By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Freestyle Photography/Matt Zambonin
There really is nothing better than the taste of victory. Claiming 9 points from these previous 3 games feels too good to be true, but amazingly, it is. The 3-1 win over Vancouver marks not only a third consecutive but also a fourth consecutive win at home and a 5th consecutive game scoring 2 or more goals. Those last two fun facts are made all the more fun by knowing that those are club records to date. With all of the success last year, there was a caveat that the football being played was less than desirable to watch. You can’t say the same about this year’s Atletico side. Sure, defence is still at the core of the team’s identity. Despite dominating this game, Atleti still did not maintain the lion’s share of possession. And hell, no one would call the victory against Cavalry in midweek glorious in any regard. Still, with the second most goals in the Canadian Premier League, the attack has reached the level we’ve all hoped it would. Really, that’s all we’ve been hoping for. On to the rankings:
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.9): Most of the discerning viewers will be aware that Sam Salter was denied a goal following a tremendously dubious offside call in the build-up. He also should’ve had another, if not for a wonderful goal-line clearance from Rocco Romeo (or if he had put the ball onto his favoured left foot). Outside of his unfortunate day in front of goal, Salter was very effective in dropping deep to help support the build-up in the first half. On several occasions, he found himself claiming loose balls from midfield positions and turning it upfield. Combine that with his extremely effective pressing in the first half, and you have a player that was doing all of the little things right. It feels selfish to demand a more clinical performance after scoring three times, but I think I’ve got a little license here because none of the goals came from our strikers. Still, this Sam Salter is what I really want to see more of, someone who can continue to be effective if he isn’t putting the ball in the net.
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(6.5): In my own personal record book, Ruben Del Campo managed his first goal contribution as a result of his shot in the 5th minute of extra time. While the Swiss youth international couldn’t find the back of the net himself, he allowed Carl Haworth to wrap up a banner day with the dagger for Atletico Ottawa in this one. Outside of that one moment, Ruben also shone with his hold-up play, being able to take the ball down with ostensibly all of the legal parts of his body. The passes didn’t always find their target, but having someone ahead of the play with the ability to play that role on throw-ins without getting too tangled into the defender, is essential, especially when protecting leads—otherwise, nothing much more to talk about with Ruben. Much like our other strikers, he’s still going through a feeling-out process, he’ll come good.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(6.7): Playing out on the left wing following his substitution, Malcolm did what he normally does. He fought hard against his opposite number to hold up play and defended effectively enough as Vancouver pressed for an equalizer, especially as a natural striker. The dirty work Malcolm is willing to take on is often underappreciated, particularly because the two substitutes he joined play with each found themselves putting the ball into the back of the net in the second half. With the injuries currently affecting our left side, Malcolm’s ability to play in that position is going to be crucial until our regular starters can return to the line-up. Does he play it traditionally, no, but he can still do his job when required. Just maybe, though, he could ease up on some of those tie-up fouls, if only to keep possession for just a little bit longer.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(6.9): As, really, the only remaining player who could start in that role today, Zach Verhoven was very effective in working down the left wing. The stand-out stat was his success rate with his dribbles, going 6 of 8, and winning 8 of 14 ground duels. The stand-out moment, though, was towards the end of the first half, when he was able to get past two sliding Vancouver defenders only to have the ball roll just a tad too far ahead of him into the waiting arms of Callum Irving. The downside to his tremendous amount of activity was that he lost possession 9 times. In traffic, Zach felt like he was always trying to do a little bit too much rather than take the simple play that would, for him at least, break the pressure of the Vancouver defence. It’ll be interesting to see how Zach is deployed going forward, especially if the injury problems that persist down the left continue.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(7.4): The tandem of Ollie and Jean-Aniel gave James Cameron absolute fits through the first 45 minutes of this game. As he’s wont to do, Ollie drifted to the touchline a fair bit this game to facilitate runs from his right winger throughout the 90 minutes. He even managed to find his most unusual assist of the season, as the ball bounced slightly off his left foot to the right boot of Miguel Acosta, who curled home the game's opening goal. Above all else, though, I’m happiest to see Ollie winning tackles and winning his duels. 2 of 3 tackles won, and 6 of 10 on-ground duels mean that he’s positively affecting play from defence as much as he is in attack. Could he have closed out on Renan Garcia a bit better on Vancouver’s goal, I think so, but these things are minor, and that ball was an absolute peach. Best of all, we had a complete team win without Ollie having to step to the penalty spot for the fourth game running. As much as I’d like to see him win the golden boot, I’d like him to get back to scoring from open play.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.5): I’ll be honest, I was surprised to see Noah start ahead of Zakaria Bahous for this game. I had assumed that Bahous’ exclusion from the fixture against Cavalry was to allow him some rest midweek to come to play 90 minutes, or close to it, against Vancouver. Noah’s performance in starting again was capable. Down the left side, he worked well enough with Zach Verhoven early on to create chances but was his usual self in being much less active than his fellow midfielders. He had half Ollie's touches, and only attempted 18 passes in the 60 minutes he saw the field. His style certainly lends itself to playing a less active approach in the midfield, but I’d like to see him get a bit more involved than he has been recently. While Ollie is clearly the driver of the play, letting Noah try to pick out some passes like he’s shown the ability to, could add a new wrinkle to the attack that’s already flourishing in its current state.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(7.6): If we’re calling Zach Verhoven the super-sub of ATO, I wager that Gabi Antinoro should be christened the spark plug. The kid is everywhere on the field, and it’s clear as day that he still has the youthful exuberance one would expect from a just-turned-19-year-old playing his first professional season. The biggest thing I’ve been harping on regarding our offensive positioning is a lack of supporting runs to the back post. Seeing Gabi come to that spot on the field and confidently head home his second goal of the year made me feel far prouder than I really should. The kid makes intelligent runs, fights back when the ball transitions from the attacking third to the middle of the park, and has the creativity to be able to do a lot with the ball at his feet. His football IQ will only grow as he plays more this season. With Jean-Aniel Assi incredibly close to reaching his limit for u21 minutes that count towards the team total, we’ll see Gabi out there for at least another 550 minutes. Though, with continued performances like that, I’m sure it’ll be much more.
#9 Carl Haworth
(8.2): On most days, the substitute performance of Gabriel Antinoro would be the absolute standout. Against Vancouver, however, Carl Haworth put together a simply sublime 30 minutes to stomp out any hope Vancouver had of claiming anything from this game. His cross into Gabi for ATO’s second goal is a testament to, and I’m paraphrasing, Adam Jenkins here, his pit bull-like tenacity. Not willing to give up after his initial foray into the box was met with resistance, Carl scrapped his way to the byline and floated a beautiful ball to the back post. The day was absolutely made, though, by Carl’s first goal for the club, a real poacher’s goal, as the save from Callum Irving directed the ball right into his path and then followed with a lovely celebration to honour his child-to-be. This is peak Carl Haworth, for certain, and hopefully, we can see more of this in the weeks to come.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(7.3): The confidence Jean-Aniel had built after finally scoring his first professional goal against Cavalry was on full display against Vancouver. More often than not, Assi was making runs to receive the ball in dangerous positions, and more than usual, he was direct in his intentions once he received the ball. His interplay with Ollie Bassett was back to the peak that we’ve seen a couple of times this year but hasn’t always manifested. The final product may not have been as successful as those times, but Assi’s involvement was certainly less frustrating to me as a viewer. The confidence I spoke about earlier also manifested in him taking on his opposite number and attempting to dribble past on 4 occasions, completing 2 successfully. Winning more of his duels than not and maintaining a ridiculously high pass accuracy rate are the things that I really want to see continue with Assi, as it proves he can maintain his effectiveness without providing goal contributions.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(7.5): I feel like I could just copy and paste my post from last week but extend it to apply to the entire 90 minutes. The organization that Zapater brings to the team in midfield is unparalleled at this level, both offensively and defensively. He’s always in the gap that would’ve been there before his arrival, and the idea of counter-attacking against this Atletico Ottawa side feels far more daunting than before. 3 interceptions and 3 tackles are the fruit of that positional awareness defensively. 86% pass accuracy also tells me he keeps everything simple going forward. There’s no need to overcomplicate, and he’s always putting himself in a position where a simple pass can be made. Does he take space with the ball when he needs to, of course, he does, but he doesn’t always need to. That’s what makes him special. Though, at 38, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to play 90 minutes week in, week out. He’s got the talent for sure, it’s just a matter of if the gas tank is still there.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7.8): While watching the first goal of this game, you’d be shocked to find out that Miguel Acosta is indeed a defender. The finish was a sublime first-touch strike that careened beautifully into the bottom corner of Callum Irving’s goal before the left-back ran to celebrate with the supporters. Tasked with playing out at left-back, something he hasn’t done since 2021, Miguel was not out of place whatsoever. While maintaining a solid presence at the back, he was far more involved offensively than he had been most of the season. In defence, his 6 tackles and 7 of 12 ground duel success rate proved crucial as Atletico sniffed out almost everything Vancouver tried to throw down their right wing. Miguel completed 39 of 41 passes in attack, with 2 shots on target and 3 of 4 accurate long balls. Given how talented he is defensively, it’s easy to forget how dynamic Miguel has been offensively, as his 4th goal for the club marks his 10th goal contribution of his Atletico Ottawa career. Our all-time appearance leader has now played 3 distinct positions this season and has excelled at all of them.
#5 Luke Singh
(7.1): Given that Atletico Ottawa was on the front foot from the get-go in this game, it’s unsurprising to see a limited statistical output from Luke Singh defensively. The reality is the cohesive team defending made it so there wasn’t much for either centre-back to deal with. I’d argue that his distribution was marginally better than Diego’s for this game, which is why the rating is slightly above his partner in defence. Still, realistically, it’d be difficult for anyone to find any true faults in Luke’s performance. Perhaps losing his man on the Vancouver goal, which saw Miguel Acosta having to mark two men on the back post, both of whom are far taller than the Spanish defender, but this is something that can be fixed. The willingness to play out of defence works because Luke is so capable on the ball and can find passes to streaking attackers to make something out of nothing. His long ball sprung Ollie Bassett on the Sam Salter chance that was incorrectly deemed offside. It’s that vision that will serve Luke well going forward.
#4 Diego Espejo
(7): The audacious bicycle kick attempt early in this game is emblematic of the spirit we all love from Diego. There is joy in watching him defend as much as there is joy in him to continue to play the game. This is particularly special to me, as I find the glory in defence generally comes from a more hard-nosed, gritty appreciation rather than the glitz of a goal-scoring phenomenon. Much like his partner in the middle of defence, Diego’s statistical output was not as prevalent as it normally is, save for clearances in which he managed to find another 6. That he only managed to contest one aerial duel is surprising, even in a lower-action game. That he won that duel is to be expected—a solid performance at the back from a truly solid central defender. Any game like that from Diego will see Atletico Ottawa be in it more often than not.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.6): As a result of Miguel Acosta being shifted out to left-back, Karl Ouimette was tasked with being moved out to the right. While he was solid enough defensively, there was certainly cause for concern going forward. Particularly late in the game, he lost possession on a number of occasions in and around the halfway line. His passing was not up to the standard that we need from him, and that he was the player who lost possession the most for Atletico Ottawa in this game is a cause for concern to me. I am not as confident with Karl on the ball as with our other two central defenders, and when tasked with a more involved offensive role at right back, that concern grows significantly. It did not come back to bite us this week but continued lapses in that area will inevitably catch up with ATO. Shifting Karl back inside is probably best, but that will require our left side to be fit enough to play. When that will come to pass is still to be seen.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(6.5): I’ll spare you the rant about the distribution from the keeper this week, as I think there was only really one truly poor long ball. Nathan made a couple of key claims on long balls into the mixer late in the 2nd half and had to deal with an absolute thunderbolt from Renan Garcia in the 6th minute, but otherwise wasn’t really troubled at all by the Vancouver attack. Frankly, he had no chance on the goal that Vancouver scored, as the header from Diaz was off the back of a stunning ball from the aforementioned Garcia. Defending in this sport is a team game, and when you can limit the amount your goalkeeper has to work, it will certainly make it much easier to claim three points.
I’m still in shock that we managed to claim 9 points from 9 this week. That we looked convincing at home in the two ties we played at TD Place is all the more exciting, especially given our record there before this season. That we can look so dominant feels like a pipe dream, and as we climb back up into a playoff position, the second half of the season feels like something we can really take hold of. That said, our next game comes against Halifax at Wanderers Grounds. Given their home form, a draw would be a very good result, and it’s something that we can certainly achieve, given our record against them with Carlos Gonzalez in charge.
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.