The owners of the Ottawa Fury are blaming "politics" for the decision to suspend operations for the 2020 season, after the team failed to obtain sanctioning from governing bodies that oversee the United Soccer League (USL).
In order for a team to play in the USL, they must be sanctioned by three governing bodies: Canada Soccer, the U.S. Soccer Federation and CONCACAF.
The latter is one of FIFA's six continental governing bodies that oversee soccer in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
The team did receive a one-year sanction from Canada Soccer for 2020, but the other two bodies have not indicated they would sanction the team for the upcoming season.
In a statement, Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) Mark Goudie said he believes the U.S. Soccer Federation and CONCACAF intentionally ran them out of time.
"I think it's apparent that soccer's hierarchy is trying to force Fury FC out of the USL," the statement said.
OSEG is Fury FC's parent company and also owns the Ottawa Redblacks and Ottawa 67's.
John Pugh, an OSEG partner that oversees the Fury, wrote in a letter to fans posted on the team's website that the reason for suspending operations was simple.
"[It's] politics," Pugh wrote. "Despite our best efforts over a period of many months, we were unable to obtain full sanctioning and since schedules must be developed, players signed and tickets sold, we simply ran out of time."
Canada Soccer released its own statement, calling the news "disappointing" and saying they lobbied the other governing bodies to approve the Fury for the USL.
Sanctioning in doubt last season
The Fury's future has been in doubt before, after CONCACAF told the Canadian Soccer Association in 2018 it would not sanction the team's ongoing membership in the USL.
Fury FC had widely been expected to be home to the eighth team in the Canadian Premier League, which launched in 2019.
The desire to join somebody who has issued you a ransom note was not particularly high. - Mark Goudie
At a press conference Friday, Goudie said he envisioned the team joining the CPL, noting the league's existence is important for soccer in Canada.
But the organization wanted to do it on their own terms, Goudie said, rather than being forced by governing bodies into the league.
"The desire to join somebody who has issued you a ransom note was not particularly high," said Goudie.
The club was allowed to remain in the USL for the 2019 season after an about-face by the agency. But this time, Goudie said the governing bodies delayed granting approval until it was no longer feasible for Fury FC to have a season.
"If the they didn't want us playing in the USL, I wish they had the courage to stand up and say that rather than just drag their feet," Goudie said.
Pugh said at Friday's press conference the USL lobbied the governing bodies to sanction the Fury.
"[They] bent over backwards in so many ways to avoid what is happening today," Pugh said, appearing to choke back tears.
Fury FC general manager Julian de Guzman also joined Goudie and Pugh at the press conference, mostly hanging his head while the other two spoke.
But when he was asked how he took the news, the former Canadian soccer star struggled to overcome his emotions.
"For a lot of the [heavily] invested individuals who believe in this vision, idea, philosophy, this dream that has now come to an end," he said.
"It's just really hard to digest at this moment."
Finished 8th in 2019
The Fury initially played in the North American Soccer League (NASL) from 2014 to 2016 before jumping into the USL in 2017.
The statement from OSEG also included a comment from USL president Jake Edwards, who said he was "disappointed."
"Ottawa Fury FC is an extremely professional, well-run organization and it's frustrating to see them treated in this way," Edwards said.
Ottawa was the only Canadian team playing in the USL.
Last month, the team announced it was parting ways with head coach Nikola Popovic after two seasons.
The Fury plays home games at TD Place stadium at Ottawa's Lansdowne Park, which can hold 24,000 spectators.
The club finished in eighth place in the USL's eastern conference in 2019 with a 14-10-10 record.
Goudie said the organization will be taking a step back before deciding what to do for 2021.