Lessons learned: Experienced signings bolster Atlético Ottawa's squad
Atlético Ottawa announced six new signings on Wednesday, bringing their roster up to 13 with two draftees set to trial with the club following the Canadian Premier League USports Draft.
The 2022 CPL season is set to get underway in the next three months and as teams across the league publicly unveil their rosters, news had been a little quiet in the Capital.
Seven returnees, two draftees and no coach. Those were the only colors squeezed onto the palette held limply in fans' hands as they stared at the blank canvas wondering how this year's painting would be different to the vicious shades of angry red covering the stripes of hopeful white that represented 2021's last placed finish.
Well, until Wednesday, when the team unveiled no less than SIX players that will provide some added spice to the melting pot of 2022 (or something else that doesn't mix terrible metaphors). Let's take a look at who they are and what they say about what this team is shaping up to be.
CPL experience ✅
Ottawa were labelled as 'a little naïve' or 'too clever' (depending on your take) last season with the team opting to utilize a scouting department that favored players from outside of the CPL.
Few signings (even amongst those who returned after the Island Games) had proven experience in the league - or together for that matter. So unsurprisingly the team took a while to gel.
This season's roster is already taking shape differently. Seven trusted returnees are set to be complimented with this exciting announcement of players who boast extensive experience and trophy cabinets of their own.
Well known from his days with Ottawa Fury, as well as for scoring the second goal for Forge FC in the 2020 CPL Final, Maxime Tissot returns to the Capital. As a left-footed left back he is likely to be a first-team starter, adding experience and a winning mentality to the squad.
The Gatineau-born former Canadian International comes back to the Capital region with an additional Canadian Championship in his cabinet to shoreup the back line.
Alternatively, we may see him take up ranks in central midfield, a position he has deputized quite naturally throughout his career, alongside former Fury teammate Chris Mannella and former Canada teammate Ben McKendry. A multi-faceted option like Tissot should prove to be invaluable in a gritty league like the CPL that too often sees injuries force players into uncomfortable roles out of pure necessity.
He isn't alone - as was widely anticipated Nathan Ingham joins from Ontario rivals York United to take the number one spot for Ottawa after a season of sharing the spotlight with Niko Giantsopoulos.
The 28-year-old is coming off of a very hot season, playing 21 times, and conceding only 24 goals with five clean sheets. His goals-against-per-90 (1.19) was only bested by eventual championship finalists Callum Irving (1.13) and Triston Henry (0.91) among keepers who played a comparable amount of games.
Fans will be sad to see the much loved Dylon Powley depart, but in Ingham Ottawa have signed one of the best keepers in the CPL.
Down at the other end of the field, Ollie Basset and Keven Alemàn - from Pacific Fc and Valour respectively - have been added to provide some creativity.
Featuring in a total of 44 CPL games between them last year they yielded a return of 13 G/A. Interesting to note that the attacking players that will not be returning this season* from last year managed a total of 9 G/A between them.
(*Antoine Coupland is currently on trial in Germany and may return this season, although unlikely)
Alemàn, the more productive of the two, bagged three goals and provided four assists last year (2 goals and three assists for Bassett).
The Costa Rica born former-Canadian International hasn't quite reached the levels expected of him in the CPL but nonetheless, you shouldn't shake a stick at what he has to offer - Alemàn slides in as one of the most talented players to wear the jersey.
His 1.8 successful dribbles per match exceed other attacking players in the league such as Morey Doner, Manny Aparicio, and even our very own Zach Verhoven.
Likewise, his 1.2 key passes per match meant he outperformed some of the most gifted advanced playmakers in the league such as Sergio Camargo, Tobias Warschewski, and João Morelli.
Bassett had a very successful maiden year in Canada, winning the league with PFC. Mainly utilized as a left-winger or an attacking midfielder the Northern Irishmen started his career as a striker, he has an eye for goal and a mean delivery from dead ball situations.
Oddly for a player that is considered more of an attacking threat, Bassett is also very adept at tackling and winning balls in both the midfield and the final third, rivaling league leaders such as Dan Klomp, Rafael Galhardo, Mohamed Farsi, and Atléti’s Alberto Soto in both of these areas.
Combine this with his 88.4% successful pass rate and we’ve signed an attacking midfielder who can press the opposition, gain possession and launch counter-attacks on his own.
Two smart acquisitions by Atlético, who can either play them together or interchangeably, and will undoubtedly help not only retain possession, but turn it into actual attacking potential.
However, they do share similar physical profiles to Zach Verhoven leaving us pondering whether a more physical player in the final third remains on the Wishlist (although draftee Julien Bruce could be the solution we already possess).
(Canucks) Abroad and youthful experience
Two lesser known names announced yesterday were 27-year-old Cameroonian defender MacDonald Niba and 20-year-old Canadian-Algerian prospect Zakaria Bahous.
Niba started his career in Cameroon before joining L1O side North Toronto Nitros in 2015 -– his two years in the country led to him gaining Permanent Residency and thus not taking up a precious international spot for Atlético this season.
More recently though the six foot center back has been plying his trade in Europe, featuring in the top flight of Hungarian and Finnish football (winning the domestic cup trophy in both).
Competition was rife in a successful campaign last year which meant Niba's playing time was reduced.
He'll be looking to get back to fitness during the offseason but, a fast and physical defender who engages tackles earlier rather than later will be a welcomed addition to the heart of the Ottawa defense.
Zakaria on the other hand is a bit on an enigma. Anyone who has seen or heard anything of him will tell you that Ottawa have done extremely well landing a young man who has been competing with fully-grown, experienced players since he was 15 -– and doing it with aplomb.
Over six-feet tall, calm and collected in possession Bahous possess a bag of tricks and an instinct that many players couldn't develop if they worked on it their whole careers.
Although unlikely at this stage to be the first name of the team-sheet, don't be surprised if he's the player that get's you on your feet come the end of the season.
Where fans felt a sting at losing out on a local talent like Matteo de Brienne, the salve has been more than effective in the signing of Bahous.
Grabbing one of the hottest young players in the country, on a two year deal with an option to extend for 2024 no less, has been an absolute coup by Atlético Ottawa and inspires confidence in the club’s recruitment strategy.
How we stand
So with all that taken into consideration, let's take a look at how - with the roster so far - Atlético Ottawa are likely to line up this year.
Thomas Stockting's Predicted XI (thus far)
Johnny McArthur's Predicted XI (thus far)