By Ben Ralph
Photo Credits: Jojo Yanjiao Qian/ Forge FC and David Chant/York United
Well, that’s it. For better or for worse, Atlético Ottawa’s campaign comes to a close, and although it’s not quite the ending that supporters hoped for or deserved (more on that later), a second-ever win against Forge FC means ATO can at least end the season on a good note. For closing remarks, Carlos Gonzalez delivered one last post-match presser and was joined by Ilias Iliadis, whose final game in an ATO shirt ahead of an expiring loan deal proved to be his finest. Here are all the details following Atlético Ottawa’s win in Hamilton:
The Quotes: Carlos Gonzalez
On the importance of the win: “I think that the team did what we had to do today. Sometimes, you don't play for tangible things… you have to play for intangibles, and this is what we did today. I think that we needed this type of performance. We needed this type of victory to show ourselves that we have been very near, and because of different circumstances, we haven't got the spot in the playoffs.”
On lessons learned this year: “I think that now is a period in which we should give a step back and think about everything that we've done, analyze the details, and see what has gone wrong. But as you see the thin margins, the reality is that we are in sixth position, but I haven't felt that we have been much worse than teams that have been third or fourth, so we could have been there. But margins, details, and things to improve for the future.”
On joint Golden-Boot winner Ollie Bassett: “I think that he's a very important player for the team, and I'm very satisfied that he keeps growing and that he's maintaining consistency in his performances… I think the difference between the top players and good players is consistency. And Ollie has demonstrated that. Throughout last season and through this season, he has been giving top performances for the team.”
The Quotes: Ilias Iliadis
On an improved performance: “We addressed all the issues that we had throughout these last seven games… We had to really dig deep and understand why we came to where we came to. I said it before, and I'll say it again: for me, it felt like we had everything in our hands, and we felt like we were playing with fear. So every game we were going in, we were saying, ‘Oh my God, we're going to lose what we have’ because we were in second place at one point. So now this game it's a prime example of the character that we truly have and that we played without fear tonight.
On the CPL experience: “It was a great experience. I think I got some valuable minutes in, and it was definitely a step in the right direction for my career that I played so much here, and I enjoyed every minute of it. My teammates were amazing, my coaching staff was amazing. I have nothing but thanks to give to Atlético Ottawa as a club.”
On his future: “I'm going back at the end of the season… And then, as for next season, I haven't really given it much thought. I don't really try and look too far into the future. I just try and look at what I can do in the moment. Now it's off-season for me, it's off-season for everyone, and it's just about working hard so I can come back ready for next season, and whatever happens, happens.
On winning in vintage ATO fashion: Yeah, well, that's the philosophy we play with, isn't it? And we saw it when things were going good. We didn't see too much of it when things weren't going too well. So again, it just shows the character that we have. And it just goes to show that the past seven games were not really us as Atlético Ottawa, and we really showed who we were tonight.
Now, Atlético Ottawa begins a winter of rebuilding as the club looks to replace a large number of out-of-contract players while attempting to safeguard its most valuable assets. Although ending the season with a win may offer some relief, this result cannot be enough to Band-Aid the serious issues that demand attention before April of next year. Perhaps what truly went wrong in September will remain enigmatic – whether it was crumbling under pressure, rifts in the team dynamics, or something else entirely. But The Forward Press offered a disheartening refrain over the course of the last month: the supporters deserve better. We saw our first signs of life in a month on Saturday night in Hamilton, but it came way too late.
If this year has imparted one thing, it’s that at least 7,000 people care enough about this club to pay money with the expectation of results in return. If ATO attendance can continue the trajectory we saw this season, then there’s every reason to believe performance can rise to meet the expectations of a fanbase that has. The club must be prepared to embrace whatever changes are necessary to foster improvement because these fans haven’t all had enough time to become die-hards yet, and, in a league where every step is a precarious one, the club can’t afford to lose the fanbase it’s done so well to generate.
Ben Ralph is a die-hard football fan and a journalism student at Carleton. He has been supporting Everton through the ups and downs (but mostly the downs) and could not believe his luck when he stumbled across Atlético Ottawa in 2021. Now part of the Atleti faithful, his dream has always been to write football stories, and he is excited to join other fans as writers for CCSG. His football journalist idols are Adam Hurrey, James Richardson, and Charlie Eccleshare from The Football Cliches Podcast.