The whine has permeated the Ottawa sports atmosphere for years: Our teams can't win.
The Ottawa Senators have reached the second round of the NHL playoffs only twice in the past 10 years. The Ottawa Lynx baseball team won the 1995 International League championship, but missed the playoffs for the next seven seasons.
After two decades of suffering through the aches and pains of the Ottawa Rough Riders, the CFL returned to Ottawa this year, after a six-year hiatus, but losses far outnumber wins for the Ottawa Renegades.
If you wanted to see a winning Ottawa pro team this summer, you had to watch the Ottawa Wizards, who somehow outdid themselves in their second year in the Canadian Professional Soccer League.
While the league's other 13 teams carry a roster of pro and amateur players, the Wizards signed their 25 players to pro deals. From May through October, they were paid a $200 to $500 weekly. Seven players shared a house paid for by the club, and all players were treated to daily meals.
"We like to step it up a notch," Wizards general manager Jim Lianos said, adding that attendance almost doubled, to more than 600 fans a game at the 1,200-seat field.
The Wizards' soccer budget ranged between $150,000 and $200,000, or more than double that of any other team in the league, Lianos said.
After winning the league pennant and Canada Cup in 2001, the Wizards celebrated an unprecedented Triple Crown season this year, capturing the league's pennant, playoff championship and Canada Cup.
Also, for the second year in a row, striker Abraham Osman was named the league's most valuable player. Osman scored 12 goals and assisted on 15, while forward Kevin Nelson counted 18 goals and six assists.
"(Osman) and Kevin Nelson have a very good rapport," Lianos said. "A lot of it has to do with one being a set-up guy and the other a finisher."
Goalkeeper Sa Brahima Traore posted 14 shutouts and allowed only 16 goals in 24 games.
He had great support from defenders Shurland David, Kwane Telemaque, Abraham Francois and Roger Groome. The midfield play of Robin Hart, who scored the winning goal in a 2-0 win over North York Astros in the playoff final, and all-star Danny Sanna complemented the play of Osman and Nelson.
The Wizards, a blend of 11 Ottawa-area players with 15 from Burkina Faso, Trinidad and Tobago, Malawi, Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Winnipeg, were driven by a professional approach to the game.
"We treat the team professionally," Lianos said. "They practise four to five times a week, while other teams practise twice a week. We're always stronger in the second half because of our conditioning."
The Wizards will return to the CPSL next year only because joining the higher A-League would be expensive, requiring a $750,00 budget. What could the Wizards do for an encore in 2003?
"We'll have to go completely undefeated," Lianos said.
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