By Alexander Brazier Rymek
The last transfer targets article simply ranked all the players in 2023 by WPA, and determined whether they were out of contract or not. However, as detailed in the conclusion of the article, that makes for a list of players unlikely to be left unsigned by their clubs simply due to their quality. In addition to that, 6/10 of those players were contracted to Forge or Pacific, who don’t make public their contract situations year on year, and thus those players were simply assumed to be out of contract. This subsequent article will remedy that situation, by taking a look at players who are at once are verifiably out of out of contract (no Forge or Pacific players), not no-brainers to be resigned, and actually make sense in terms of roster construction for ATO going forward. That could mean historical connections to Ottawa, playing in positions of need, and more often than not are on teams with a dimmer future than the one ATO are trying to create. Once again, they will be ranked by WPA grade (explained here), and I will add a few notes about their statistical attributes and how they would fit into the team in 2024.
#10: Dante Campbell
In lieu of repeating myself too often, there will be a lot of Valour and Vancouver players on this list. Both have a lot of players on expired contracts and considering where they finished in the league in 2023, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say some of their players might want a step up in terms of team quality and league competitiveness. Thus, Dante Campbell enters the list as the first of these players. Primarily a Centre Midfielder who can play Centre Defensive Midfield if needed, Campbell is a defence-first player. He posted a great 89.1 Strength rating, a 95.2 Interceptions ranking, and also an above-average 1v1% ranking. His weaknesses lay in his passing (which I definitely would like to see improve) and offence creation, which both ranked below average. That being said, he would fulfill a need for depth in the centre of the park, fits in with the style of play Carlos González has wanted, and if another midfielder was brought in to add some attacking threat, together they could be very useful in 2024.
#9: Callum Montgomery
Montgomery is an interesting candidate for a transfer, considering his limited sample size. In the minutes he played, he certainly proved two skills however: His Defending (92.5) and Strength (95.2). Although in more game time he might have proven to be more well-rounded, currently he resembles the statistical impact of Karl Ouimette (63 WPA for comparison). Both were Centre Backs who didn’t provide much going forward, and were okay with the ball at their feet. Even though it’s hard to draw conclusions from 700 minutes, I believe if he was brought in, the need for a ball-playing CB would increase tenfold, considering both he and Ouimette (ATO's only contracted CB so far) lack that ability. It should be noted Montgomery primarily played on the left for Cavalry, whereas Ouimette played on the right.
#8: Jonathan Grant
Grant is a typical defensive Right Back, with decent all-around numbers and some okay attacking metrics. He doesn’t shine in a lot of areas, excluding that 92.7 Tackles tanking, but also doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses either. The one thing I would like to see improve is his Pass% however. Depending on the system González prefers in 2024, Grant would either be a backup to Acosta in a flat four, or possibly the starting RWB in a back three/five with Acosta moving to CB, although with his metrics I think being a RB suits him better. Considering this, I would only bring him in if that change to a back four was made. He is also approaching 31, so a starting role probably isn’t advisable anyways. In the last season with more than 1000 minutes (2021), Grant posted a a 65.1 with Forge FC.
#7: Abdoulaye Samake
The first entry on this list with familial connections to Ottawa, Samake is another no-nonsense Centre Back. He is extremely strong with 94 Duel% and 94.5 Aerial% rankings, and is very good with the ball at his feet with a 80 Passing grade and a 91 1v1% ranking. His one downside would be his poor tackling (which has been a trend going back to his first years in the league with Pacific), but I think his other qualities covered that up last season. In 2022 he posted a 67.7 WPA grade with essentially the same minutes and exactly the same statistical impact. While not necessarily a world-beater, he would certainly be a solid addition to a weak backline as a probable starter, and would help reverse the trend of Ottawa-area players playing elsewhere in the league.
#6: Mikael Cantave
Playing with Vancouver FC in 2023, Cantave played a crucial role as their starting Left Winger, and proved to be a solid attacking threat. He is extremely well-rounded for his position, with above-average metrics in everything expected of him as a winger. Noticeably, his 90.6 Cross% ranking, which for ATO has been a historical weakness, and his 89.1 Tackles mark, which bodes well if he is played as a Left Wing Back for ATO. Keep in mind this is not where I would play him, as in 2023 that positional change to WB bestowed upon Assi, Shaw and Tissot was a net negative for all three of them in terms of performance. In 2022 he only played 300 minutes, but graded at a 78 with Cavalry. If he does choose to move to Ottawa, I think he could be a very solid backup and occasional starter at that LW position. His metrics aren’t necessarily good enough to merit being an outright starter, but he certainly doesn't have any glaring weaknesses that would staple him to the bench. As of this writing VFC have entered into contract talks with Cantave.
#5: Jordan Haynes
Fullbacks pose interesting dilemmas when it comes to trying to judge their worth through statistics, and thus the eye-test reigns supreme for them. In almost every case they are extremely well-rounded players, which doesn’t lend to spectacular ratings. In addition to this, the position relies heavily on smart movement and actions that aren't recorded in statistics, so players who grade well might not actually represent that worth in comparison to other players and positions. That is the case for both FBs on this list, who might look good on paper but have weaknesses that don’t show up on their metrics. That being said, Haynes fits the exact same defensive LB mold as Tissot, and when comparing the two Haynes grades slightly better in almost every category except his G/A contributions, and even then it's marginal. His big advantage over Tissot is certainly his passing, which grades at a 72 compared to Tissot’s 27.6 If ATO were to target Haynes, he would do well as a bench option. In 2022 Haynes was noticeably worse with Pacific, grading at 62.1.
#4: Gabriel Bitar
Bitar is a player whose WPA doesn’t tell the whole story. He had perfectly good attacking metrics with a 83.5 G/A grade and a 83.2 Chance Creation ranking, but his dire 33 Passing grade and a low involvement of 19.8 Touches ranking brought his overall impact down further than those previous metrics elevated it. His passing was by far his biggest weakness in 2023, and something that needs to be improved if he wants to direct an offence for a team better than Vancouver. The Carleton University grad was one ATO fans wanted to pick up to bolster their local talent, however he was instead signed by FC Edmonton in 2022. In that season he profiled the exact same statistically, however with a 49.3 WPA grade. As much as local talent is needed to increase fan engagement, I would be hesitant to sign Bitar as I am still uncertain if he can play a crucial role for what is hopefully a title-challenging team in 2024.
#3: Matteo de Brienne
It may be unknown to CPL fans outside of the Ottawa area, but de Brienne was actually signed to a contract by ATO in 2020, and was released prior to the 2021 season without having made an appearance. Unfortunately, this has proven to be a massive mistake, as when he was picked up by Valour in 2022 he made an immediate impact, grading at a 66.2 at the age of only 19/20. He only improved upon that performance in 2023, where he was an extremely well-rounded player with the exception of his passing metrics. That season was capped off by a CPL Best U21 Player award, and the hardware was fully deserved. Thankfully for ATO, de Brienne is out of contract for 2024, and this provides an opportunity to remedy that oversight from the 2021 offseason. Even better is the news that Fernando Lopez has been in contact with MdB and his agent, of which he informed ATO Season Ticket holders during a virtual town hall session at the end of October. He will only be 22 in 2024, and can solve a massive issue for the club by being a dynamic starting Left Winger/Midfielder.
#2: Charlie Trafford
Penultimately, and perhaps most controversially, is a player from Cavalry who has a history of antagonising ATO and their fans. That being said, he is extremely well-rounded as a defensive-minded midfielder, with excellent Pass% at a 85.5, great Strength at a 91.8, and also draws a lot of fouls, perhaps to the consternation of opponents and their supporters. His biggest flaw in 2023 was his lower-than-average tackling, and he doesn’t necessarily provide the same offensive touch as some of his peers, but he makes up for it with solid play everywhere else. He is one of the few Cavalry players out of contract for 2024, and will be 32 by the time the season kicks off, but if he decides to taste greener pastures I think ATO fans would do well to bury the hatchet and embrace a talented midfielder like him. He also has a history of good play, and in 2022 achieved a 74 WPA grade.
#1: Rocco Romeo
The final player on this list is an extremely solid defensive centre-back in Rocco Romeo. With above-average metrics in everything expected of him as a CB, the only minor weakness would be his Tackling mark of 63. Other than that, while he might not have had the best metrics in every category, he also had no glaring flaws, which for a defensive-first CB is admirable. In addition, his 62 Passing grade is more than satisfactory, especially considering ATO's historical lack of ball-moving CBs. Romeo also had an extremely impressive season in 2022, when he graded at 79.9 with Valour. Part of his regression can be attributed to his higher minutes in 2023, but also the fact he played with worse teammates. Out of all the CB options on this list, I think Romeo would be the ideal candidate to bring in, and if no other starting options are brought in, would complement Ouimette well.
As opposed to the previous list, there are certainly more realistic options available for transfer in this article. Among these, I believe that de Brienne and Romeo should be automatic additions, with Haynes and Campbell offering depth options if required. Of course, any star players in the CPL would be unlikely to move clubs, but from the last article Reid, Omar, and Gutierrez would be good options as well. That being said, ATO shouldn’t rely on simply bringing in CPL talent in order to rectify their issues from 2023. They certainly need to scout internationally, and bring in talent from around the world. Although they seem to boast the greatest scouting reach of any club in the CPL with the Madrid infrastructure, it hasn’t come to pass in recent years, with lacklustre additions in Moragrega, Niba, and Nunez among others. Of course, players like Espejo and Acosta shouldn’t be disregarded, however there have been more misses than hits. Hopefully with some proven talent familiar with the CPL, international veterans, and hungry young Canadian talent, ATO can challenge for silverware again in 2024.
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.