By Jon Hopkins
Photo Credits: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography and David Chant/York United
As is often the case, once the offseason begins, so does speculation surrounding which players and staff members will see their contracts renewed, their options taken, and who will be leaving the club. Fortunately, Ottleti’s CEO, Fernando Lopez, has quickly gotten to work. Here is what we know so far!
In an interview with TSN 1200, Lopez admitted that the club has failed to capitalize on local talent but that it is something he is aiming to remedy. Players like Matteo De Brienne and Gabriel Bitar, both of whom had great seasons for other CPL sides this year, were all Ottawa locals who slipped through Atleti’s fingers. Add to the list Ronan Kratt, who previously played for rival York United and now plays for Werder Bremen II in Germany, and Mikaël Cantave, who now plays for Vancouver FC. The failure to take advantage of the players in our backyard has been a major part of our overall struggle to attract high levels of Canadian talent. While steps are being taken to correct this, with the U-19 development program, partnership with OSU in Ligue 1 Quebec, and more partnerships with youth clubs, we must also ensure we remain competitive and that local players get their best offers from ATO. We cannot afford to see up-and-coming local players like Tyr Walker, Omar Darwish, and Gabriel Carvalho make their way to rival CPL clubs before getting an opportunity to play with ATO.
One part of this issue that went unaddressed is the lack of Canadian scouts in the organization. While it is great that ATO has a veteran scout in Madrid supporting recruitment, having only a single scout means there are a lot of blind spots, especially when that one scout is a continent away. In the CPL, there is a limit of 7 internationals per team; however, there are no limits on Canadian talent (outside of overall roster size). This means getting the most out of this small pool of talent is often what makes the difference. The key examples are Forge and Cavalry, who both had strong domestic development presences from the jump and brought in major Canadian contributors. Given the talk about change for the organization in the offseason, it is vital that the club look to expand its scouting staff and recruitment team to ensure we can target and land top Canadian talent.
So who stays and who goes? Who knows! Lopez has stated that work has begun right away to explore options and begin preparations for 2024, but he, along with players and coach Gonzalez, don’t have much concrete to share for now. Despite this limited available information, we managed to hear from a few players, and here’s what they had to say:
Malcolm Shaw: Shaw, who has a club option for 2024, said that he is taking some time away for reflection to contemplate what 2024 will hold for him. “The season just finished, but going to take some time to myself, reflect, and have a bit of time in the offseason just to get away from the game, and then I'll think through my future.” As the final holdover from Atleti’s inaugural season in 2020, Malcolm’s reflections may result in the end of an era, but time will tell.
Nathan Ingham: With both of our keepers out of contract, All-State Nate spoke about his love for the city, but given the results of the year, he knows change is coming. “Changes are going to be made. I don't know what those changes are going to look like, and I'll just wait to hear.” Additionally, he added that “... there's been a little bit of communication, which has been positive, and it's not something I can worry about.”, which points to the opportunity to hold on to one of the best keepers in the league.
Max Tissot: The boy from Gatineau made clear his intention to extend his ATO career as he enters the offseason without a contract. “...I had conversations earlier this summer that were positive, so hopefully we can work something out.” He concluded by saying, “ I'd like to finish my career here and play at least another year or a few more. So hopefully, that's the club's intention as well.”
Ollie Bassett: Olliewood continued to make clear his ambitions to climb the football ladder, saying, “… I've always been vocal about wanting to test myself at the highest level that my game can take me, and I've always been very passionate about that.” He would go on to share that “...I've loved playing here. This club gave me an opportunity to come in and play every week, and yeah, it's definitely helped push my game to a different level.” While anything can happen in an offseason as long as ours, this isn’t the first time Bassett has indicated a desire to move up, and given what he has accomplished for this club, we hope he gets that chance.
The Future of Carlos Gonzalez
The CarGo question is the biggest question of this offseason. Do we move on from the coach who brought the city a regular season title but also was a leader for a terrible season of recruitment and poor strategic adjustments? When asked about his feelings about his contract, Cargo would go on to say, “I think it's a moment in which we should give a step back. We should analyze, and the final decision is going to be the best decision for the club, I'm sure. So this is what we have to think about, if it's with me here, with not me in here.”
Meanwhile, Fernando Lopez has shown confidence in Coach Gonzalez, saying in the same TSN 1200 interview that he does not blame Gonzalez for the result last year. In fact, he had very kind words for the coach, saying, “Carlos did, in my opinion, a good job. Obviously, I know everyone was expecting for us to be in the playoffs and to win a silverware again, but we were very, very close, just 1 win. And many of those games I have to remember, I never experienced it in soccer before, those games that we lost in the last minute, but one goal away and the conversation is much different.” He would go on to confirm his intent, saying, “I wish that we can get into a conversation where he can continue because I think in this moment where we are with the club, continuity is a key part of the future success of the club.” If that wasn’t clear enough, he would go on to say “we are having those conversations, it is our desire that he can come back with his staff for next year.” This may not bode well for fans who are desperate for a more offensive and dynamic type of football for 2024 or for players who may have been frustrated with his leadership and system. Given Fernando’s desire to begin preparations for 2024 and solidify his leadership team, the CarGo question may be answered sooner than we think.
As part of the offseason process, Lopez said that everything will go under the microscope to see how it can improved, from players, to coaches, to front office staff and even the kit man. I think we can confidently say that our "Kit man", Bruce Harthill (NOT David Galán), and his team have done well enough to continue their fine work. Nonetheless, these evaluations and discussions will shape ATO's 2024 season, and we will continue to bring you updates as these evaluations and decisions go public.
Jon Hopkins is a fresh face on the pro-football fandom scene, being introduced it through Atlético Ottawa and the CPL. He grew up playing the beautiful game through his high school years in the Niagara Region. He has worked to support the growth of footie in Ottawa with CCSG since 2022 and now acts as the lead editor for the Writers at CCSG.