By Ben Ralph
Photo Credits: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography
For those wondering what a CPL playoff game looks like, look no further than Forge FC 0, ATO 0 on Saturday night at TD Place. The air was chilly, the game was cagey, and it was a hearty dish of tactics that stymied both teams in what turned out to be a real chess match of a game. Atlético Ottawa can take some positives from the match, with the home record stretching to seven undefeated and another crucial point gained in the standings. Carlos Gonzalez seemed content with the draw, and he and Nate Ingham joined the presser after the match. Here are all the deets:
The Quotes: Carlos Gonzalez
On why ATO couldn’t put the game to bed: “Maybe that reason was that in the last third, we were not sharp enough, we were not vertical enough, we didn't show the desire that we shoot in certain moments. Apart from that, I think that the team did a brilliant job, brilliant effort individually, collectively.”
On the strength of the double pivot: “I think that with Iliadis and Zapater, they are two engines in the midfield, and they are now like the glue between the defense and the attack. They are capable to give us that balance that, in certain moments, we didn't have at the beginning of the season, and now although you take risks or you make a small mistake in the last third, you know that you're going to have people behind you.”
On the feel of the game: “It was a playoff game, 100%. And I'm happy with this. Means that the team physically is also in a good moment, that all the players are feeling fit in a critical moment of the season. I think that we had a great pace with the ball… Also, we were good in anticipating situations and getting into the duels in good positions.”
On Shaw playing left wingback: “Defensively, he's a player that is strong and he's reliable. I think that he put all the effort always in every single action. So why not? Why not? He's another position in which he can be important for the team. This doesn't mean that he's going to play there every time. But I think it's important, as I say, always to have players that add to the team in different ways.”
The Quotes: Nathan Ingham
On communication in the back line: “We're all chatting with each other all game. You'd be amazed if we were all mic'd up with what you'd hear… There's a great quote: ‘If you're not talking, you're not playing defense.’ And it's constant. You'd have no chance at this level if you weren't communicating. So the group's gotten better at that."
On the defensive fluidity: “They've all been playing different positions, which is unfortunate, but it's actually kind of helping us at this time of the year because when [Acosta’s] playing as a right wingback, he knows what it's like. And now he's playing as a right center back. So the things that were most difficult, he understands what Jean's dealing with. And then, on the same side, Carl Ouimette was playing on the right of center back. Now he's in the center-back role. We've had Luke out left. So everyone's really understanding everything about where we're at. Tactically, we have things figured out, and it just comes down to focus and working hard, really.
On the congested top of the league: “Anyone could have looked at the bad start we had or the good start York had and said like, ‘Oh, one team's going to be ahead of the other.’ No. Last year it came down to the last day. The year before that: last day. If you look at years past, it's always the same. So don't think about it too much. Just know that October 10, October 7, whatever the date is, we're going to be planning to lift a trophy, and so will Forge.”
On wearing the armband on ‘Soccer for Everyone’ night: It’s special… It's something I'm very proud of… The fact that you get to be a part of these games. The fact that we get to do it at home in front of such a great crowd. And then we get to rely on the front office to set these events up, to make it inclusive. These are the things we're proud of. The reason why I would never want to leave this club and go somewhere else in the CPL. It feels like we've got it figured out and moving in the right direction. And however long it'll take before 5,000 turns into 20,000, I don't know. But it'd be cool to be a part of it.
As Nate said, the attendance for Saturday night's match was over 5,000 strong – the third straight home game to surpass 5,000 seats sold. The home support will be massive as the CPL season winds towards playoffs. Remarkably, as the dust clears on Sunday morning, only one point separates the top five, although it will be subject to change when Cavalry and Pacific play each other late on Sunday afternoon. Ingham's prediction of the league being decided on the final day certainly looks like a safe bet.
ATO finishes up a two-game home stand next week against league-leading Cavalry FC (as of Sunday morning) in a title-aspirations grudge match, and every one of the over 5,000 Atleti fans will be needed again to ward off the relentless Calgarians. Until then, take a breather. One shouldn't hold their breath for 90 minutes; even bigger games are on the horizon.
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.