By Ben Ralph
Photo Credits: Freestyle Photography / Valerie Wutti
Despite a second loss in three weeks to league-leading Forge FC, a long-awaited return to TD Place inspired Atletico Ottawa to a much-improved performance. The team conceded a stoppage-time game winner but dominated the majority of proceedings, most notably in the shots category, where they outgunned Forge FC by eight shots on goal to three. The offensive production was a silver lining for the team, with Maxim Tissot going as far as to call the game a “moral victory” in the post-game press conference. Here are the rest of the takeaways from a hard-fought Saturday clash between Forge FC and Atletico Ottawa and what the team had to say after the game:
One of the most pressing talking points after the game was the return from injury of club captain Carl Haworth, who came on to play the last twenty-one minutes against Forge. Maxim Tissot was made media available after the game and was eager to discuss what it meant to see the 33-year-old take the pitch for the first time this season.
“You see what he means to the soccer fans in Ottawa. Just a great cheer for him when he came onto the field…He's been a pillar since the Fury days. He means a lot to pro soccer in Ottawa, so it's great to see him out there,” Tissot said.
Later on in the post-game presser, Carlos Gonzalez took the mic to add his own opinion. He highlighted just how much of a leader Haworth is in the locker room, saying that his charisma and leadership are a fantastic asset for the squad. While much of the focus of the presser was on Howarths position within the social dynamic of the Atleti squad, Haworth proved during the match he is still just as valuable an asset on the field. He controlled the final twenty minutes and was inches away from grabbing a late-game equalizer if it weren’t for the reactions of Forge keeper Triston Henry.
Between every interviewee – Forge FC and Atletico Ottawa alike – there was an abundance of praise for Henry, who made eight saves in a performance that saw him the deserving recipient of the Man of the Match award. Carlos Gonzalez admitted that, with any other keeper in the league in goal, Atleti might have been ahead by at least two goals. While Henry was dynamite in goal, the Atleti staff were quick to spin the point towards the number of chances Atletico created. This comes in comparison to the offensive drought which has plagued Ottawa in past games. Tissot said he thought that if one goal had gone in, it could have been an entirely different game. It was a point that Gonzalez affirmed shortly afterward, adding that he believed the team couldn't have done much more to win the game. “I think that we create the chances. That is probably the most difficult thing to do, create chances, but we didn't do the most important thing to do – score them,” Gonzalez said. “We have to see positives. But also don't forget about the things that we can improve because, at the end of the day, we are not grabbing the results that we all want.”
One of the most revealing moments of the presser was an isolated conversation between Carlos Gonzalez and one member of the media, who asked Gonzalez if it was inexperience that led to the late counter-attack that gave Forge the winner. Gonzalez jumped in animatedly to cut off the question, though not in a way that showed he had taken offense. Instead, he was quick to attribute a positive defense to the goal.
“Yes, but also, it's a matter of ambition. Also, you can see that the team wants to win; the team wants to turn around the situation...So this is what happened in the minute 90. We were pushing, we were going, and we were not happy with the tie, so we were pushing to get the winning goal.” Gonzalez admitted that there were a number of moments during the Forge counter in which it could have been stopped. “You cannot afford giving them the chance to give one more pass, to give the next action because they will penalize you. But it's nothing new, we know it already, and we have to keep learning, we have to keep tweaking things so that we improve our version and next game against Halifax is going to be a new final and be more together than ever and solve the situation that we have now.”
Compared to the last press conference, a dispiriting affair following a match in which Atletico shipped two goals and lost as many players to injuries, the feeling was a lot more positive in the return to TD Place. Perhaps this feeling of belief can be attributed not only to the much-improved performance against Forge but also to looking ahead to Atletico's next fixture against the winless Halifax Wanderers. Tissot mentioned that he can now see players starting to grow and express themselves. He assured Atleti fans to stick by the team because “you can see something building.” Gonzalez added that for the next match, the team must bring the same energy, mindset, and hunger to win while recognizing they are not owed anything in this league. Gonzalez urged the supporters to let this match be a reason to keep the faith. He is still optimistic the points will come, and so will the wins, especially at home.
Atletico Ottawa will have their biggest shot at picking up a home victory as the Halifax Wanders visit the nation's capital. The Wanderers – Atleti’s fellow basement dwellers – are riding a streak of losses that include a CanChamp drubbing at the hands of Atletico Ottawa back in mid-April and haven’t tasted three points in the league since September of last year. The pivotal game will kick off at 7 pm on Saturday, June 3.
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.