By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Forge FC Hamilton / Jojo Yanjiao Qian
One day, Atletico Ottawa will figure out that a football match lasts 90 minutes. Until then, this side is going to be anchored to the bottom of the Canadian Premier League table. This game was there for the taking at points, and more often than they have previously, the attack took advantage. The problem was the defence made some unfathomable mistakes that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Brewer Park, let alone Tim Horton’s Field. Having to say the same things week in and week out is getting tiresome, but it’s not time for a full-blown post-Pacific taking to task. That said, if Forge were ever going to be for the taking, it was this game, and that makes the result all the more frustrating. Here are the rankings for this week:
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.2): Sam Salter’s record of only being able to score against Vancouver has been maintained. He was far from the weakest player on the field, and at times he did manage to spark something, but it wasn’t enough to provide the level needed, particularly in the first half. The discrepancy is best shown in how he performed in duels. In the air, 5/6 won, on the ground, 3/12 won. 17 of 18 passes were completed, but no successful dribbles. Another positive is that Salter looked more involved in the press than in previous weeks. The edge he showed against Malcolm Duncan in the second half is also something to be happy with if only to carry that through the rest of the team. Salter will be starting at least one more game, guaranteed. Maybe he can still find his first goal against a second team this season.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(6.9): I mentioned last week that it was only a matter of time before Gianni dos Santos converted on a seemingly endless stream of big chances. I’m not clairvoyant, but I’m happy to have been right. His goal was arguably far more difficult to convert than some of the opportunities he’s had over the last few weeks. His arrival into the game at half injected some life down the left wing that did seem more lively than in previous weeks. He won a couple of important free kicks later in the half, even if he gave away a few of his own earlier in the period. I’ve been wishing for these individual successes to serve as building blocks all season for a number of different players. Some have responded, and others have reverted. I’ll continue wishing for the same for Gianni going forward, even if the evidence shows it’ll probably be an aberration.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(NR): 4 minutes for Zach Verhoven means that there’s essentially nothing to say. I’d argue that his substitution came a few minutes too late and arguably should’ve come immediately following the fourth Forge goal. Still, I’ll continue to argue that his best role is as a substitute, and his continuing to be deployed will provide the biggest benefit to Atletico Ottawa. It’s just a matter of whether we will be in enough games for that difference to truly mean something.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(6.4): A full half from Jean Aniel-Assi, where I didn’t scream into the abyss about him stopping a potentially promising attack, is a positive one. 12/12 in passes, and being able to actually find someone with a cross is even better. His work defensively left a fair bit to be desired, 1/4 successful tackles isn’t great for anyone, even if it isn’t his role to fulfill. It seems now that he’s been relegated to a secondary role, given the effective play of Carl Haworth of the last two weeks. It’ll be interesting to see how he responds, especially as he starts to come into games later and can take advantage of his significant amount of pace against tired fullbacks.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
(6.8): Coming in at the half and being tasked with the holding midfield role, it would’ve been easy for Zakaria Bahous to fold, particularly with how the team looked in the first half. Instead, he was inspired and performed exceptionally well despite being used to playing far further up the pitch. 3/3 tackles won, and 4/5 ground duels won is an exceptional success rate for any defensive-minded player, let alone one that primarily focuses on the attack. 84% on his passes, particularly as the pivot as the team chased the game for most of his time on the pitch, isn’t exceptional, but it is right about where it needs to be. I ask that he maybe thinks twice before taking a crack from outside the 18. On a number of occasions this season, he’s been given a bit of time to hit balls on the half-volley, and he skied them every time. If just once he were to try and work something more from one of those positions, I’d be far happier.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(6.4): The reigning CPL player of the year is frustrated. Part of it has to come from the collective effort, but an equal, if not greater, portion has to be coming from his own level of play. Ollie’s been unable to generate anything threatening directly from a corner since he scored the “Olliempico” against Valour in September last year, and it remains to be seen why he’s still been tasked with that role on the team. 78% accurate passing is below his normal standard as well, with being dispossessed 3 times adding to some relative offensive woes. 3 chances created may look good on paper, but it never seemed threatening for him to be on the ball, and a couple of times in the first half, there were opportunities to play the killer pass that we know he can, and he just wasn’t able to. For this team to have any chance to elevate itself as the first half of the season draws to a close, Ollie needs to be himself again.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(5.2): Alongside a fairly weak performance from his partners in the middle of the park, Noah Verhoeven turned in his poorest showing of the year. The biggest stain on this performance was that he was only able to attempt 3 passes in the first half of the match. Factor in that he only had one attempted dribble, which was unsuccessful, and that his only positive offensive contribution was winning one free kick, and it’s clear to see why he was taken off before the start of the second half. His defensive effort was not much better, being dribbled past three times and looking generally out of sorts for the entirety of the first half. I think it’s pretty clear why Atletico Ottawa was able to put up a fight in the second half, and a lot of it was down to improved midfield play, with Noah coming out. I’ve been appreciative of what Noah’s brought to the team this season. Still, a performance like this threatens the spot of players in positions of depth, especially with the display brought forward by the other two central midfielders throughout the match.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(7.2): 22 seconds in, it felt like a dream. Particularly as the Glebe Central Pub erupted with Gabi Antinoro’s name belting from the collective lungs of those in attendance, it was a banner moment and performance from the 19-year-old in a game where many failed to heed the call. The finish itself wasn’t the most exquisite, but indicative of a hunger from the young man to fight through the two Forge defenders and poke the ball past Triston Henry. For most of the first half, Antinoro was tasked with roaming and finding gaps in the Forge defence to exploit, which it appeared he did well even if he wasn’t provided the service needed to fully realize his chances. He was still effective when he shifted back into the midfield in the second half, but not nearly as much as in the first half. Antinoro is proving that he can be more than just a way to facilitate u21 minutes once Assi reaches his cap, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in going forward, especially in a position that we thought was pretty solidified between Gianni and Zach.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(6.1): On paper, Acosta’s game wasn’t as bad as one might think. 5 of 5 tackles won, with a 70% duel win rate would suggest an elite performance from a player starting in defensive midfield. That said, most of those defensive statistics were provided following a shift back to his natural right-back position in the second half. The first half was not the same Miguel Acosta from the last few weeks in the middle of the park, not least because of his two fouls given away but also because of only 78% pass accuracy. It remains to be seen if he’ll be forced into this position permanently as transfer rumours swirl. Still, it was nice to see him back in his natural position, excelling and giving us another option in defence. One that’s undeniably solid.
#9 Carl Haworth
(6.8): Carl was substituted at halftime, likely not due to his performance but more because of what was needed going forward in the second half. It was clear at times in the first half that he lacked the necessary pace to capitalize on some of the opportunities he provided against Malcolm Duncan. That said, his first half was still quite effective, even if it wasn’t to the exact standard as last week. He defended without fouling, won most of his ground duels, completed both his dribbles, and maintained a 90+% pass accuracy. He also managed to get credit for the assist on the throw-in that led to Antinoro’s goal. If he had about 5% more pace still left, I’d argue that he should be a guaranteed 90 minutes week in, week out, but the reality is he’s got to use his veteran guile to succeed down the right wing. It’s certainly replicable, it’s just we need to see other players take advantage of what he’s presenting.
#91 Aboubakary Sacko
(NR): As with Zach Verhoven, Sacko came into this game far too late to truly have any impact, despite the ball getting forced down his side in the final moments of the game. It appears it will take something drastic to unseat Maxim Tissot’s position, which seems baffling given Tissot’s recent performances.
#15 Maxim Tissot
(??): There is no quantifiable way to describe Maxim Tissot’s contributions to this game. Much like his other performances, there was plenty to criticize and enough to appreciate. The free kick was a splendid bit of skill and absolutely un-saveable, something that has not often come easy for Atlético Ottawa against Triston Henry. On top of that, a number of clear recoveries and successful duels won on the wing serve as reminders of the little things he does well. Despite all that, he seemingly can’t provide anything else offensively. His crossing remains exceptionally poor, and the space he leaves down his wing has allowed teams to attack again and again successfully. This is all before we factor in the horrific giveaway, which resulted in the second Forge goal. Fans will always look to the negatives first, and there are certainly positives with Max Tissot. Still, even the most generous supporters can’t help but realize that the negatives consistently outweigh the positives. No player in this team is consistently frustrating to watch to this extent. I just want to get off this ride.
#4 Diego Espejo
(5.6): With the collective defensive performance provided by ATO on Sunday, it’s no wonder Diego Espejo ranks as low as he does here. Teams are starting to figure out that if you go around Diego with your offensive game plan, there is plenty to exploit, particularly in the air. I mention “going around” Diego as he didn’t attempt a single tackle in the match and was only involved in 1 ground duel, well below his normal activity as a defender. The 5 headed clearances are normal for him, but that was the only defensive statistic in which he performed to his usual standard. He also didn’t provide the offensive impetus to make up for it, going 1/4 on long balls. The clash with Nathan Ingham late in the first half was a classic case of miscommunication and could’ve been something far worse than it was. Unfortunately, the total performance was about as bad as it could get.
#3 MacDonald Niba
(4.8): Calamitous. It’s the only word fit to describe MacDonald Niba’s performance. I’m not just talking about the baffling back pass that screamed past Nathan Ingham. He wasn’t the physical presence a player of his skill set and body type should be. In fact, the display put on by the returning defender is more shocking if only because of how he came into the side the previous time these two teams met at Tim Hortons Field. In that game, he was exerting his presence in the air, making hard tackles, and being a complete defender in a role that looked to be providing a real change to the side's tactical approach. This display was the complete opposite. I don’t believe a player has had as wild a whiplash between their best and worst performances for this club. Perhaps it’s because we see him so little that this sticks in my mind so heavily, and without Luke Singh, it’s almost certain we’ll see him on Friday against Pacific as well. It can’t get much worse, can it?
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6): The normally reserved activity for Diego Espejo was thrust upon Karl Ouimette in this match, particularly in the second half, as he shifted inside to play as a natural centre-back for the first time in a while. 4 of 5 tackles won is certainly a positive to take from his performance, particularly late in the second half in a one-on-one with Jordan Hamilton to prevent a fifth from being conceded. Otherwise, 5 of 11 ground duels won isn’t as ideal, particularly, as I mentioned, because Karl shifted inside in the second half. Only getting into 1 aerial duel with his ability in the air is also a cause for concern, as teams are taking notice of how to exploit the ATO defense, particularly in the air. It remains to be seen if Ouimette will continue in the middle or if he’s destined to remain as a right-back, but either way, teams are starting to figure out how to play around him as well, and hopefully, he can adapt.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(5): It’s hard to blame Nathan Ingham for both defensive horror shows that led to Forge’s first two goals. I’m still going to do so, however. While I understand that turf will create weird bounces, you’re still a professional goalkeeper and need to maintain composure when a ball is hit to you with more power than expected. The second one is, again, more on the defender than the keeper, but there still needs to be communication to avoid that situation arising in the first place. An equal number of goals conceded and saves prevented this rating from dropping any lower than it did, but there are still some issues in distribution and command of the box that I had assumed had been resolved. Another performance like this, and Melvin is certainly well within his rights to clamour for another start in goal.
Rather than concluding with serious thoughts, I’ll leave you with my genuine reaction from the pub as the game ended. A hearty, regretful, borderline apathetic *sigh* and a wholehearted “What?” See you next week. Hopefully, I don’t have to write another “State of the Union” following another crushing defeat to Pacific.
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.