By Ben Ralph
Photo Credits: Freestyle Photography / Matt Zambonin
After a tough start to the season, the Atlético Ottawa that was expected at the start of the year arrived Sunday afternoon. Buoyed by the support of over five thousand fans, Atléti competently dispatched Valour FC with a 2-0 victory. Undoubtedly a top performance, and with new signings on the pitch to boot, Atlético claimed another crucial three points in its slog up the CPL table. Carlos Gonzalez and Carl Howarth joined the postgame presser afterwards. Here are the highlights:
Birthday boy Carl Howarth joined the press conference first. He reflected on the challenge Valour presented in the first half and how some second-half changes allowed the team to cement the victory.
“They were dangerous. So we had to close things up a little bit, tighten things up. I think the changes at halftime really helped us, and then going into the latter stages of the game, more changes that came on gave us that boost of energy we needed to get us over the line.”
Howarth said he relishes playing with fellow Atlético veteran Miguel Acosta, especially since Acosta has returned to the right-back position. Howarth called him someone he could “rely on.”
“We’re constantly talking. If one play doesn't work out, we’re trying to fix it right away so we can do it better the next time. I think we did that as the game went on, and I think [Valour] didn’t have a solution for it,” Howarth said.
Another player Howarth was impressed by was opposite fullback Aboubakary Sacko, who played the full 90 minutes and put up impressive stats – including three shots on target and a perfect tackle success rate.
“We’ll talk to him about some of his finishes, but the important thing is he's given a lot to the team; he's working so hard and defensively, I thought he was unbelievable,” Howarth said.
Reflecting on his assist, Howarth said he had originally thought about having a shot. Instead, he carved out a perfectly weighted through-ball for Zach Verhoeven, who finished coolly.
“I was about to go for it, and I saw Zach made a great run, the centreback kind of lost him. I figured there was loads of space over the top, and I just had to put it in a position for him. He's such a great finisher, he's calm under pressure,” Howarth said. “Great finish from the kid,”
Howarth said he was very pleased to see the two new signings each get 45 minutes under their belts. He touched on the “fantastic” work rate of Rubén Del Campo, who he said will offer “another dimension” for Atlético Ottawa in attack. As for Zapater, Haworth said having his calmness in the middle of the field reminds him of former Ottawa Fury captain Ritchie Ryan.
Howarth then commented on the competitiveness of the CPL this season as Atlético jumped up two places in the league to sixth. He said the important win meant a lot to the team and was reflected in the celebrations after the game.
“It was nice to get one for [the fans] at home, and we need to keep that momentum going now,” Haworth said.
Coach Gonzalez took the podium next and indicated he was very pleased with the performance.
“I think we did a quite consistent game. In attack, we created a lot, and defensively, we were very solid, and this is a thing we have to maintain,” Gonzalez said. “We have to be unbreakable, we have to be a tough team, we have to be a team that does not concede.”
Gonzalez said playing new signings Del Campo and Zapater for 45 minutes each was part of the plan as they get up to match pace.
“They were on vacation three weeks ago or two weeks ago. This is like preseason for them. That’s why we are trying to manage the minutes so they grow little by little with the team,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez indicated that another move during the transfer window is not out of the question. For now, given the number of players in his squad and the recent good form of his players, he said he has some “selection headaches”, but it is a problem he is happy to deal with.
“These are the headaches that every coach wants,” Gonzalez said. ‘I’ve had many other headaches over these months, so having these type of headaches are brilliant for me. The reason is [the players] are playing well and doing their jobs.”
Gonzalez added that the team will improve with the “internal competition.” One player in the thick of this competition is Sam Salter, who played at left wing in the first half to accommodate Rubén Del Campo. Gonzalez said players must understand that playing in other positions offers “more possibilities'' to be in the starting eleven.
Gonzalez expanded upon the importance of the win overall, calling it an important game against a team “fighting for similar targets.” Then, looking ahead to Wednesday, Gonzalez expressed his discontent with the schedule.
“Maintaining the consistency now in two days in Calgary, it is not going to be easy, but I think we get there in a good moment, and let’s try to grab points against them, " Gonzalez said. He called the tight schedule and hours of travel ahead a “very big handicap.”
“The players are not machines. Playing in 48 hours nearly in Calgary on the other coast of the country is not easy. But we don’t complain about that now, we have to look forward, prepare in the best way and go for the three points,” Gonzalez said.
Those who wish to catch that game– which kicks off at 8:30 pm away from home on July 12– can do so at the CCSG watch-along at the Glebe Central Pub. We hope to see you all there!
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 James Richardson and Charlie Eccleshare from The Football Cliches Podcast.