By Patrick Gibson
After the first twenty minutes of our Round 1 Canadian Championship performance, I was nervous that the first game rust from the home opener was emblematic of something greater with the team. There wasn’t any kind of fluidity or sharpness in the control we did have, even if the defense still felt like it was holding up. I feared the worst when Ollie Bassett went down early with what appeared to be a hamstring problem, but the boys bounced back. A classic Atlético Ottawa game developed in the second half, and the nerves gave way to what we had felt all of last year, a sense of calm in the players to do their jobs and take any hope away from the opponents. Now onto the ratings:
#19 Malcolm Shaw
7.0: On the day he became the all-time appearance leader for Atlético Ottawa, Malcolm Shaw did what he does best, find himself in a position to score an important goal. On the back of a beautiful cross from Gianni Dos Santos, Shaw placed a perfect header into the right corner of Yann Fillion’s net. Aside from the goal, Shaw was, as usual, engaged in good hold-up play and provided a good outlet for long distribution. A couple of cheap fouls were given up, and some losses in strength battles notwithstanding, a really well-rounded performance from Malcolm.
#18 Samuel Salter
6.3: Following a performance that earned some post-game words from his manager, Sam Salter found himself starting on the bench for the rematch against Halifax. When he did come on, similar issues to those that presented themselves on Saturday rang out again. Lacking somewhat of a killer instinct in going toward goal, Salter is the one player that still feels like he needs to work into the role that’s been given to him in the team. There were some better moments, a heavy touch in the box away from a potential goal and a nice switched ball across to Gabriel Antinoro in the waning minutes, but his level is starting to become a trend, and that’s something the side might not be able to afford.
#7 Gianni Dos Santos
7.2: Through the first twenty-five minutes, Gianni dos Santos looked disconnected from the Atlético Ottawa midfield. All it took to change that was a simple long ball from Karl Ouimette and a little bit of magic from his right foot. Gianni’s presence on the wing is what had Atlético Ottawa fans so excited going into the season, and the picturesque cross he fed into Malcolm Shaw for the equalizer is the first of hopefully many examples of these expectations being fulfilled. In the second half, a handful of opportunities fell ATO’s way, with him playing well off Antinoro before his substitution in the 60th minute.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
6.9: Antinoro responded to his halftime substitution against Halifax with a very solid game in midfield on Wednesday. Coming in for the injured Ollie Bassett after only 15 minutes, there was a palpable concern given that the reigning Player of the Year was to be taken from the team's spine. However, Antinoro was much better in possession than in game 1 and was tracking back equally as effectively in a more central role than the left-sided role he had been tasked with on Saturday. There are still reminders of him only being 18, namely the shot from outside the 18 with about 3 passing options available, but if this is the level of play he can uphold, the sky's the limit for the young man.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
7.6: The full range of Jean-Aniel Assi was on display in this game. His second assist in as many games was a peach of a ball to Maxim Tissot to end the game, but what made his performance was that he was more decisive from the first whistle. Assi looked to take on players with more confidence, cutting in and running down the wing with a final product in mind. He doubled his successful dribbles and did not miss a beat in his distribution. Most importantly, he found his way through a full 90 minutes, signaling that Saturday’s injury was nothing more than a severe cramp, a godsend for a team still currently without the two other players in rotation at his position.
#10 Ollie Bassett
NR: There was a palpable collective breath taken from the traveling support when Ollie went down in the 15th minute. Despite the collective performance afterward, there is still a tremendous amount of concern for Ollie’s long-term health, and the sooner we see him back on the pitch, the better.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
6.7: Another solid game from Bahous, whose substitution was clearly to shift tactics and not as a result of his performance. The 21-year-old was tasked with playing ahead of Max Tissot in defense, the opposite side of where he initially lined up last year, and provided capable support against Wesley Timoteo and Riley Ferrazzo. Unfortunately, he did give up a couple of fouls in key areas, one of which led to Halifax's goal direct from a free kick. Though, with the benefit of replay, it’d be easy to argue that Bahous did nothing wrong, and a foul was harshly given the lack of contact. All told, Bahous has proven to be a good hand through two games and looks prime to continue.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
7.9: From the stands, Noah Verhoeven was far and away the best player for Atlético Ottawa on the day. On rewatch, one player jumped slightly ahead of him, but that does not discount all of the great things he provided, especially without his midfield partner Ollie Bassett. A superb cross to find the head of Karl Ouimette led directly to Diego Espejo’s goal, and a beautifully weighted outlet pass to Jean Aniel-Assi were the feathers in his cap on Wednesday. Even without the two hockey assists, Noah Verhoeven continued from Saturday in his calm presence in the centre of the park, distributing where the ball needed to be and playing incredibly well out of defense. Giving away a key foul in the 85th just outside the penalty area docks him a few points, but through this young season, Noah’s been my favourite player to watch.
#15 Maxim Tissot
7.3: Maxim Tissot loves scoring against Halifax. The left-back has scored 3 times in the last 4 games against the Wanderers, a pretty staggering mark for a defender. Couple that with more solid defensive play, albeit not having to deal with Zachary Fernandez bombing down his wing, and ATO’s presence out left is set to be solid for another year. There are still some question marks regarding his positioning, as there’s a large hole in the average position directly behind Tissot’s roaming runs forward, and whether or not the 31-year-old can play 90 minutes a game for the entire year, but given some of the shortfalls last season, Tissot being off to a good start is great news for Atlético Ottawa.
#4 Diego Espejo
8.0: The Diego Espejo we all know and love has returned. As a bonus for us all, a marauding run forward on a second ball into the box from a corner resulted in Espejo’s first professional goal, which would end up being the winning goal for Atlético Ottawa. His offensive exploits aside, Espejo settled into his role exquisitely at the back, winning countless headers and not losing a single ground duel over the course of the match. While he didn’t pick out quite as many long balls, that can be forgiven, as the work he did controlling the ball in short passing situations was superb, as always. It’s great to see that the elite body control, strength, and positioning is starting to reach a second gear for Diego. The only downside is that it’s only a matter of time before the suitors come knocking.
#20 Karl Ouimette
6.8: The final of the three changes made from the weekend, Karl Ouimette improved on his cameo from Saturday, markedly so. A key piece in the first two goals, playing the long ball ahead to Gianni on the first and getting a head to the Noah Verhoeven cross on the second, he also looked calmer in defense, lending credence to the idea that the intention of him venturing forward was to try and win the game for us. A couple of poor passes resulted in giveaways, but the rest of the unit was able to clean those up. Improvement from game 1, definitely, but also a performance that could be cleaned up a tad going deeper into the season.
#5 Luke Singh
6.9: Entering the game with 30 minutes remaining, Luke Singh picked up where he left off in game 1. Solid as ever at the back, it was good to see that it didn’t change while protecting a lead. A couple of really key actions in sweeping behind Max Tissot down the ATO left flank show just how good Luke’s range is in covering the back line. He still tends to play compactly as the left-sided centre-half, which may allow for unchallenged runs in the channels if Tissot is ahead of the rest of the defensive line. Regardless, building this level of consistency at 22, especially after the turmoil of his previous season at FC Edmonton, is tremendously encouraging.
#17 Miguel Acosta
6.8: Probably the most stable force through a poor first 20 minutes, Miguel Acosta’s performance didn’t reach that same level in the second half. I will blame that on the shift in roles at the 60-minute mark. As had been anticipated based on reports in the pre-season, Acosta shifted into the midfield for the final 30 minutes. While he went on an impressive run in his first action after the change, he settled into a stable, albeit invisible, role for the remainder of the game. Effective in a role where the team depth isn’t quite there yet is all we can ask for, as we hope Cargo’s transition for him works as well as Pep’s did for Philipp Lahm.
#29 Nathan Ingham
7.0: In goal, Nathan Ingham was forced to make a fair few more involved saves than he needed to on Saturday. It was unfortunate he only got one hand to the Massimo Ferrin free kick that found the net, which in retrospect may have been able to have been blocked in the wall, but he was otherwise effective in saving a few more dangerous chances in the second half. The one caveat to the performance is his distribution. While a brilliant shot stopper, a recurring problem from last year in balls going long, either finding uncovered opposition or going harmlessly into touch came back into my consciousness in this game. It has not led to a catastrophic error at this point, but the threat always looms in the back of my mind.
All in all, a much better performance than Saturday. I had confidence in Carlos Gonzalez’s ability to make the adjustments necessary to do so, and while it took a bit to get under our feet, those changes were implemented. The other bonus is that most of the team has shaken off the early season jitters that were readily apparent in game 1. The second half felt comfortable like many did last year, and we were able to rescue a victory after going down, something we haven’t done since the very first Atlético Ottawa home game. The slow integration of Salter into the team and the potential injury to Ollie Bassett were the only downsides to the result, and there are undoubtedly minor things to be improved upon. Regardless, we’ve finally won a game in the Canadian Championship, and Forge awaits in the next round. In summation, I’d give the team an overall rating of 8.0.
Having joined CCSG in 2022, Patrick started his footie career playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros around the same time. While the first pro team he supported was Manchester United, as soon as Atlético Ottawa came to town, he was immediately on board. His wealth of footie knowledge has been a constant asset, along with his role as caretaker for Atléti Wikipedia pages.