By Patrick Gibson
While the result wasn’t necessarily what we had hoped for going into the game, the expectation was certainly that it could have been much worse. Coming off what was the worst performance in club history, to challenge Forge in that way on their own pitch was exactly the type of response the players needed to deliver. To me, losing on penalties means little to nothing about the current state of affairs for Atlético Ottawa. It remains to be seen if this is something that can translate when they return to TD Place on May 27th against this very same Forge team. However, it seems that the doom and gloom that enveloped the fan base over the last few days have given way to some light, and expectations are back on the team to go out and perform against Vancouver on Saturday night. Onto the ratings:
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(6.5): Malcolm’s involvement in this game may not have resulted in a goal, but his presence was vital for how the team needed to play, particularly when it came to initial points of distribution. He may not have won every duel that he needed to, particularly aerially. Still, he was confident and able to beat the centre-back pairing of Achinoiti-Jonsson and James at times to create fluid momentum off of goal kicks. This particular point has been a sore spot for Atlético this season, and any success off these breakouts is a step in the right direction. A marvelous save from Triston Henry in the first half denied Malcolm what looked to be a sure goal off a lovely cross from Jean-Aniel Assi. The only true negative to the performance was his penalty. Given he was the first taker, it was clear that his spot kick would set the tone, and unfortunately for Atlético, it kinda did.
#18 Samuel Salter
(NR): Oh, how close we were. Salter’s chip on Henry in the 88th minute looked destined to clinch a semi-final appearance as he caught the keeper too far up the pitch. It took a wonderful save from the Forge backstop to stretch the game to penalties, where one would think that Salter would thrive given his previous record from the spot. Unfortunately, Salter’s pen was easily saved by Henry, and we’re once again left wondering what exactly we have in this player. At least this time, he looked more lively out on the pitch, contributing more to the attack than he had previously.
#7 Gianni Dos Santos
(6.7): Coming in for Abou Sacko after the Frenchman came off due to injury, Gianni dos Santos was his usual self posing a threat to Rezart Rama down the left wing. Winning a couple of fouls in dangerous areas as well as winning ground duels when necessary, it was good to see Gianni be effective in limited minutes. Further, having had the previous three players miss their penalties in the shootout, Gianni took to the spot with confidence and drilled his home, giving Atlético a puncher’s chance in the match. While I do like to see that Gianni got some rest after playing most of the rest of the season, I do think the team is at its most dynamic when he’s on the pitch. The problem is I’m not sure what role he should fit in to, or if he should float along the front to coincide with others’ performances.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(NR): It’s probably fortunate that Zach came on too late in the game to earn a rating, given that his only major contribution to the game was, well, that penalty. His brief stint on the field had him moving well going inside out and continues to reinforce that he’s at his best when he can take on tired-legged defenders late in games.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(6.6): After a couple of poor performances, Jean-Aniel Assi stepped back up massively down the right wing against Forge. There still remains an issue with Assi as a ball-stopper down the wing. There were times in the second half after he had successfully gotten around Ashtone Morgan in the first half on multiple occasions, where he had that same opportunity and didn’t take it. Rather, he decided to stand on the ball and take his time on his decision allowing Forge to recover in transitionary moments where they otherwise would have been caught out. That said, he was effective in crossing in the first half and getting in behind, nearly assisting on Malcolm Shaw’s header that was pawed off the line by Triston Henry. Slightly more decisive going forward will make Assi turn into the star we believe he can be, and it’s there. He just needs to do it more often.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
(6.5): Bahous’ game going forward was very effective, serving as a capable outlet for Ollie Bassett in transition and distributing to the left equally as such. However, he was ineffective in the defensive areas of the game and oftentimes was getting caught out and losing vital second balls in the middle of the park. Regardless, Bahous remains a capable rotation piece in midfield. If he can start to find more decisive opportunities or retain, some greater stability in defence would see him possibly gain a bigger role. However, with the way the roster is built, it feels like his role is very much to be a rotation player. It’s up to him to prove that he can provide more.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(7.5): Ollie Bassett has returned. The stand-out moment was clearly his penalty to equalize in the 87th minute, but from the off, Bassett was the conductor in the Atlético Ottawa midfield. Most impressively was his ability to win important second balls and transition to attack quickly. By nature of the defensive setup, the runs forward from the wing were not often available to him immediately, but he did still find the correct pass at almost every turn. Incredibly effective in his ground duels and continuing to find incisive passes into the final third will be the key to Ottawa’s continued success in attack. His pressing as well looked above its normal standard, putting the onus on the Forge defenders to distribute. His miss in the shootout notwithstanding, it’s good to see the CPL MVP back as he should be.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.3): Coming in just under the wire to get a rating, Noah’s 15+ on the pitch was marked only by the yellow card he picked up to stop a counterattack from Forge briefly after his introduction. Not given much time to work himself into the game, he functioned effectively as a pivot (as he usually does) but almost less so than the man he replaced, Miguel Acosta. Only being able to make 8 passes and take 10 touches limits his ability specifically for distribution, but again, the limited time he spent on the pitch puts that further into context. That said, going winless on ground duels is hopefully something that won’t be replicated if he’s put into the role again, as I’m sure he will be.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7): If you had asked me after the Pacific match if returning Miguel to defensive midfield was the solution to the team’s issues, I’d have been quite skeptical. It turns out that I was wrong, as Miguel turned in a very capable performance in defensive midfield against very difficult opposition. He distributed the ball very well as a single pivot and filled space capably when his partners in the midfield pushed forward or pushed out wide, which is probably the one element of his game that I criticized the most in his time in the position this season. What probably helped the team the most, however, was his ability to recover defensively and fill in the gaps the defense had left due to their challenges on the wing. On a number of occasions, Miguel made clear, clean, defensive plays to thwart dangerous positions from the Forge attack. If this is the Miguel, we can get week in and week out, and hopefully, the knock he picked up is just that. We may have a solution to our midfield problem after all.
#91 Aboubakary Sacko
(6.8): Trusted with a more advanced role than he has been this season, Abou Sacko continued to show his most adept skills, crossing, and pace down the left wing. His ability to get behind defenders into dangerous positions has yet to result in a goal contribution for the young Frenchman. Still, continued efforts in that area will bring something to fruition. He also had a much better game defending than his previous effort against Pacific; naturally, being higher up the pitch may be a better fit for him after all. Here’s hoping we can take advantage of his skills in a system that allows them to flourish. If we don’t, I’m afraid of what the future might hold down our left-hand side.
#4 Diego Espejo
(7.3): Given his stable performance against Forge, it’s clear that the Pacific performance was an aberration, and given the short turnaround between matches, it’s also clear that Diego wasn’t nursing any significant injury. Diego’s command in the 4 defender setup returned, and he was able to limit the talented Woobens Pacius from grabbing many opportunities. He remained a key element in set piece defense, as he made a number of headed clearances, and he looked back to his old self when it came to distribution. Perhaps the rating is a tad generous, but I didn’t really see any faults from the young man. He’s back to himself, and long may it continue.
#3 Macdonald Niba
(8.1): In his first start in forever, Niba MacDonald provided the single best individual performance of the young season. As much credit as I gave Luke Singh for supporting him, Niba’s play was the catalyst in shutting down the Forge right wing. Winning tackle after tackle, making intelligent fouls when needed, and providing a valuable asset in the air to aid in distribution from goal kicks, he was every bit the defender that everyone anticipated we had signed at the beginning of last season. Hell, he looked just as comfortable marauding forward as he did, remaining at the back. This new role may suit him better than as a part of a back 3, and if he can stay healthy, there’s no reason he can’t lay claim to the week-in, week-out place in a new back 4.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.8): Tasked with protecting the right flank, Karl Ouimette’s outing was very capable. As usual, he displayed his dominance in the air and relative light-footedness in breaking forward at appropriate times, even ending up in a one-two with Zach Verhoven down the left wing late in the game. The unfortunate thing is that even in his best games, there always seems to be one moment that lets him down. This time it was getting beat by Kyle Bekker down the wing for the Forge goal. The one issue with playing Ouimette in this position going forward seems to be if he can recover against pacier wingers. It seemed like he’d done it enough, but sometimes the opponents only need one opportunity, and they were ready and eager to collapse.
#5 Luke Singh
(7): Every member of the Atlético Ottawa defense that started against Pacific had a hard run of it, and every single one of them recovered to play to the standard that they had set beforehand. Luke Singh is no different. His work with Niba down the left side of defense limited the ability of Forge to attack down a wing that they had exploited many times last season in both the final and the 4-0 defeat ATO suffered at home. There remains the question of the space he gives attackers in the final third along the edge of the 18. Whether or not he is being forced to commit to those spaces, what he allows will result in more cutback goals like the ones Pacific were able to score (I am aware those weren’t down his side of the defence, but it feels like something that teams will notice on tape eventually.) Still, back to the form we have come to expect from the young man, and that’s really all we can ask for. Well, that and continuing to hit perfect penalties when called upon.
#1 Sean Melvin
(6.9): After what could be lightly described as a calamity against Pacific, Sean Melvin recovered well to provide solace to Atlético Ottawa fans in their goalkeeper once more. He was able to make a couple of key saves in the first half to prevent Forge from taking an early lead and forcing Atlético Ottawa onto the back foot early for the sixth consecutive game this season. While I initially thought he may have been able to do more against Kyle Bekker’s goal, upon further reflection, his defense let him down, and the strike was an absolute thunderbolt from an impossible angle. Melvin’s save on the 5th Forge taker to keep the shootout alive for ATO would’ve been an iconic moment if not for what happened afterward. There are still some questions to be asked about the command he holds over his area, but if Nathan Ingham isn’t available in the near future, it’s not quite as scary as we may have feared.
It’s not the result we wanted, but it is certainly the performance they needed. I 100% empathize with any ATO fan that is disappointed in the penalty shootout performance, it was dreadful, and anyone with eyes can see that. However, the odds of us getting into another shootout scenario this season are incredibly slim, and there are plenty of positives to take from the game of football that was played on Tuesday. We looked far more confident in the midfield, actually winning plenty of second balls to try and generate counterattacks, and our defensive effort looked nothing like what we gave against Pacific. The extent of the injuries that forced Miguel Acosta and Abou Sacko off the pitch remains to be seen, and hopefully, given their level in this game are nothing serious. We’re starting to get very thin with injuries piling up, and it’ll be on young players to step up if the absences grow. All told, about as good an away performance as you can deliver without winning. We still need to see that at home, though, and we still need to pick up our first regular season win. These two seemingly contradictory attitudes can still exist together, and boy, I hope the latter disappears.
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.