017.
As an assistant coach, Paulus has fond memories of the tactical battles he and then-Eddies coach Colin Miller used to have with the Fury’s Marc Dos Santos. Plus, he always loved a road trip to Ottawa.
“I just love being in the nation’s capital. I’m a Canadian, I wore the uniform for this country, and that’s what I stand for personally,” he said. “Any time we actually got to play in Ottawa, I would always go for a walk to Parliament and walk around those grounds. That’s what made that special.”
The alumni of that rivalry are sprinkled around the CPL, as well; the Eddies, of course, still have Tomi Ameobi, Hanson Boakai, Kareem Moses, and Allan Zebie from their pre-CPL squads. Daryl Fordyce is at Valour now, and Nik Ledgerwood plays for Cavalry.
Atlético Ottawa, for their part, may not have any former Fury players, but a pair of their stalwarts — Ben Fisk and Ben McKendry — will remember the Edmonton-Ottawa battles well.
The arrival of Atlético de Madrid to resurrect pro soccer in Ottawa doesn’t change things for Paulus, either. In preparing his side for Sunday’s game, he has every intention of leaning into the rivalry, and using it as fuel.
“We will definitely bring that up, because I think any time you bring up a long history with somebody is a good thing in sport,” he said.
“For me this is an old rival, not a brand new franchise. We have to give them that respect as an old rival, forget that the players have changed and whatnot, and approach it that way. … If you’re not careful, if you go in with the attitude that Ottawa are the new guys and they’re a walkover, you’ll get punished. So the rivalry with us and Ottawa will help us get over that mindset.”
Indeed, despite a new stage and two new squads, plenty remains from the old rivalry — namely, the fans behind both sides.
“The supporters on both sides are gonna be the same supporters, just cheering maybe for a different name in Ottawa,” Paulus pointed out. “Certainly, a lot of the same guys I see on Twitter that support that club are some of the same people that were supporting them when they were the Fury.”
Paulus recalled some strong banter coming from the Ottawa fanbase back in the day, and he wouldn’t mind seeing that begin to return this Sunday.
“Hopefully we can rekindle that a little bit,” Paulus said.