Much has been said of Atlético Ottawa’s coaching appointments throughout its prototype and maiden voyages. Lack of pedigree; Lack of experience; Lack of knowledge of the Canadian game; Lack of knowledge of the Canadian player pool. How useful is U19 team experience where development is the name of the game and the stakes couldn’t be lower? How much of a say does the coach have in player recruitment if they’ve never managed in this country before?
I haven’t written this article to throw Mista under the bus. The man moved to a foreign country just before a pandemic hit to take on his first senior coaching position in a brand-new league in a land where he didn’t speak the language. And I will always love him for it. However, it’s hard to argue that he didn’t check every box in that last paragraph. The results made that obvious.
Carlos González (already affectionately being referred to as CarGo in reference to the three-time MBL All-Star that shares his name) is seemingly an upgrade. While he is only 35 years old (a year younger than his nick-namesake) he has amassed over a decade of coaching experience in one capacity or another. He has coached a senior team (Kuwait SC) and a national team (Kuwait). He has tasted some successes in regional tournament trophies with Atlético Madrid U19s as well as guiding Kuwait U23s to the Asian Cup tournament proper for the first time in ten years.
While these are impressive achievements, the ugly beast which journalists and critics across the league have constantly pointed their torches towards remains; can he do it in Canada? What does he know about our game? And they’re right, to a point. Canada isn’t an especially unique and unconquerable soccer culture; an inimitable style where many come to prove their mettle but few succeed. However, it stands to reason that any massive geographical and cultural shift for a coach comes with growing pains that could very well take longer to overcome than the normal tenure length of a topflight football club manager. Even more so when you are still a young coach with limited experience.
So how does Fernando and co., on the cusp of the club’s third (and first real) season address these concerns? How will they stick the landing of their most calculated and ambitious off-season yet?
Enter Kwesi Loney.
He’s been called the Godfather of Carleton Ravens Soccer’s new era. Since taking over as head coach of the program in 2016 he has recorded 60 wins, 9 draws and 9 losses in OUA regular season play, with 248 goals scored and only 48 conceded. For context, that’s 3.18 goals scored and 0.62 conceded per game.
He led the team to 3 consecutive OAU East 1st place finishes between 2017 and 2020; a national bronze medal in 2018; an OAU championship in 2019; and their best finish under Loney in 2021 with a national silver medal after one of the most dramatic finals (in one of the most dramatic tournaments) of the competitions history when they fell to the Montréal Carabins after penalties.
In this time, he was named OUA East Coach of the Year twice (2017 & 2018) and National Coach of the Year in 2019.
If his pedigree wasn’t convincing enough, let’s take into account some of his other past experience. From 2004 to 2009 he was head coach of the Ottawa Fury youth team, and from 2010 to 2012 assistant coach to the women’s W-League team. In 2010 he also joined the Carleton Ravens program as an assistant under veteran coach and mentor Sandy Mackie.
It was especially during these years working under Mackie that he learned what goes into a successful development program and how to get the best out of young players both on and off the field. It was also during these years as assistant, and then head coach, of the Ravens program (as well as a season-long stint as head coach of the Ottawa South United PLSQ semi-pro team) that Loney worked with some of the most exciting young players that our city has yet produced; players like Gabriel Bitar, Dario Conte, Stefan Karajovanovic, and Tony Mikhael, along with previous Atlético Ottawa players Matteo De Brienne, Myles Cornwall & Jaden Mercure as well as draftee Cris Malekos.
To say that Loney’s past 2 decades of experience has made him as intimately familiar and active in the Canadian soccer landscape as anyone has any business being, especially as it pertains to the upcoming generation of talent, would be a massive understatement.
After the 2022 CPL-U Sports Draft in January (Where Atlético Ottawa selected José Cunha and Julien Bruce at 1st and 9th respectively), The Charlatan ran an article with the following headline: “Carleton left stunned as zero players selected in Canadian Premier League draft”. In this article the author collects player quotes expressing how disappointed and confused they were that no player from the 2nd best University team in the country was picked in the draft, especially by the Ottawa club.
“It just goes to show how removed their whole idea of [soccer] culture is…It’s just so not Ottawa—it really isn’t. it shows me they would rather look elsewhere than have a local identity. It’s very confusing.”
Whether poaching the coach who made their program what it is today is seen as a positive step forward for the local soccer culture or a backhanded crippling of an institution, one thing is abundantly clear: despite the article’s sentiments, Atlético Ottawa was certainly paying attention to the Carleton Ravens Soccer program.