As fans of Atlético Ottawa prepare for their first ever home game on August 14th, the players depart ‘The KickOff’ with a “bitter taste” in their mouth, but top 4 is still the goal according to Captain, Milovan Kapor.
Much was expected of Atlético Madrid’s counterparts in their first full season in the Canadian Premier League, but, despite a longer pre-season Ottawa struggled to impose themselves during their time in Winnipeg, coming home in last place.
“I think we lacked a bit of conviction,” said Head Coach Mista talking to CCSG. “We are getting used to each other, we have very good players but unfortunately we have not been able to play games as intensely as other teams in the league.”
Comments have been made about the lack of sharpness and apparent greater fitness levels of the other 7 teams during the first part of the 2021 season.
Club captain Milovan Kapor told us he doesn’t think they were fitter, but felt like Atléti “lacked concentration” in key moments with absentees and injuries also playing their part.
“Two months in Spain was a lot, but a lot of guys picked up some injuries and new players were being signed even in the last week,” said the 29-year-old Canadian center-back.
“We were missing players (Telfer, Soto, Webb), but even so, we expected to do much better.
“However, we can’t focus on the past now, we have to look towards the future and focus on winning our next game.”
Atlético Ottawa travel to the east coast, where they will face HFX Wanderers for the first time this season and Mista is hoping his side can “continue to add and grow as a team and as a club.”
“We must not forget that it is our first season,” - Altético Ottawa Head Coach, Mista.
Having started slowly, Atlético Ottawa grew into themselves as the bubble went on, with fans witnessing the “best 20 minutes of football” during the team’s final game against Pacific FC.
“The biggest low for the team and for me personally ,” Kapor said, “has to be the final game against Pacific.”
“Giving away a penalty, that I thought was a little soft, but he called it anyway, then not being able to get everybody on the same page. That’s unacceptable.
“I’ll put my hand up as the captain and take the blame for that because I should be setting the example and making sure everyone keeps a cool head.”
Consistently inconsistent, Atlético thriving for continuity
During Ottawa’s time in Winnipeg they didn’t start the same XI more than once, with their Spanish coach even changing formation for a couple of games.
This lack of consistency wasn’t ideal but as a “professional you have to do your best to adapt to it,” Serbian-Canadian Kapor said.
Kapor played alongside Drew Beckie, Keesean Ferdinand, Brandon John as well as Viti Martinez all in the space of 8 games.
“I am a coach who likes that all my players are given their opportunity,” said Mista, “because that increases the level of demand and performance within the side.”
However, some changes were forced upon the Spanish coach.
“We have made so many changes because we have suffered a lot by having so little rest and so many games.
“We suffered injuries and we had to adapt to it.”
The injuries picked up during this first part of the season were compounded by the knocks picked up during the pre-season - exemplified by the season ending injury picked up by defender Brandon John.
“Losing Brandon was a big blow, not just defensively but as a voice in the dressing room,” Kapor said reflecting on his defensive partner from the 2020 CPL season.
“He was pivotal in PEI (Prince Edward Island) and the staff did well bringing him back into the team gradually.
“But I know right away it was something serious when he looked at me and just shook his head.”
The packed schedule, with games being moved to adjust to the heat wave that hit Manitoba was a cause for concern for all sides, with injuries being picked up by all sides.
Captain Kapor’s Key Points:
Work on the little details
Staying focused and concentrated for 90+ minutes
Set pieces, both offensively and defensively
Closing down spaces between the lines
& keeping the defensive line higher up
Unison amongst rivals
If it wasn’t clear what was being thought when another packed schedule was announced, the sight of all players standing in unison wearing t-shirts asking for the Canadian PFA (Professional Footballers Association) to be officially recognized by the league left little room for misunderstanding.
“I just want to make it clear that all we want through the union at this point is greater communication between us and the league,” said the Atlético captain.
“Maybe the higher ups are worried it’s more for salaries but that's not the case.
“It’s a young league and due to COVID there is less revenue coming in and we understand that.
“We had a few conversations with the league before Winnipeg and told them that PEI was too much, with too many games in the heat.
“Then we got the news about the schedule, at the same time as you, and thought ‘they weren’t listening now were they.”
Although Milovan Kapor stayed calm when making his point, other players across the league have been less 'politically correct’ when expressing their discontent on social media.
“All we want is to be heard a little bit more, to be on the same page and to help grow the league.
“We’re all part of this project and we want to help grow the game in Canada for the next generations.”
There has been talk online that the league is preparing to fine all the players involved for their decision but Ottawa’s 29-year-old captain “got goosebumps” when we told him of the dedicated fans expressing their will to help pay.
“Honestly I can’t thank them enough. From all of you in Ottawa to those across the country.
“It just goes to show how passionate the fans are, the support we have from them, from you, is incredible.”
A long awaited homecoming with a big job left to do
Atlético Ottawa’s first game as TD Place is fast approaching and, despite the lows of Winnipeg, there is cause for optimism.
Experienced CPL forward Ryan Telfer is set to return to the fold, much anticipated creative midfielder Alberto Soto (on loan from Atlético Madrid) is now available for selection and, following the release of Jordan Webb, a new young Spaniard has been added to the forwardline.
Raul Uche, formerly of Real Valladolid and Leicester City’s academy will add another dimension to Ottawa’s front line, and some much needed depth to a tired attack.
“I think this will play into our hands,” said Kapor.
“Having a little more time and getting guys prepared, solving solutions and some injury issues as well.”
Amongst the players who have stood out so far for the team’s captain were Drew Beckie, Rafa Nunez, Keesean Ferdinand and Zach Verhoven.
“Zach has contributed some goals and assists, which has been a pleasant surprise.
“He didn’t play much in the CPL last season but he’s come in and played really well.”
As for Ferdinand, Kapor was impressed with his consistency, “being 17 and playing as much as he did” and Beckie’s maturity and presence both on and off the field have had a “big impact” especially on the “younger players”.
Ottawa’s “Triple M” midfield, as it became known, was full of good performers, with Tevin Shaw coming into the side and putting in courageous displays (especially against Pacific FC) too.
However the team did lack creativity.
“Many times we had to adapt players who are not specific to those positions,” said Mista.
“We know the difficulty and, above all, the most important thing is that we have learned to be more of a team and that will help us for the future.”
During their time in Winnipeg, Ottleti’s strikers were often isolated up front and Milovan Kapor doesn’t put that down to just the lack of a creative midfielder.
“When we are forward we have to be more confident and more importantly, more patient,” he said.
“We have to remember that we don’t have to get a shot off first time we go forward.
“The ball can be brought back, we can circulate, wait for that perfect moment to play a pass in behind and stretch their defence.
“It’s those little details that will make the difference for us.”
Atlético Ottawa have three games to work out those details before playing in front of their home fans for the first time ever on the 14th of august and Mista hopes this is the chance for the club to forge an unbreakable bond with the fans.
“Above all we want all of our fans to feel proud and to be part of our family and celebrate it with many triumphs.”
Tickets for the game between Atlético Ottawa and HFX Wanderers are available (for free or with a donation to charity of up to $50) here under the “Pay What You Can'' program announced by club President Jeff Hunt last week.
We hope to see as many of you as possible in Section W to cheer on the team! Vamos Atléti!
Follow Capital City Supporters Group on all social media platforms to keep up with the latest on the team and make sure you sign up to become a member of the Capital’s most active Supporters Group FOR FREE ahead of the new season.