By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Cavalry FC
It appears that the result from Matchday 5 was more due to the opposition than anything having to do with Atlético Ottawa. That would be the case for any team against an opponent with a 19-year-old striker at centre-back. The performance against Cavalry was absolutely toothless. There were only isolated moments of passion from individuals at the best of times in this match, and the rest just felt like a Sunday stroll in the absolute worst ways possible. There won’t be a clinical dissection of the situation at hand like there was after the Pacific game, mainly because the emotion that this game engendered from me was apathy more than anything. Unfortunately, as this mood permeates throughout the fanbase, this causes clubs to stay locked in the doldrums. Onto the ratings:
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(5.9): Forced to play out of position in this match, Malcolm’s opportunities to shine were limited from the start. Particularly as back-to-goal wingers really aren’t a thing at a professional level. His motor being on makes him have the perfect mentality for a winger, being willing to track back and provide help to his partner at full-back, but the skill set just isn’t quite there. Unfortunately, our all-time appearance leader has shifted around in this way, and it’s clearly because he’s willing to make sacrifices for the team. However, there comes a time when the individual needs to be allowed to play the role that suits him best. He’s been afforded that chance this season and has been the best option up top, and I can’t help but wonder why he’s not there week in, week out.
#18 Samuel Salter
(4.8): Everyone thought the Sam Salter we had seen last week was a rebirth of sorts, not just for the player but for the Atlético Ottawa attack as a whole. Unfortunately, the previous matches were much more indicative than we had hoped. There are times when a striker’s invisibility doesn’t have as negative an impact on a team as you might think, Sunday was not one of those nights. The positioning against Vancouver, held with lofty praise, was not present against Cavalry. He was unable to make up for it in the air, winning 40% of his aerial duels, nor on the ground, as he did not register a single shot. One of the two lasting images for me from this game also involved him, and we’ll get to it later, but given the overall tenor of these rankings, it’s certainly not for a good reason.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(5.7): Gianni dos Santos really should’ve started this game. I’m not sure if it would’ve helped that much, but it at least would’ve provided us with a lineup of players mostly in their proper position. Even if he wasn’t starting, he probably should’ve come on at halftime to provide a jolt to an Atlético side that was clearly down in both spirit and level of play. Instead, he came on 1 minute before Cavalry would score their second goal and was summarily controlled by Kamdem down the Ottawa right wing. The image of dos Santos falling over the WestJet ad board in injury time rightly summarised the collective atmosphere of the Glebe Central Pub and the CCSG faithful. Out of sight and wanting to fly home as quickly as possible.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(NR): Only seeing the pitch for the final 10 minutes of play, Zach provided some decent enough punch in a team that seemed desperate for anyone to take initiative. His pace did allow him to get down the left wing on a couple of occasions late and even managed to fire off a somewhat dangerous effort from outside the 18 that did whisk wide of the near post. Even in a dreary, uninspired team performance, Zach’s ability to provide a spark in late-game situations did dredge something up, even if it was paltry compared to previous attempts.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(5): The frustrating roller coaster ride that is Jean-Aniel Assi continues. One week after turning in performances that provided hope and optimism, similar to Sam Salter, it all came crashing back down to earth. Kamdem had little trouble dealing with what Assi was looking to do down the right side of the pitch at every turn. This manifested in the ground duels stat, in which Assi won 3 of 11 in only sixty-something minutes on the pitch. Further, he only attempted 4 dribbles, was successful with 1 of them, and only attempted 7 passes. And that’s not to mention his poor performance in defence as well. The foul he made on Sergio Camargo, which netted Assi a yellow card, was a product of poor positioning as the Cavalry attacker blew right by him as if he were a turnstile. It’s an unfortunate position to be in, as the lad is still only 18 years old and is growing into the game, but he’s still a professional and needs to be treated as such. Carl Haworth can’t get back soon enough.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
(6): Coming in with dos Santos in the 65th minute, Bahous’ contributions felt secondary to the overall narrative that this game provided. As Cavalry scored less than 2 minutes after he entered the game, the overall mood of the team was defeated, and anything Bahous contributed felt secondary to the match that had occurred up to that point. There was minimal action in his game, as it was for the rest of the ATO midfield in a match where they held only 36% possession, but there are still positives to take from his play. He provides good rotation minutes to ensure the rest of our lineup doesn’t wear out, but the next level doesn’t seem to be coming anytime soon. Hopefully, that changes.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(6.6): I mentioned earlier that there were two lasting images from this game, one relating to Sam Salter. That image was of Ollie Bassett running from midfield to attempt some form of press in the 70-something-th minute while Salter stood around wistfully. Ollie was the only player on the pitch for 90 minutes that provided any sort of urgency in play. This shows in the stats as well, as he was clearly the most active attacking player passing the ball, with 29 attempted passes and, in control, 40 touches. While we can look to him to be the star, the rest of the team needs to be on his level of energy at the very least. Without it, he’s a man boiling over with frustration out on the pitch. In the past, I feared that he’d get an offer that the club couldn’t say no to mid-season. Now it’s shifting to the idea that Ollie can’t be passing up offers that will allow him to play with a team at his level. Performances like these can’t continue if we want to hold on to the MVP in the summer.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.2): This was an uneventful game for Noah in the figurative and literal sense. Aside from one foul early on, there wasn’t much I could pick out from this game that had his footprint on it. While I could say the same for many other players in the team, most of them would have negative connotations attached to it. Perhaps I’m being a tad lenient on the player I’ve enjoyed watching the most this season, but this felt like one of the better types of “invisible” performances that a player can have. That said, I’m still not sure what on earth they thought the corner routine they attempted was going to achieve, but that fits into a bigger issue of set pieces as a whole that this team faces on a regular basis.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(5.6): In the previous two games, I focused heavily on the upside Miguel Acosta brought defensively in his role in the midfield. This game against Cavalry exposed the biggest flaw in continuing to put Miguel Acosta in this position. The Cavalry press was not intense in the slightest, and to a team with an organised midfield, could have been dealt with fairly easily to allow the team to retain possession. He never looked comfortable in distribution when Cavalry looked to put pressure on anyone in Atlético’s defensive third and wasn’t in the positions he needed to be, at times, to provide the outlet that the single pivot is supposed to be in this system. Add to that a 40% win rate in ground duels and being dribbled past 4 times, and the performance was lacklustre from a player, once again, out of position. The apparent shoulder injury was the final bit of salt in the wound. Here’s hoping that our christened Saint won’t be out for a long period of time.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(NR): Not much to say about the performance from Antinoro. The foul he gave away was soft but borne likely out of frustration and in a fairly unimportant area of the pitch. I think we do need to see more of him, but with the way our midfield is structured, I’m not sure if he’s anywhere close to seeing regular minutes at this point. He’s 5th in the pecking order, and I’m not sure he should be.
#15 Maxim Tissot
(5.5): Maxim Tissot’s return from injury was not the triumphant announcement for which we had all wished. Instead, it felt like more of the same. The other lasting image I’ll have of this game is Tissot being called offside, as a left back, while being ahead of every single other player on the pitch, bar Mario Carducci. His presence does lend to a more attacking style down the left wing, but given the success of the two previous games with Niba at Left Back in a flat back four, the wingback role is starting to feel obsolete on this side. Maybe he would have success as a left winger ahead of a more solid defensive full-back, but that likely won’t be a luxury we can afford to have now. All told, he did provide energy going forward, which can’t be said for many people on this team tonight, and that much should be commended. Otherwise, it was a mediocre return, at best.
#4 Diego Espejo
(6.3): The most praise you can give a centre-back in a game like this one is that at least he wasn’t at fault for the goals that were scored. To start with the negative, Diego’s distribution in this game was severely lacking. Not only did he only manage 64% pass accuracy, but his usually reliable long balls were not at all that, as he completed 2 of 8 for a paltry 25%. Still, 80% on aerial duels, 67% on ground duels, and winning 3 free kicks shows that he continued to fulfil his defensive duties. Throw in 5 clearances and the 3 recoveries on top of only conceding one foul, and you have a regularly efficient Diego Espejo performance. Hopefully, the attacking options he provides can be found again because the play in defensive situations is there, as it is most of the time.
#3 Macdonald Niba
(6.5): After just shy of 200 minutes on the season, after returning from unfortunate injuries, Niba went down once again with what looked to be a calf injury. Given how long it took for him to return from similar issues last season, the odds are we won’t be seeing him any time soon. It’s especially unfortunate, as it seemed he was one of the catalysts for a new approach that ATO was taking tactically that worked for at least two games. The defensive group will surely miss his physicality and talent in the air. Get well soon Niba, I have a feeling we’ll miss you more than we thought we ever could.
#5 Luke Singh
(5.7): From a distribution standpoint, Luke Singh’s performance was lacking. A couple of very poor attempts at switches to try and break the Cavalry press were the two leading examples of this very fact. That said, Luke managed to have flashes of brilliance, which frankly bookended the night for Atlético Ottawa. In the first few minutes of the game, he went on a brilliant run and managed to win a free kick in a dangerous area. Towards the end of the game, he won a crunching tackle on Roberto Alarcon. This tackle was followed by a display of what was mostly frustration but with a bit of passion mixed in from a defender that had become fed up with Cavalry players milking time following tackles. Despite these moments, Luke still lost Ali Musse on the second Cavalry goal, which allowed a free header that set Daan Klomp up perfectly at the back post. Make no qualms about it, this was not Luke’s best game, but he still managed to show why the team brought him in and why he’ll continue to be starting.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(5.8): Continuing a trend in this game, the long distribution that has been key to Atlético Ottawa this season was poor from Karl Ouimette as well on Sunday. 1 of 9 accurate long balls is not good enough in the slightest. Though, this wasn’t the most concerning part of Karl’s on-the-ball performance in this game. Most of the time, he took the ball; he never seemed in control. It felt far too easy for Cavalry players to come to take the ball if they wanted to. While he was never dispossessed, this unease was a contributing factor to his poor long ball numbers and overall poor passing of only 57% completion rate. His duel wins and tackles notwithstanding, it was not an excellent performance in the least, and if he’s to play right back, the facilitation going forward needs to be present if Karl isn’t providing an attacking threat.
#1 Sean Melvin
(5): I know I’m a broken record in discussing the distribution issues that exist from our goalkeepers, but it will be reiterated as long as this problem continues. It only worsens the issues we have in breaking presses because there is no real reliable way for us to retreat into possession consistently. This was exemplified in the second half when rather than passing it back to Melvin with a Cavalry attacker pressuring him on the counter, Max Tissot simply booted the ball onto the roof of Spruce Meadows’ touchline stand. Neither of the goals would ever be considered Melvin’s fault, but it’s not as if he was tasked with making saves throughout the match. In fact, he didn’t make any. While it may seem harsh then to score him this low, and there are games where you can say the keeper did his job despite conceding twice, this isn’t one of them.
To wrap this all up, it’s clear to me now that there isn’t a plan B for this team. Others I’ve talked with baulk at the idea of even having a plan A, but I think that may be a step too far. Regardless, Carlos Gonzalez’s tactical approach has shown two very negative aspects through this early season. Number 1: poor play from set pieces. Offensively, we never look threatening from corners, and the free kicks we do score feel like they’re out of nowhere. Defensively, I’m terrified about the second ball that we, more often than not, manage to find a way to lose. Both of these are trends that cannot be sustainable for a team that relies on so few offensive opportunities to score.
But likely more importantly, number 2: an inability to adapt. In and out of possession, in the lead or trailing, I rarely see attempts to change what the end goal of the team is supposed to be. This reared its ugly head against Cavalry, as the team only managed 34% possession. While we may have praised this last season, the 34% we managed to hold on to had none of the venom our counterattack did last season. Carlos’ mission to play a slightly more attacking brand of football showed up against Vancouver but hasn’t done so since the start of the season otherwise. Is it a fault of personnel or coaching at this point? I think it’s probably both, but great managers are able to find ways to win within the resources they are given. We’re nowhere near the point, yet, of wanting to call for anyone’s head, but we’re far past the honeymoon phase, and criticism should be levied when necessary. After Sunday, it’s quite necessary.
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.