by Eddie Benhin & Joey Huneault
*Whew* Ok, take a deep breath everyone; finally, we can take a short break from soccer.
With all the World Cup hype, it’s easy to forget that CCSG never put out an Atletico Ottawa Season Review, but don’t you worry because it is finally here.
Over the next two articles we will take you down memory lane as we recap this years historic season of our beloved Rojiblancos.
Without further ado Part 1 of the CCSG Season Review:
Season Preview Show
The hype for the 2022 season started bright and early. In January, ATO signed an influx of new players, including a historic day where six players were announced, including future MVP Ollie Bassett and *Unofficial* best goalkeeper of the year Nate Ingham (Still salty about that). In February, Atletico Ottawa hired Carlos Gonzalez… future Coach of the Year.
While CCSG created content for all the off-season news, general hype was missing for the 2022 season. Therefore, for the third year in a row, CCSG hosted a season preview show, and this one was the biggest and best one yet.
The show started with future Supporter of the Year Bryce Crossman introducing a handful of the players who were signed before handing the reigns to the familiar hosts Thomas Stockting and Eddie Benhin. From there, the show just took off! OneSoccer’s Adam Jenkins joined the show to give his prediction for the ATO season, where he declared that Atletico Ottawa would win the league. If one special guest weren’t enough, then two surely would, as right after Adam Jenkins, Carl Haworth, who ATO had just recently signed, joined the show to talk about his signing and the upcoming season.
The show ended with multiple people declaring that ATO would win the league… and well, it appears that we might have some fortune tellers in our midst ;) Let’s see why.
If you’d like to watch the Preview Show again, click here
Home Opener - Ukraine Match
Atletico Ottawa’s season kicked off on April 9th with a home-opener match against Cavalry FC. Like the previous year, this match was a Pay what you can event, with all proceeds going toward the “Humanitarian Assistance to Support Ukranians.” On top of this, ATO wore a special edition Tribute Kit - yellow and blue - to support Ukraine, with these match-worn kits being auctioned off following the match.
In typical Ottawa Supporters fashion, there was a march to the stadium. Fans marched from the Senate Tavern down Bank Street to the stadium, letting Ottawa know another fantastic season was upon us. This electric energy carried into the stadium, where over 5000 people cheered ATO onto a 1-0 win to start the season with a BANG.
For a team with a new staff, squad and identity, we showed we were here to play, even if it was going to be a bit slower than we thought it would. Straight from the gate, CarGo-ball staples were already evident; low block, frequent clearances, high aggression and taking maximum advantage of limited possession.
The Home Opener was the stage for the introduction (or, for some, reintroduction) to Ottawa football. Newcomers Niba and Nathan Ingham both impressed as centre-back and keeper, respectively, while returning striker Brian Wright scored the opening goal for Ottleti’s season.
Team Captain and Fury veteran Drew Beckie received a second yellow card for a highly contentious and controversial toe-tap. This, along with the other 4 yellow cards and 28 total fouls, set an unfortunate tone between the referees and Ottawa fans, one that’s lasted to this day.
Atletico Ottawa would go on to win their next home match a week later with a 1-0 win over Halifax, using more of the same style from the first match. Ingham cemented himself as the first-choice keeper while Malcolm Shaw delivered his signature touch as he scored a header from a cross delivered by a pre-saint era, Miguel Acosta.
6-1 Loss to Valour
After starting the season with two wins in a row and no goals conceded, fans were starting to feel excited. After a historically bad previous season, Ottawa now had the chance to start their season with three wins in a row. However, Valour had other plans. Valour walked into TD Place and proceeded to deliver Atletico Ottawa a 6-1 thrashing.
So what happened?
Well, it’s hard to say exactly. It wasn’t just one thing, but a myriad of small issues. The first and foremost issue was a lack of tactical familiarity. Valour had 5 Big Chances; we had 0. We were out of position and out of sorts. Even our consolation goal was a cross that was misread by everyone and knocked into the net by Valour’s own keeper.
At the end of the day, it was just a bad game. And from it, the team learned and recovered. While some early momentum was lost, the squad shook it off and hit the training pitch soon after, ready to face their next challenge.
However, some positives came out from this game. This game was a test to see if TD Place was home to some glory hunters or home to a real dedicated fanbase. The latter is the answer. Section Dub sang the entire 90 minutes, and despite some complaints about chanting for a horrid performance, it was agreed that, as fans, we would support the team through no matter what circumstances may happen. This was a clinical part of the season that happened early on, and it set the standard for what the Dub would do for the rest of the season. The players truly appreciated this from the Dub, and we only saw a performance like this one other time throughout the rest of the season.
Canadian Championship Game
The city of Ottawa has experienced some success in the Canadian Championship. However, Atletico Ottawa had never gotten past the first round in this tournament. This season provided another opportunity as ATO was set to face York at TD Place.
The build-up for this match was ‘Massive.’ Behind the scenes, on the online platforms of Discord and Twitter, a rivalry was brewing between the ATO and York fanbases.
This match was the second of 5 meetings between the two clubs, with the first meeting ending in a controversial 2-2 draw. Serious bragging rights were up for grabs as the winning team would eliminate the opponent from the competition, and there WOULD be a winning team no matter what.
On the eve of the Match, CCSG hosted the regularly occurring Hot-Stove live on Twitter, and the show was a perfect preview of the match. Currently clocking in at over 700 views, this show is the most listened-to episode of the Hot-Stove. ATO and York fans joined the show and previewed the match with emotions flaring at times with heated debates. By the end of the show, a bet was placed that the fans of the losing team would have to change their profile picture to the logo of the winning team.
Fast forward 24 hours, and fans witnessed the start of an authentic rivalry.
38 fouls were given, 9 yellow cards were shown, and a York United Assistant coach was shown a red card for putting his hands on an Atletico Ottawa player. It was a brutal, highly contested game where York struck first in the 31st minute when Diyaeddine Abzi scored the opener.
Ottawa would fight back and grab an equalizer in the 61st minute. Shaw, after being fed a cross from “Mr. Ottawa” Carl Haworth, landed yet another header while donning the Red and White.
After the equalizer, momentum was on Ottawa’s side, and they pushed for the winning goal but, unfortunately, weren't able to grab it. This meant that penalties were up next and, just like the 90 minutes, the ensuing penalty shootout was a nail-biting affair, complete with its own set of controversy.
Atletico Ottawa scored first in the shootout, and when York missed their first kick, Ottawa was quickly on the path to victory. However, much to the despair of ATO fans, none of the officials had noticed that Giantsopoulos was placed off his line before the shot was taken.
ATO and the Nine Stripes would continue to trade goals until 3-year Ottleti man Ben McKendry sent his attempt skyward. Toussaint would place his shot in the centre of the net for York, winning the game 6-7 on penalties.
However, thanks to this heated game and the missed call on Giantsopoulos, both sets of fans were not done with each other yet, and thus the rivalry was born.
Season Seat Member Jersey Event
13 games into the season, SSM were invited to an event at the stadium to pick up their jerseys and to celebrate the team’s early success. Ottawa’s record at this point was 7-3-3, and they were coming off a 2-game win streak with a 2-0 win over HFX and a 1-0 win over Forge, both on the road. The win against Forge was the first in Club History. It was safe to say that the atmosphere at this event was electric. CCSG sang chants way into the night, we heard CEO Fernando Lopez and Head Coach Carlos Gonzalez speak.
For the main event, fans were able to receive autographs from their favourite players while also receiving the chance to talk with them during an off-night. This was a night that cemented the relationship between the team and the fans and in our opinion, was the start of the club and the team moving forward as one.
Undefeated in Hamilton
Some clubs you have better luck against than others. For example, Ottawa seems to excel at tearing Cavalry apart, while Edmonton seemed to get the better of us.
For the longest time, we couldn't get a result against Forge. Whether it was a matter of them knowing us better than we knew them, or just the result of having extra time in the league, or just honest skill, they had our number.
Ollie Bassett proved himself to be the talisman that we needed. His beautiful right foot delivered us a goal in the 16' of our first visit to Tim Hortons Field this year, a lead we would maintain until the equalized late in the match. Thanks to the defensive efforts of Espejo and Niba, we picked up our first point in Hamilton against Forge.
Jump cut nearly 2 months into the future. Here we are again, 0-0 at Tim Hortons Field. Bassett lines up for a free kick more than 20 yards away from the net and the fires into the back of the net. 78' into our second of two visits to Hamilton, we're up 1-0 again.
But this time, things are different. The Golden Boys have lost some of their shine. The final whistle blows, and Atletico Ottawa have not only beaten Forge for the first time in club history, but they did it in Forge's backyard.
These matches, as well as their reverses at TD Place, hold an important place in the hearts and minds of Ottawa football fans, as well as those in Hamilton.
Our rivalry with York is one that flares more from supporters versus supporters and the hype before and after the games, as well as one built on a few specific players (coming for you, Niko). It's intense, but the game doesn't matter as much as the build-up or the tear-down.
Our rivalry with Forge is one built completely on results. We, as a club, got under their skin and made them look at us differently. When these two teams meet on the pitch, the lightning in the air is visible. And second, only to Ottawa, Hamilton has some of the best fans out there (shout out to Martin Piper!), and I am endlessly excited every time they come to the city.
In a league that was manufactured very quickly with story lines seemingly already in mind, to see the organic growth of the competitiveness between north and south Ontario has been one of the most honest and genuine experiences I have been a part of in my nearly two decades as a football fan.
Most importantly, these games showed genuine growth and potential. After 2 years of being unsure of what our program was going to look like and unsure of if or when results are going to come, to finish the year undefeated on the home turf of the club that we struggled the hardest against was truly a milestone that none of us dreamed of achieving, and one we will never stop celebrating the achievement of.
Two 5 game Undefeated Streaks on both sides of the 1-0 Loss to Edmonton
Our first draw with Forge carries with it another significant piece. We proceeded to win or draw four more times after that, landing us with a five-game undefeated streak very early in the season.
After Forge, we travelled to Edmonton and played a very strong game that was marred with some controversial officiating. After a few awkward penalties, we came away with a 2-1 victory and lots to talk about. Edmonton had, both fairly and unfairly, gained a reputation as the team that was easy to pick points up against. This match was one of the easier ones; we used a lot of speed, and a lot of effort but didn't necessarily have to rely on our usual tricks.
Our next two matches, Valor and Pacific, prove to be more difficult to pick up three points with. In fact, both matches looked prepared to be draws by the end. We were having a hard time landing shots, both games had a lot of midfield battling, and big chances were few and far between.
Carlos tends to hold his substitutions until later in the match. This is an artifact left over from the days of the 3-in-3 subs rule, when coaches would be forced to wait until the last possible second to make a switch. In the new 5-in-3 world, early switching has become the tactical norm, and it's certainly changed the game. But sometimes, an old trick is just enough to screw with a new dog.
In the 84th minute against Valor and the 86th minute against Pacific, last-minute substitution Zach Verhoeven returned to the field with the same speed, passion, drive, accuracy, and sheer on-field charisma that he's always had and delivered two of the most beautiful goals of the first half of the season.
He played 42 minutes total between those two matches, delivered 32 touches, nine accurate passes, blocked a big chance and scored twice.
After three wins in a row, we faced off against rival York, and were held to a scoreless draw in a very quiet affair.
Then, we went back to Edmonton.
Everyone assumed we were about to push this record to 6 and keep our game going. After all, it's just the Eddies. Right?
Despite our passing, out-possessing and out-tackling the opposition, we just couldn't stop a low-headed ball from trickling into the net. We didn't have the mindset to play that night, and that's where Edmonton excels.
People underestimated them during their last season before hiatus, especially the fans of teams who were in playoff contention. The biggest thing that happened during that game with Edmonton, we let them dribble as much as they wanted, and they were able to score off of a cross. A 1-0 loss to FC Edmonton ends our 5-game streak.
The next week, we take a breath and shake things off. We take a quick little drive halfway across the country to go play in Halifax. And while we're there, we win 2-0, and Samuel Salter gets himself a double yellow. We call that two wins where I'm from. We immediately follow that game up with our aforementioned 1-0 win against Forge (see "Undefeated in Hamilton").
Our next two matches were a little less thrilling, as we ground out a pair of 1-1 draws against Cavalry and then Valor. Both matches saw us coming back from going down 1-0 early, something that would remain a statistical outlier before and after. The Valor match also featured the infamous "yoinked" penalty from sister club loanee Vlad Moragrega.
ATO Beach Party
This game was highlighted by many as one of the top games of the season, and it had nothing to do with the game itself, which ended in a 1-1 draw with Cavalry FC. No, the real main event was the theme of the game: Beach Party!
It was a warm summer evening and 4500+ supporters showed up for the game in their favourite beach clothing! There were pool noodles, bathing shorts, floral shirts, grass skirts, a baby that won a prize and much more. A steel pan drum provided entertainment before the game and during halftime, and the $5 beers were a huge hit. However, the highlight of this match was a season-defining moment for the Dub. This was the game that Wally, the inflatable T-Rex, appeared.
Remember Bryce Crossman from the Season Preview Show? Well, as he was packing beach balls to bring to the game, he thought to himself, “why not bring something big as well.” So in the second half, Section W was introduced to Wally the Trex, and from that game on, Wally became the unofficial mascot of Atletico Ottawa, with fans scrambling to take pictures with him, and many fanart being created about him. He was so popular that, in fact, after the Beach Party Game, someone stole Wally! Thankfully, he was returned and became THE Sight at ATO Games.
Road Trip To York
This was THE highlight of the season. A road trip that the league had never seen before was in the books the second the 2022 Schedule was released. On July 24th at 8 am, 70 hardcore Atletico Ottawa fans packed a coach bus filled with excitement and energy as they embarked on the over 4-hour road trip to York. To pass the time, there was music playing, chants being sung, and the main event, a live Hotstove from the bus!
Once the crew arrived at the stadium, they were joined by other ATO fans who had driven up there, including Malcolm Shaw’s parents. Instead of describing the events that transpired after, here are 4 words to describe the day. Smokes. Chants. Passion. Thrashing
If you’re wondering what the last word is in relation to, ATO thrashed York 3-0 on this fabled day. That is correct; not only did ATO fans takeover the stadium (there were more of us there than the York Supporters Section + all you heard on the OneSoccer feed were the ATO fans), but Ottawa walked all over York and beat them 3-0, redeeming themselves for the Canadian Championship game and disciplining them like a child who broke a vase.
To be honest with you, words can’t describe the day, so here is a collection of pictures and videos, starting with the club-made one:
Social Media Content (ATW Podcast and Hotstove)
What separates CCSG from the rest of North American supporter groups is not only our raucous supporter section but our top-tier online content. Not only do we have beautifully designed graphics being posted on our Instagram and cleverly crafted tweets being posted on the big blue bird app, but CCSG has two top shows made by the fans for the fans.
First off, the Hotstove. CCSG was one of the first, if not THE first, supporters group to take advantage of the Twitter space feature. For those unfamiliar with Twitter, twitter spaces are essentially a live podcast/radio show where people can join and talk about anything they’d like. CCSG first used Twitterspaces for fans to join and discuss recent off-season news and debate on off-season topics. However, once the season rolled around, Twitterspaces became the home of The Hotstove. Before every game (usually the night before), I (Eddie Benhin) would host a live pregame show to preview the upcoming game. Fans would join and give their opinions on topics I brought up, and a few times, a couple of journalists would join. For at least half of the season, a few ATO players would join to listen to the show, and fans got the opportunity to wish them luck or ask for some favours. Of course, the Hotstove wasn’t for ATO fans only.
For most of the season, we had rival fans joining, which always led to entertaining soundbites. The Hotstove will be making a return next season, so be sure to check it out.
After The Whistle Podcast was CCSG’s flagship show. Co-hosted by Johnny McArthur and Patrick Dornan, and with the great help of Joey Huneault, these three men produced one of the top weekly soccer podcasts in the country. After The Whistle Podcast, or ATW for short, recapped each Atletico Ottawa game. The show contained stats, opinions, hot takes, banter and a fun segment called “The CCSG Mailbag,” where listeners could send in any questions to the hosts. ATW Podcast ended up in the top 10 most listened-to soccer podcasts in Canada and even appeared in charts in countries around the world.
I personally loved the fact that there was a weekly show I could listen to that covered the team I loved, and I am super excited to see its return next season.
This will wrap up Part 1 of CCSG’s Atletico Ottawa season review. You’ve probably noticed that chronologically, we stopped at the York Away trip.
Part 2 will walk us through the remainder of the season, including the historic First Place finish and playoff run.
On behalf of CCSG, I thank you for a fantastic season, and if you are not a member yet, please join the CCSG family; we’d love to have you.
Stay tuned for Part 2.