By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Beau Chevalier / Vancouver FC
What a relief. There are very few results that could truly be described as perfect in football. This was undoubtedly one of them. Every single member of the team was in lockstep with the game plan, and the issues that have plagued the side so far this season were completely absent. It’ll be difficult to ask any club to go out and repeat this performance, but for this week, we as fans deserve to revel in it a bit. The most goals scored in a single game for any ATO side, and for the first time this year, the lads were able to keep a clean sheet. We’ve never been known as a lethal attacking side, so the 5 goals were certainly a pleasant surprise, but for the continued success of this team, finally managing to keep a clean sheet after 7 matches is the truly important thing to take from this match. Onto the happiest power rankings we’ve seen this season, effusive praise for all:
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(NR): Malcolm’s brief cameo in this game was unfortunately limited to a yellow card that, from what I’ve seen, he really didn’t deserve. As a striker coming in to eat minutes at the end of a game that was so clearly decided, you won’t be asked to do much. That said, he still did look to try and push forward in injury time to push for even more. The hunger for effort and goals is the perfect attitude for any striker.
#18 Samuel Salter
(7.2): The man from Montreal has finally opened his account for Atletico Ottawa. I will be the first to admit that I was starting to write him off as the next in a line of infamy from ATO striker signings with Raul Uche and Vladimir Moragrega. His goal was a typical poacher’s goal and indicative of the Salter from Halifax, that was incredibly positionally aware and able to play effectively off of other attacking players. He was also robbed of a second, similar goal in the second half when Jean-Aniel Assi was incorrectly deemed offside in a play nearly identical to the one that got him his first. I still have a nitpick here or there with his game, namely how long he keeps his head down when receiving the ball, as there were multiple opportunities in the first half to play incisive balls forward from midfield runs that he missed completely. Regardless, I’m happy for Sam to get started this year, and a striker being able to get into those types of positions with the dynamism that is starting to show around him will certainly result in a bag full of goals.
#7 Gianni Dos Santos
(7): Another goal contribution for the left winger came very early in this game. The one-two with his former Pacific teammate, Ollie Bassett, was borderline psychic in its efficiency and artistry. Despite that, however, dos Santos took a backseat to other attacking players. The ball was moved more effectively and more often down the right wing, and his interplay with Niba still has to reach the same level as his chemistry with Ollie. Having to deal with Kadin Chung at Right Back for most of the game will have a negative effect on the best of players in this league, but being able to roam inside and provide a vital goal contribution shows the quality that dos Santos possesses and demonstrates on a weekly basis.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(7.5): To manage a goal and an assist within 5 minutes of coming into the game in front of a raucous away support composed significantly of your own family and friends may be the perfect substitute appearance. As usual, Zach Verhoven injected incomparable energy into a game that had already been decided at that point. His goal was picturesque, leaving Mohamadou Kane in the dust before going near post on Callum Irving. His assist was more of the same, muscling off the much bigger Kane before calmly laying the ball off to fellow substitute Zakaria Bahous. Not much else to say about his game after the 5th goal, but that can be said for basically everyone, as the team just looked to see the game out in the Langley heat.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(8): It’s amazing to see a light switch flip in a player’s eyes mid-game. Jean-Aniel Assi may have finally realized how impactful his pace can be down the right wing. Does that have to do something with Tyler Crawford being his opposing number? Possibly, but the 18-year-old was most effective in this game because he dropped his shoulder and took the space toward the byline. On a number of occasions this season, I’ve complained about Assi’s tendency to be a ball-stopper down the right wing, taking too much time to make a decision and thereby allowing the defense to reset in transition settings. Saturday night, he took on defenders with confidence and delivered one official assist with another incorrectly ruled from offside. A confident Assi is a dangerous one, and the confidence built from this game will surely carry forward, and that’s a scary thing for opposing CPL sides.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
(7.2): The valuable rotation piece in the midfield has managed to put in the second goal of his professional career. In limited minutes, Bahous played above his usual ability outside of the goal as well, winning 5 of 6 ground duels and only misplacing one pass in his limited minutes. His minutes being in what amounted to the soccer version of “garbage” time make it difficult to gauge the repeatability of these performances.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(8.5): In midweek, I announced that the MVP had returned back to his high level of form. In 4 days, he managed to surpass that and reach a level that may have surpassed any single game that he provided last season. We’ll call this the Taha buff after the video that was posted on social media of Ollie meeting the boy with whom he walked out as a mascot prior to the game against Pacific. 1 goal, the result of a pristine bit of play down the right wing between Assi, dos Santos, and himself. 1 assist, the result of great anticipation to win a second ball off a Vancouver free kick and an inch-perfect ball to Noah Verhoeven. Alongside these counting statistics, an energy and initiative that served as the engine to an Atletico Ottawa counterattack that just would not be stopped. A healthy Ollie is a dangerous Ollie, and the only thing that will stop him (as he’s as 1 goal contribution per full game played so far this season) is if another opportunity comes knocking.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(7.7): Scoring your first professional goal is always a special moment; doing it in front of your family is even better. However, Noah Verhoeven’s performance was far more than just the goal, as usual. Not tasked with the bulk of defensive duties, he was able to sit in a midfield pocket that he thrives in to switch play when needed and take earlier challenges to prevent the transition from Vancouver. Only 15 passes attempted in 69 minutes is a little strange for a player of his acumen in distribution, but the winning of an aerial duel and the other elements in his defensive duties made up for that. The partnership with him and Ollie ahead of the defensive pivot is going to be essential
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7.1): A second consecutive game with stability in the defensive midfield role from Miguel Acosta means a second consecutive game with an incredibly solid defensive team performance. Being asked to take this role has resulted in some consternation from the fanbase, as Miguel was a very effective defender down the right last season. Still, he seems to be finding his positional awareness in the middle of the park. It’d be preferable to find a player that plays as a natural DM, but the makeshift option in the middle of the park is starting to work. He’s not making many decisive plays going forward, but he’s recovered well into spaces where he’s needed defensively. It’ll be interesting to see how the position is dealt with going forward and if a game against a poor performance from a Vancouver side is actually a sign of things to come or, instead, an aberration.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(NR): Taking on tired and demoralized Vancouver FC legs, Antinoro’s brief stint on the pitch looked every bit as energetic as his full appearances this season. In what is turning out to be a surprisingly deep rotation in the two more advanced midfield positions, Antinoro’s status as an under-21 Canadian will keep him involved throughout the rest of the year, particularly as Jean-Aniel Assi reaches his limit of 1000 minutes for the season.
#23 Tyr Walker
(NR): The CCSG faithful at the Glebe Central Pub were begging for the debut of the home-grown defender once the score had truly cemented itself in ATO’s favour. Fortunately, we were rewarded. A couple of calm passes and one duel won in his 3 injury-time minutes won’t mean much in the overall scheme of things this season, but will manage to start to build confidence for the 19-year-old. Hopefully, the club will announce an official League1 affiliate to be able to take advantage of the CPL’s new rule allowing young players to get minutes playing semi-professionally, as with the depth in defence it may be difficult for Tyr to get sustained senior minutes this year.
#4 Diego Espejo
(7.6): Barring one slip in the first half, Diego Espejo continued his impressive run of performances (Pacific notwithstanding) through the start of this young CPL season. While usually impressive in the air, Saturday night was a different level of dominance from the Spaniard, managing to win all 6 of his aerial duels and claiming 6 headed clearances in his 90 minutes. Add to that another dominant showing on the ground, with 4 of 5 won ground duels, and influential distribution with 8 accurate long balls and 5 passes into the final third, made it a well-rounded game for the 20-year-old. While the defensive duties will not be the talking point from this match, Espejo’s continued supremacy in defence finally led to the club’s first clean sheet of the season. He should be celebrated, as he usually is, and a CPL TOTW appearance would be well deserved.
#3 Macdonald Niba
(7.5): The revelation of the season so far has been Niba at left-back. While perhaps not as dominant as Tuesday, the defender provided another wonderful shift defensively and even managed an assist on Zach Verhoeven’s goal, as he was the lucky player to take the throw-in. While Niba’s range going forward may be more limited than our other options at left back in Max Tissot and Abou Sacko, his defensive ability and overall athleticism allow Gianni dos Santos, or whomever else is playing on the left wing, to cheat further forward. While the interplay might not be as good as it is with the others, the ability of dos Santos to start that little bit further ahead in transition moments may end up being the difference between a counter resulting in a goal or not. It’s certainly something to keep an eye out for and how important Niba is to our distribution on goal kicks.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(7.4): Karl Ouimette’s continued appearance at right-back will have, in my mind, a similar effect on Jean-Aniel Assi as Niba might have on dos Santos. The dependability of the veteran defender will allow Assi to possibly cheat ahead of where he’s normally been asked to play this season, which will allow him to take advantage of his pace. This game seemed like a perfect storm for Ouimette to succeed, as Vancouver’s attack opted to focus more down the middle of the pitch and not concentrate through pace down the wings. This allowed Ouimette to exert his size far more frequently than he had in previous games, and the potential to get caught out was never really there. Continued dominance in his duels also helps to highlight a backline that did everything they were asked on Saturday. May it long continue through the rest of the season.
#5 Luke Singh
(6.9): Saying that Luke Singh was the least effective outfield player for Atletico Ottawa in this game would be like saying Chris Mullin was the least effective member of the Dream Team. The collective performance was so spectacular that someone who simply played well is going to look mediocre in comparison. His highlight of the match was certainly the one on one with Shaan Hundal, where he effectively pressured the Vancouver striker into skying one over the ATO net. Particularly impressive as his initial instinct seemed to be to go in for a hard challenge before changing his mind and sticking close to the opposing number 9. The foul for which he picked up his yellow card late in the first half is the only true sticking point against him, as it seemed unnecessary to challenge in the way he did, but the wall did its job from the spot kick, and all can be forgiven. It’s clear, through 7 games, that Luke is playing to his potential and that last year was more on the collective issues surrounding Edmonton than his ability.
#1 Sean Melvin
(6.9): Sean Melvin didn’t really have anything to do in this game. With such an effective backline ahead of him, none of Vancouver’s six shots managed to hit the target. Additionally, as a result of all of the aerial duels won by the back line, Melvin never needed to take complete charge of his area. When he was called upon, he did come and claim the ball on those infrequent occasions and never felt like he lost control of what was going on, including when Vancouver tried to chip him from the kickoff following ATO’s third goal. His distribution, while helped by the current setup, is still somewhat lacking, but with the new tactical changes, I do believe that it will get better. It remains to be seen for how much longer he’ll be the number 1, but my confidence in him after two good performances is mounting.
There’s not much else to say about such a glorious performance. Taking away the larger circumstances of the 2-2 draw against York last season and the draw to send us to the final, this was the best performance ATO has ever delivered and certainly the best I’ve felt after an ATO game. So instead of taking up more space gushing over each of the players that stepped onto the pitch on Saturday, I do want to mention ATO’s partnership with OSU in L1QC. Specifically, as it relates to Omar Darwish, who started for OSU Atletico on Saturday and looks firmly in the pipeline toward the senior club following his development contract last season and training stint in Madrid during the pre-season. While the side did lose their home opener, I was certainly taken with Darwish and now understand why the club is so keen on him. He still needs some polish, but at 18 years old, there is plenty of time for him to grow, and getting opportunities in League 1 Quebec will only help that development. I understand some in the Ottawa soccer community do not want to come out to Carleton to see these games, but there’s no better place to get an eye for what will likely be the future of this club. The one thing we can all agree on is that Atlético Ottawa is back to winning ways, and there’s no better feeling.
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.