By Alexander Brazier Rymek
Surprisingly, or perhaps unsurprisingly, the only aspect of ATO’s performance on the field that improved from 2022 was their midfield. Although it was a very slight increase, the average grade did improve. The following article will break down their individual performances, where I will be ranking the four midfielders who finished the season on the roster using my WPA model (broken down here). Like with the defenders, I will be breaking down their individual strengths and weaknesses using statistics and making a decision on whether I would like to see them back in 2024. A summary of each player's grades, ranking, and contract status will be available at the end of the article.
#4: Noah Verhoeven
By all accounts a very underwhelming season for Verhoeven, this is reflected by the fact he was by far our worst-graded Midfielder in 2023. Probably the most noticeable statistical regression from 2022, when he played for York United, was his Passing. He achieved a grade of 78.8 in that category that season, which was subsequently touted as his greatest asset when he was acquired, but it decreased dramatically to 56.4 in 2023. His WPA also regressed massively from 2022, when he graded slightly above average with 62.4. He did record Assist and Chance Creation rankings of 73+, however his already mediocre defensive statistics regressing and his low Strength grade meant Verhoeven struggled to make a significant impact in 2023.
CONTRACT STATUS: Under contract through 2024
I think it should be noted that Verhoeven played without a natural Centre Defensive Midfielder beside him for the first half of the season, and this placed stress on him to fulfil an unrealistically achievable defensive role. With Zapater potentially returning, this might be solved for 2024, however, I would certainly like to see his passing return to what we know he can achieve.
#3: Ilias Iliadis
Possibly a surprising ranking when examining his individual metrics, Iliadis had a very scattered statistical impact and didn’t necessarily fill the role expected of him as a CDM. His Pass% was far below average, and his defensive impact wasn’t the greatest at 45.5. However, he did have an amazing Interceptions ranking with 94%, created chances at a good clip, and was very press-resistant (82.7 1v1% ranking). I think perhaps his WPA grade is a little low considering his overall impact, and a perfect example of why I felt the need to attach Statistical Profiles to these cards to add further context.
CONTRACT STATUS: Loan expired
Historically, loans are only for a single season, and it is foolish to assume Iliadis will be back for 2024. However, I do think that if he does return, he could be a useful utility player for us. I would like to see his passing improve, though, and for him to take fewer fouls.
#2: Alberto Zapater
In 2023, Zapater was the prototypical Defensive Midfielder, with an amazing Duel% ranking at 94.6, good Pass%, and great Interceptions. He didn’t create many chances with a 36.5 Key Passes ranking and perhaps didn’t win as many tackles as I would have liked, but I think as a pure DM, he did exactly what was expected of him when ATO brought him in for the back half of the season. He solidified the midfield, allowed Acosta to return to a more familiar position, and let our other midfielders focus on creating offence.
CONTRACT STATUS: 2024 Option
Before jumping all over his option and bringing him back, I think it should be acknowledged that Zapater will be 39 by the time the 2024 season kicks off. He was an amazing asset for us in 2023, however, we must consider if he will be able to play weekly for a full season, as opposed to only 16 games in a sprint to the playoffs. That being said, I would like to see him back, as long we acquire another player in his position to allow Zapater the rest he might need to perform at such a high level again.
#1: Ollie Bassett
It should come as absolutely no surprise who our highest-graded midfielder was last season. Bassett created basically all of ATO’s offence in 2023, and that is reflected by his 94% Goals and 71.3% Assists rankings. What contributed to his perhaps lower-than-expected rating was his mediocre Passing grade of 45.9 and a low 39.5 Touches mark. Although his defensive metrics don’t matter as much as a Centre Attacking Midfielder, they were also decently low. This should however be caveated by the fact he played a number of games near the end of the season as a winger, so he didn’t get the chance to record as much defensive impact. His WPA in 2022 was 77.8, boosted by a much higher Passing grade of 73.
CONTRACT STATUS: 2024 Option
Although it should be a no-brainer to activate his option, we must take into account Bassett’s wish to play at a higher level next season. It would be amazing to have him back in 2024; however, more than likely, he will be moving on to a greater challenge. Whether that comes after letting his option expire or activating it and letting a club submit a transfer fee is up to him and the club. If he does return, I would like to see him actually played in a position familiar to him, and given at least a modicum of help in the centre of the pitch.
With Bassett wrapping up the rankings, I will touch upon the seeming improvement of our midfield in 2023, which I mentioned in the introduction. The average midfield grade in 2022 was 54.8, and it increased slightly to 59.6 in 2023, but clearly it was not enough to make up for both the defence and attack regressing statistically. Regardless, those midfield grades are below what they should be for a club challenging for titles, and have historically never been higher than 56.2 (2021). I think a deeper midfield with more quality options is a must going into 2024, especially the Central Midfielders, who have been entirely unspectacular for four years, with the exception of Ben Mckendry in 2021.
The next and final article on ATOs 2023 performances will be the Attackers, and will be comparable in length to the Defenders article. There were seven on the roster in 2023, along with Antinoro, who will be ranked alongside them. See you then!
Ollie Bassett (CAM)
Alberto Zapater (CDM)
Ilias Iliadis (CDM)
Noah Verhoeven (CM)
When he isn't busy playing or watching sports (or going to school at uOttawa), Alexander is busy managing his Atlético Ottawa database, which he started in 2020, and tracks everything you can think of about the club and its players. He also runs a Twitter account dedicated to analyzing and rating CPL players using statistics, CPL by the Numbers.