By Alexander Brazier Rymek
So far, our first two off-season signings have been a local star-boy returning home (Matteo de Brienne), and a former Player of the Year runner-up coming back to the club after a year in Europe (Ballou Tabla). This third signing of the off-season follows a mix of those trends, wherein a local player returns home after a lengthy stint overseas. The player? Right Winger Kris Twardek, coming in on a free transfer, after he and Bohemians mutually terminated his contract near the end of the 2023 calendar year. The signing marks another home-run swing from CEO Fernando Lopez in preparation for the 2024 CPL season, and until further notice, projects to be a four-bagger, especially as he will be with the team for at least 2 years, with a 3rd on option.
Kris Twardek (26 years old), was born in Toronto but raised in Ottawa for the majority of his childhood, and played for local clubs West Carleton and OSU. He performed sufficiently well to be scouted and signed by Millwall FC in 2013, after which he moved to England aged only 16. During his time in the academy and the first team, he experienced loan spells to Braintree Town and Carlisle United lower down in the English pyramid, for both of whom he played 12 games. During this time he made appearances for the Czech Republic national youth teams, but eventually was capped by Canada at the U-20 level, although he only appeared once for his birth country.
When he found he could not break into the Millwall first team, he moved to Sligo Rovers of the Irish top flight on a free transfer in 2018. This is where his career began to pick up speed, as he would be a consistent starter for Sligo, making 56 appearances for the club over the next season and a half, while scoring six, assisting seven, and picking up two Sligo Player of the Month’s along the way. He would then transfer to Bohemians of the same division, and after that had a brief spell in the Polish and Slovakian top flights. Finally, he returned to Bohemians in 2022, with whom he would spend two seasons, racking up 56 appearances, three goals, and seven assists. Although his resume looks like one of a career journeyman, and seven clubs in 10 years is like a lot, he was a mainstay for both Irish clubs he played for.
Where the CPL and Atlético Ottawa come into the story is the winter of 2023, when Twardek and Bohemians mutually parted ways, and the press release mentioned that Twardek felt it was time to return home to Canada. This naturally sparked speculation, and ATO were the seeming front-runners. These rumours were stoked even further when Matteo de Brienne released a photo of an off-season training session at The Dome at Louis-Riel on Instagram, which included his teammates Nathan Ingham, Maxim Tissot, Tyr Duhaney-Walker, and right to the front, Kris Twardek himself. For those following him closely, this quickly became the starting point for speculation as to whether he would sign with his hometown club. Finally, the club announced his signature this Tuesday, further firing up a club that is seeking to right the wrongs of a disappointing CPL campaign in 2023 with impossible-to-miss talent.
Thus ends Twardek’s life story, and now begins projection for his role with the team and what his signing means for roster construction going forward. To address that first point, Twardek is a right-footed player who primarily plays on the Right Wing or in Right Midfield. As of now, he is the only right-sided player under contract with the team, and without any other rumours to the contrary, will presumably start on the wing. His footedness precludes him from cutting inside too frequently, but to compensate he is known for his seeking crosses that often find targets, a talent for which ATO have historically lacked aside from Carl Haworth, and with which they struggled mightly last season.
His compatriots on the wings so far include Left Wingers Ballou Tabla (Right footed) and Matteo de Brienne (Left), so his signing can be analysed with respect to where his colleagues will play. If keeping players to their natural positions is a priority, one of Tabla or de Brienne will have to sit on the bench. In the case that it isn’t, de Brienne can also play Left Back or Wing Back, something he did with Valour in 2023. If Carlos Gonzalez were to truly get experimental with his designs, he could play de Brienne on the left wing and Tabla on the right (both of which would facilitate crosses to the striker), and play Twardek as a Right Back/Wing Back - as he has played there in the past. Either way, one of the three has to come off the bench, or else someone will have to play a position they are familiar with but might not be fully attuned to. That being said, depth in the wings is always a help rather than a hindrance, and considering ATO’s past options on the flanks, having multiple game-breaking talents to choose from is a manager’s dream.
Another massive implication of his singing will be the bolstering of the local contingent in and around the team. As well as Maxim Tissot, Matteo de Brienne, and Tyr Duhaney-Walker, and the presumptive presence of Luca Piccioli (2024 CPL Draftee from Carleton) in training sessions, Twardek makes five local products on the extended roster. This is a marked change from the past, which noticeably lacked Ottawa-area players, and made passing on de Brienne in 2021 that much more frustrating. In past seasons, the local players were always playing against Ottawa, and their raucous friends and families turned the knife even more. Finally, with this season's additions and draft picks, ATO have a strong core of Ottawa-born and raised players who will increase fan engagement and work towards creating healthy bonds with local clubs and organizations.
As of right now, the roster stands at 14 signed players (of 23 slots), with the options of Malcolm Shaw, Zachary Roy, and Zachary Verhoven yet to be announced. The club is still in need of centre-backs, as well as more right-sided options and midfield depth. With 9 roster spots left, Fernando Lopez and company are still in the hunt for signings, and if this off-season is anything to go by, they will be massive.
When he isn't busy playing or watching sports (or going to school at uOttawa), Alexander is busy managing his Atlético Ottawa database, which he started in 2020, and tracks everything you can think of about the club and its players. He also runs a Twitter account dedicated to analyzing and rating CPL players using statistics, CPL by the Numbers.