By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Freestyle Photography / Tim Austen
It only took 290 days, but we finally, finally got the win we had been searching for at TD Place. I’m not sure what would’ve happened if the team hadn’t picked up the three points, but that’s a different universe to the one we live in. What’s vital now is to use this performance as a building block. We can’t go backward like we did after the Vancouver win. Thankfully, this performance feels less like an aberration than our previous league win, it was against a full-strength Halifax side, and the result felt more about us taking the game into our own hands than the opponents handing it to us. There are still lessons to be taken from the game, but at least for now, we can revel in a win. It feels more cathartic than joyful, but that catharsis often leads to more honest joy further down the line. Now, for the ratings:
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(7.2): In the wake of his first international call-up for Trinidad and Tobago, Malcolm upped his level to match the expectation that should be leveled upon an international player in the CPL. Against Nimmick and Loughrey, he was able to hold the ball up well and generate a couple of free kicks. Arguably, there should have been more, as he forced the defenders to hold him to prevent further damage. His effective play up top was rewarded in the 76th minute as his positioning found him in the perfect spot for Noah Verhoeven to provide the opportunity to put home his 2nd goal of the season and 19th in all competitions for the club. Add some effective defensive work on set pieces, and the Malcolm we’ve all loved seems to be back. Unfortunately, that comes just before he’s set to leave us for a few weeks. Best of luck with T&T Malcolm; show them what you can do.
#18 Samuel Salter
(NR): A brief appearance from Salter was interesting to see, as he was focused on playing as deep as possible to help protect our two-goal lead. It was nice to see him be able to win an aerial duel, as that has been a part of his game that’s been lacking this season. It’s interesting because his skillset doesn’t necessarily match his body type in that regard. I’m not sure we’ve been putting him in the absolute best places to succeed, but he also has to learn to fit into a system just as much. It’ll be an interesting balancing act as he will likely take the helm at the top of the formation in Malcolm’s absence. Hopefully, that comes with a mounting goal tally as well.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(6.7): At some point, Gianni has to finish his chances. We can talk all we want about the bounce the ball took just before it came to him late in the first half, but at some point, you just have to put the ball in the net. That’s now three big chances missed in the last two games. While it didn’t have an impact on the overall result this weekend, it certainly did against Forge, and having it continue is not a trend anyone wants to see. He certainly put forward his best effort down our left wing on Saturday, including defensively, where he recovered well against a HFX right side that caused problems in the first league match of the season. Still, ultimately the execution wasn’t at the level it needed to be. I still prefer him to start matches, but maybe a different look is required to unlock the final product he’s been so close to completing.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(7.4): The notorious super sub strikes again. While he won’t get any official goal contributions for either of the balls that found the Halifax net, Zach Verhoven was the key piece in them coming close in the first place. I’m still perplexed as to how he managed to win the ball against Nimick for the first goal, but to be able to do so at his size was astonishing. The second was a perfectly weighted dink over top of the defence to Noah Verhoeven. It’s this type of play that has become essential to the winning game plan for Carlos Gonzalez. It’s difficult to find someone that can consistently provide a game-changing impact in the final minutes when substituted in. Finding 5 ground duel wins and providing a well-rounded defensive performance in the final minutes to protect the 2-0 only helps to round out another stellar 25 minutes.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(6.5): It really does seem that for every good thing Jean-Aniel Assi manages to do, he manages to find a way to offset it with something negative. He dribbles through 3 Halifax defenders only to try and dribble past another 2 rather than lay the ball off to a teammate. He gets by Jake Ruby on a couple of occasions, only to never manage to find a teammate with one of his crosses. He was incredibly active against Halifax, with 63 touches, but only managed to complete 5 of 13 dribbles. He made 6 recoveries but only won 7 of 17 ground duels. It’s always important to bring the caveat that he is an 18-year-old in his second professional season. There are bound to be growing pains, and it’s something we’ll have to live with. However, not pointing out these issues is equally negative. He’s certainly showing something (or else I don’t think he’d be starting week-in, week-out). Let's hope he can develop the parts he’s missing to that same level.
#22 Zakaria Bahous
(7): Bahous has cemented himself in the starting XI with another extremely effective performance in the middle of the park. While the passing doesn’t quite flow through him as it might in other teams that focus their attack through the centre, he made the most of his opportunities as he provided a pass accuracy above 80% and a long ball accuracy of 75%. He won a majority of his ground duels, provided a couple of key tackles, and avoided any real negative plays on either side of the ball other than being caught offside early in the first half. His chemistry is building with dos Santos down the left, something that may not have been fully present earlier in the season, which will only help to further anchor him in the starting lineup. Being able to stay solid despite limited action in his 67 minutes is an impressive quality for a 22-year-old.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(7.9): When you look at the raw numbers, maybe you’d take away that this was a lower-end game for Ollie Bassett. He didn’t win many ground duels, gave away two free kicks without winning one himself, and only had 71% pass accuracy. These are all things in a vacuum that you would look to criticize a player for, but in reality, the elements that Ollie brings to Atletico Ottawa are so much more than that. You’d probably like him to have the ball in the centre of the park a little bit more than he does, as he drifted wide to support Assi many times on Saturday, but he still functions as the catalyst from the get-go. I sound like a broken record talking about how Ollie drives play, but to me, that’s the most important thing he’s produced on the pitch. Yes, him still being equal in the golden boot race is impressive, but it’s not the goals I’m most concerned about from a player in his position. That he can do what he’s supposed to do and score as he does is the cherry on top of a very polished cake.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.8): Through no fault of his own, Noah seems to have been made the odd man out in the Atletico Ottawa midfield. His sublime play at the start of the season has faded due to comparatively limited opportunities, but he’s still found his way to shine through. As the only one of our central midfielders that is left-footed, he adds a different dimension in transitionary moments. He can make certain passes that are not as available to our primarily right-footed players in the same position. This wasn’t necessarily the case for his assist on ATO’s second goal of the evening, but more so for an earlier outlet pass to Carl Haworth that didn’t quite amount to the same level of success. That said, he does need to work a bit better defensively, as he lost out on all four duels he contested in his limited appearances.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7.3): It’s still patchwork, there are still clear gaps in the overall shape of the midfield, but there’s no denying that Miguel Acosta’s level in his new role has been elevated from his first forays into the centre of the park this season. He isn’t taking an active role in the short distribution in the midfield, and it’s forced our central players slightly wider to facilitate ball movement offensively. That said, he did manage to complete 5 long balls in this game and 5 passes into the final third. The game plan right now is to have the central defenders have the short passes to start the build-up play and not involve the defensive midfielder as much. Combining all of these together means that Miguel has plenty of defensive responsibility in terms of space and players to keep track of when we lose the ball. Still, he seems to be handling much better and providing the stability that is necessary from the holding midfielder.
#9 Carl Haworth
(6.5): I feel like I can take the recap from last week and place it here for Carl just the same. He still looks like he’s working himself back into the team when he’s on the pitch, and it seems the team is trying to work him back into the system just as much. When he came onto the pitch, the focus of the attack shifted away from the right wing that had been challenged so heavily while Jean-Aniel Assi was present. It’s also taking some adjustment from last season, as he featured more as a wingback than he did as an out-and-out winger as he has this season. The intangibles, as it relates to leadership, experience, etc., are vital to a team but difficult to measure empirically. We’ll see where Carl’s qualities take him this season, but he can’t be “working his way into the team” for much longer.
#15 Maxim Tissot
(6.5): Max Tissot’s offensive game against Halifax was very forceful. 7 of his 32 passes were made into the final third, which is certainly very incisive from a left back, though it shouldn’t be a surprise as his role with the team is to provide an additional offensive option down the left wing. The unfortunate element of this was the rest of his offensive play. No accurate crosses, only one accurate long ball, and below 80% pass accuracy aren’t the thing to be looking to carry forward. That said, his defensive ability shone through on the stat-sheet. Over 50% of duels won, 75% of tackles successful, and a number of other defensive accolades. As Sacko and Niba continue to find themselves on the injury list, Tissot remains our only option as a natural left-back. Being able to provide defensively is a must for him as we move on in the season, hopefully, that remains a priority for Tissot as our attack solidifies itself.
#4 Diego Espejo
(7.7): I don’t know if there’s a more identifying image of a player than the wildly acrobatic clearance attempt Diego Espejo made in injury time against HFX. The ball careened straight up into the air and ended up being corralled by Sean Melvin fairly comfortably, but the dogged determination to get to every ball is the main message to take from that play. Diego was his usual self in the centre of our defensive shape, with 9 clearances and managing to win all of his aerial duels. His long balls were also very effective, the most notable of which was a peach to Zach Verhoven in the 70th minute that put him through on goal. Terry Dunfield mentioned this on broadcast, and it bears repeating the comfort he has engendered in his teammates has allowed Luke Singh and Karl Ouimette to be more forceful going forward from their defensive positions. Espejo is an absolute rock, and knowing that has made the team more dynamic, something that only confidence and experience bring. All this from someone who isn’t even 21 years old.
#5 Luke Singh
(6.9): The one area that I think it’s fair to harp on Luke Singh for is his set-piece defence. It’s the biggest collective weakness, and as a result, it seems that he is singled out within that collective for losing his man. While he was not at fault for losing Rampersad on Halifax’s best chance of the game, it still should be said that he was not alert to the movement of the other two Wanderers next to him on the free-kick routine. Perhaps it’s a tad nitpicky to do so in face of what was a good game for the young man. The yellow card he picked up was incredibly harsh upon closer inspection, and his now recurring shot from distance showed ambition alongside 10 passes made into the final third, an astounding number for a central defender. His not winning a single duel is concerning, but likely to be corrected going forward. He’s where we need him to be, Luke just needs a tad more polish.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.9): While Karl didn’t provide the same type of distribution that Luke did, he was certainly more active defensively and made key plays to stop Halifax in their tracks down their left wing. Functioning more as a right-sided centre back than as a right full-back this week, he was more involved in the short passing between the defenders than he had been in possession. He also seemed more reserved in his choices to move forward. There were no bombing runs down the right flank, as he’s been wont to do at least once a game this season. There’s not much more to say about him as an individual, but what did cross my mind when thinking about him is that we don’t have much depth to be able to switch from the defensive system we have at the moment. If Tyr Walker isn’t ready, our only option if Luke Singh is called to Trinidad and Tobago during the summer, or if someone picks up a knock/suspension, we’re going to need to move Miguel back in defence. Is it something we’re ready for?
#1 Sean Melvin
(7.4): The best game Sean Melvin’s had as an Atletico Ottawa goalkeeper, bar none. The save on Rampersad was elite-level stuff and prevented a potential spiral toward a 10th consecutive game without a win at home. He looked far more comfortable on set pieces than he has in any game previously, and his aggression to come claim balls during open-play situations was welcome. His long distribution still needs work, but he was able to place the ball in a spot for Zach Verhoven to win the header for the first goal. It’s been a rocky road to get here, but he kept a clean sheet with a number of key saves, and that’s the first time it’s happened this season. Here’s to many more high-level keeping performances, no matter who minds our goal.
The celebration with the team at pitchside following the win was more cathartic than anything. I’m just happy to be basking in the glow of a win in person alongside everyone standing in the Dub. This win feels like there’s more to it going forward as well. It was clear that Vancouver was an aberration, but there’s far more to build on from the performance. Next is York on Friday, a relatively short week for the CPL. Building results as we start to get the dog days of summer is essential to try and get back to a playoff position. This league is very close together, bar the top two teams; stringing results together is key to getting the separation needed to make playoffs a possibility and not an anxiety-filled affair.
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.