By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Pacific FC / Sheldon Mack
The Atleti of old has been rekindled. Going into this match, I had already accepted defeat against a Pacific side that has been far superior to all others so far in this campaign. Particularly given what happened in our last matchup. To manage to take a point against the league leaders with everything that transpired over the 100+ minutes that this game went on feels nothing short of a miracle, particularly given how this team has shown up in recent weeks. This isn’t to say that the team played perfectly, 57% pass accuracy is horrific, but at least the performance felt more consistent over the 90 minutes. I should add consistently positive, as there have been a couple of absolute clunkers this year where the team was consistently awful. The greater boon for this side is that this was done without four regular contributors for various reasons, Malcolm Shaw and Luke Singh on international duty, and Max Tissot and Gianni dos Santos not making the trip out west. On to the rankings:
#18 Samuel Salter
(7.1): I guess the caveat I have to use now is that Salter can only score against teams from British Columbia. All kidding aside, I’m glad to see Salter being able to work far better into the team than at the start of the season. The most notable difference in his play has certainly been his confidence in holding up play. Being able to win two free kicks and the first penalty of the CPL campaign for ATO is something that we certainly weren’t seeing in his first few games in stripes. The aerial presence still needs to improve, as he went 0/8 on aerial duels, but given he was matched up against Amer Didic for a significant amount of this game, I’ll give him a slight pass. The only real error I saw from him was on the second Pacific goal, it certainly would have been prevented if he had stayed on the near post instead of jumping forward as the ball was kicked. All that said he was instrumental in both goals, and it’s nice to see him be able to finish with his right foot as well as his left.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(5.7): Coming in with 25 minutes remaining, there was certainly an expectation that Zach Verhoven would be able to change the game in some way. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case against Pacific. Even before the sending-off, Verhoven was unable to generate anything down the right wing, as he was dispossessed twice without having the time to even attempt any dribbles. Combine that with losing out on all three ground duels he contested, and a lack of touches grants you a performance unbecoming of the traditional jolt of energy to this Atletico Ottawa line-up. Is that because he was shifted back to his natural right wing, especially as he’s done so much work to be able to play in the inverted left-sided role that he’s seen success in this season? Who’s to say?
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(5.8): At a certain point, you have to learn from the mistakes that you’ve made. Particularly if you continue to make those same mistakes consistently. Jean-Aniel Assi is, unfortunately, falling into the camp of repeating the same errors again and again, and they’re almost always related to football IQ. Time and time again, Assi does one of two things, he either makes the wrong decision or takes too long to make a decision which allows the defence to recover and render what would have been a good play moot. 43% accurate passes, 0 successful dribbles, and two times dispossessed are the lowlights from another frustrating performance for the 18-year-old. We’re getting to the point where the negatives are starting to outweigh the positives in terms of on-field performance from the young man. He’s certainly got the physical gifts to make a professional footballer, and still being 18 means that growth is still expected on the mental side of the game, but in order to be put in the XI week-in, week-out, that growth has to come to fruition on the pitch especially because we’re running out of minutes that can count towards our u21 total.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
(7.2): The evolution of Zakaria Bahous has been one of the biggest bright spots for Atletico Ottawa this season. On a couple of occasions, we’ve seen him tasked with filling in as the single pivot in order to accommodate shifts of personnel for short periods of time this season, but against Pacific, he was tasked with that role for a full 90 minutes. He more than met the challenge head-on. 4 interceptions, along with 5 of 7 ground duel wins, and 2 further free-kick wins, are the defensive elements necessary to contribute as a midfielder at this level, let alone as the sole defensive midfielder. Combine that with 2 successful dribbles, 3 passes into the final third, and not being dispossessed once, and you have a complete game from a player that, truthfully, felt on the fringes at the beginning of the year. Bahous is beginning to show a level of confidence in his play that is palpable and will only serve to help him grow further in whatever role he’s tasked with playing.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(7.6): There’s the Ollie Bassett we’ve been waiting for. 2 goal contributions for the talisman of our midfield couldn’t have come at a better time. In recent weeks, I’ve been seeing the frustration at not being able to convert chances or generate positive play manifest into his body language and his decisions on the field. Against Pacific, he felt far more into the flow of the game and like the Ollie of old, including shushing the Pacific stands after he converted his penalty in the 53’. Statistically, he avoided his trap of not being able to win ground duels, going 3 for 3 on the day, and maintained a respectable 83% pass accuracy in a game where the overall number was far lower for the team. It’ll be interesting to see how Ollie integrates with his new teammates and how Alberto and Ruben will allow the 2022 MVP to flourish in the second half of the season.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.5): After what was clearly his worst performance of the season last week, Noah Verhoeven turned in an acceptable 25 or so minutes against Pacific. Given that he had to pack in following the red card, it’s obvious that his stat line won’t be loaded with offensive statistics, but he did manage to avoid any sort of catastrophe. The unfortunate thing for Noah is that his younger counterparts have usurped his performances in recent weeks. With another midfielder being added to the fold, fewer opportunities are going to present themselves unless he can step back up to the level that he’s displayed before.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(6.7): Getting back-to-back quality starts from a player that counts towards your u21-minute threshold is an invaluable piece of a successful team in the Canadian Premier League. While he wasn’t as effective going forward as last week, Gabriel Antinoro’s energy in the middle of the park was still vital for the 65 minutes of action he saw against Pacific. Not renowned for his defensive prowess, the young midfielder managed to go even on his ground duels, winning 3 of 6, and also successfully completed all 3 of his tackles. These defensive highlights, combined with the energy he always seems to bring to the pitch, make up for a rather lackadaisical performance going forward. The sticking point is his ineffective passing numbers, only attempting 9 and only completing 4. While his best role seems to be off the ball going forward, it’d still be nice to see Gabi get the ball at his feet a little more, just to see what magic he can conjure.
#9 Carl Haworth
(6): After two very successful starts, Carl Haworth’s substitute performance against Pacific paled in comparison. My biggest conclusion from this is that he was once again placed on the opposite wing from his natural position. Part of it is that much of his time on the pitch was with 10 men, and his tasks were limited to ensuring the teams stayed level. Ultimately, it appears Haworth should be starting regularly if he remains healthy for the rest of the season, given the relatively poor performances down the right wing.
#91 Aboubakary Sacko
(5.9): Given the list of unavailable players this week, it shouldn’t have been surprising to see Abou Sacko in the starting XI, his first start since the Canadian Championship QF against Forge. Unfortunately for Atletico Ottawa, he was unable to provide much of anything. He went 3/12 in total duels, only attempted 8 passes, and was unable to complete either a cross or a dribble in his 73 minutes on the pitch. Worse still, he was aggrieved by what appeared to be a similar injury to that which saw him taken off in the Forge game to his right calf. Given what appears to be a lack of depth down the left for ATO, losing more bodies will be a severe detriment. The overall lack of effective wing play against Pacific is even more concerning, as that’s how most of our chances have been generated this season, and if this continues, can we keep getting lucky?
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7): Returning to his natural right back position for the first time since the first game against Pacific, Miguel Acosta continued his high level of play. While at first glance, it seemed that Ayman Sellouf had been getting the better of him throughout the game, as he has been wont to do against everyone in the Canadian Premier League, on replay, it was quite a different story. Defensively as sound as ever, Acosta won 6 tackles and 7 of 9 ground duels while patrolling against a front runner for player of the year, making 7 recoveries as well. The offensive numbers are better left unsaid, though that seems to be the case for a fair bit of the Atletico Ottawa side from this game, and instead, I’ll choose to focus on those overwhelming positives. Given the acquisition of Alberto Zapater and the renaissance in form from Zakaria Bahous, it’s likely that Acosta will be shifted back to his natural position for the remainder of the season, bringing much-needed continuity to a back-line that’s been changed a number of times in recent weeks.
#4 Diego Espejo
(5.2): Up until the 84’ I was ready to talk about another successful Diego Espejo performance for a side that had really dug their heels in and defended well. Now, we have to handle the fact that we’re likely to be without our most consistent defender for at least the next two games and, almost certainly, the next three. It’s not so much the decision to pull Daniels down that I’m upset with, though it’s certainly irksome. It’s more so the extremely simple one-two that Pacific played to send Daniels through that should’ve been easily dealt with by both of our central defenders in that instant. To me, there’s no way that Daniels should have been allowed to get past both Diego and Karl to create the situation that occurred. I try not to focus too heavily on individual moments when evaluating players. Still, in an instance like that with long-reaching consequences, it’s really the only thing I should be thinking about.
#3 MacDonald Niba
(6.8): It would’ve taken a lot for Niba to have played as poorly as he did last week. Fortunately, for all of us watching at home, that reality did not come to pass. Tasked with playing as a left full-back rather than in the left side of a back three, Niba looked more like the player we saw against Forge and Vancouver earlier in the season, albeit not quite to that level. 3 tackles won and a >50% success rate in duels are steps in the right direction for the defender, but he still found himself forced to commit silly fouls as he could not position himself properly against the attack of the Pacific right wing. The offensive side of the ball wasn’t anything effective either, a giveaway on an attempted backheel to Gabriel Antinoro in the first half being the most egregious example, but nothing compared to the depths of last week’s performance. Niba is trending in the right direction, now, all we can hope for is his body holding up.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(7.1): My appreciation for Karl Ouimette grows greater and greater each game, particularly now as he settles into the role of right-sided centre-back with Luke Singh away on international duty. With a stat line that mirrors the best games of his centre-back partner, Ouimette managed 7 clearances, 3 headed, a perfect record on ground duels, 4 for 4, and 3 interceptions, which are all the more crucial given where they took place on the field. He has a veteran presence that is starting to get to the level of Drew Beckie in terms of poise, though not quite there yet, and his continued success is going to be key through the next set of fixtures with a suspended Diego Espejo.
#23 Tyr Walker
(NR): Thrust into the game under difficult circumstances, the second professional appearance from Tyr Walker was marked by a fairly violent elbow that he took from Djenairo Daniels in injury time. That it was only a yellow card when similar incidents had received more severe punishment is certainly interesting. Still, the young man was able to help Atleti see out the draw in a tightly contested affair.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(6): By the 50th minute, you’d have been right to point out that Nathan Ingham’s confidence had been shattered. Another set-piece goal was given up, this time due to a collective lack of awareness of a quick corner kick taken by Ayman Sellouf. By the 84th, it’s possible to have convinced me that it all came back, as Ingham saved a Josh Heard penalty to keep the scores level and eventually seal the draw for Atletico. These two instances functionally cancel one another out, so I’m left with my usual spiel about the ineffectiveness of distribution from Ingham. Partly down to an inability of our attackers to win headers but also due to a lack of confidence, probably stemming from last week in which back passes resulted in two gifts to Forge attackers. The other issue is that Nathan doesn’t seem to want to claim anything, a trait that is very dangerous for me going forward. Before the penalty save, I was thinking that perhaps Sean Melvin should be seeing the pitch sooner than later. Now, it’s a more difficult question.
I’ve already done the handwringing about the performances, so I’ll just leave you with this. Damn, it feels good to be on the right side of this type of result. Going into the night, I had zero expectations, and truthfully, I was questioning why I’d decided to watch this game live (besides the wonderful company at the Glebe Central Pub, where you can join CCSG for watch parties of every Atletico Ottawa away game). We’re in a position where draws won’t be enough as the middle of the pack slowly starts to pull away from us, but hopefully, these types of gritty results will manifest further down the line. All that said, I’m extremely excited about our game on July 9th. No, not because it’s $2 hot dog day, but because we will likely be seeing the debuts of our two newest signings, and what they can do will say a lot about what the second half of the season should bring.
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.