By Jon Hopkins
With a huge sigh of relief, we are now in the fortunate position to have a keeper on our roster for 2024! With Nathan Ingham locked up for 2 more years in the capital, only one question remains for the position. Who will back him up? While, of course, it is true any keeper we bring in will be competing with Ingham for starts, at the end of the day, he is the current starter going into year 5 of the club's history. So, what should we look for in a backup? The biggest criterion is that they must be Canadian. With limited roster spots for internationals and 5-6 of them already being in use (the 6th representing the option on Miguel Acosta), we simply cannot afford to use one on a keeper who will, in all likelihood, be riding the bench in 2024. The second is affordability. Given we exist in a cap league, we cannot afford to be spending too much on a player who in a perfect world, will not play at all. Being U-21 can help with this, as there are cap incentives, which means that only 50% of U-21 players' salaries count against the cap (up to 200k). Being U-21 also allows them to step in and fill crucial U-21 minutes, so it is an added bonus. With all that in mind, here is a list of our top 5 potential targets for 2024:
Number 5: Kieran Baskett
The recently available former Pacific and Halifax keeper is a relatively young project that has competed for starting positions in both places he has played. At 22, Baskett has appeared in 29 CPL games, 19 for Halifax in 2021-22, and 10 for Pacific in 2023. In his most recent season with Pacific, he walked away from Victoria with 3 clean sheets and 13 goals conceded until Gazdov took over full starter duties from him to close out the season. While he is still relatively young, he has been in the CPL for 3 years now, and is a bit more of a known commodity around the league. While he doesn’t seem like a starter calibre keeper, there is more room for him to develop behind Ingham, and he has shown that, when called upon in the CPL, he can answer the call reasonably well. The biggest question is if Baskett left Pacific because he wasn’t playing minutes, and if he intends to seek out a team that will allow him more game time. If that is the case, then Ottawa won’t be where he wants to land in 2024. However, if he doesn’t mind being the presumptive number 2, he would make a solid second if called upon.
Number 4: Nathaniel Abraham
Our number 4 pick is the biggest wildcard of the bunch. The youngest keeper on this list at 17 (though he will be 18 in 2024), Nathaniel Abraham is the biggest “project option”, which could yield long-term dividends. The current keeper of the Canadian U-17 team and a member of TFC’s academy, Abraham briefly spent time as a back-up keeper for TFCII in MLS Next Pro, though he did not make any appearances. Fortunately for Abraham, we do have a significant sampling with his 2023 performances for Canada’s U-17 squad both in the U-17 world cup and the U-17 CONCACAF Championship. In his 5 starts in the CONCACAF Championship, he gave up only 3 goals and held 3 clean sheets. For the U-17 World Cup, the U-17 team struggled heavily, leading to him giving up 10 goals in 3 games, though I don’t think that falls on the youngster alone. The barrier to nabbing Abraham will be that he is currently signed up with TFCs academy, so he may be drawn to the prospect of playing for the MLS side rather than join the CPL. However, if we could manage to bring him to Ottawa, he’d also be eligible for one of our two Exceptional Young Talent spots, meaning he would not take up a roster spot, adding to his potential value as an option (even as a third keeper). A lot of potential upside in signing the young up and comer, and offers tons of flexibility in terms of the roster, with age and levels being the primary risks to having him as a number 2.
Number 3: Jonathan Viscosi
The number 3 keeper on our list is an old (compared to the rest of this list) Ottawa-born player who has spent most of his career in various levels of Scandinavian football, playing primarily as a backup. He also spent 4 years in England (also as a backup), along with a year backing up USL side San Antonio FC. Rumours suggest the Ottawa native is also looking to settle down back in Ottawa, meaning that he, like Nate, may be focused on building a culture and club in the capital for future generations. It adds more leadership to the locker room, and as a career backup, he also is a stable option 2, and his salary demands will likely match, freeing up funds to focus on larger areas of need. The biggest strike against Viscosi is that as a backup, his minutes give a very small sample size in terms of evaluating his game from a strictly stats perspective and given he has fluctuated in tiers it is tricky to pin down his level, but if he is able to trial and impress, then he may be the perfect veteran for the role. Another strike against Viscosi is that at 32, he is unable to provide U-21 minutes in goal, though with a number 1 like Nate and key outfield contributors (Antinoro, Walker, and Roy if he returns and is used) that may be a non-issue.
Number 2: Luka Vujicic
Another one of Ottawa’s sons, our number 2 pick, Luka Vijicic, is a young 20-year-old keeper who holds both a Canadian and Serbian passport. He is currently playing for FK Omarska in Bosnia’s second tier, where he has started 88% of games in the 2023-24 season. His stats have been rough, which suggests he may be willing to come back if it can be valuable to his development. In 15 starts, he has conceded 33, and only managed a single clean sheet. His U-Sports career at Queens is still in its very early days, as he sat behind 5th-year keeper Manuel Dirube for 2022-23. That being said, there is a lot of potential in the young lad, and he ticks multiple boxes for ATO. He’s U-21, Canadian, an Ottawa local, and within our price range. However, the biggest barrier to his homecoming is the fact that while he hasn’t been super impressive in Bosnia, he is still getting minutes, whereas for Ottawa he’d pretty clearly be our number 2. That being said, Ingham has talked about the importance of competition for the starting keeper spot, so it can be a valuable way to help his development and a way to learn from one of Canada’s best.
Number 1: Ben Alexander
Our top pick goes back to the U-21 well with a BC lad who has been soaring at the collegiate level in the states and could prove to be a nascent Canadian talent. Alexander has represented Canada at the U-20 level in 2022, where he had 4 starts and a clean sheet during the CONCACAF U-20 Championship. Alexander was also signed to an amateur contract with VWFCII in 2022, and would go on to concede 5 goals on 4 starts in MLS Next Pro. Following that admittedly difficult debut, Alexander would go on to start 16 games for the South Carolina Gamecocks as a freshman in 2022. He was ranked 86th in the US with 54 total saves, 99th in saves per game, averaging 3.38 saves per game, and 123rd in save percentage (.711). While he only had 2 clean sheets, he only allowed one goal or less in 10 matches. A very impressive collegiate resume makes him a very attractive candidate, however, given his higher profile, he may be more difficult to attract to the nations capital and is likely a suitor for many other clubs. Still, Alexander presents a big opportunity for a U-21 keeper brimming with potential.
In conclusion, we need to temper expectations when it comes to our number 2 keeper. Having both Ingham and Melvin meant that we have spent the last 2 years with what could be 2 starting keepers for this level, and that simply isn’t likely to be the case (as it isn’t for most clubs). This leaves two major options; the first is having a young prospect who can learn behind All-State Nate, representing a potential future for the position and source of U-21 minutes. The second option is a more veteran keeper ready to be a positive locker room presence to support the team both from the bench and, when called upon, on the pitch. Whichever route we take, there are some perks to getting it right, and hopefully, whoever becomes the second half of our keeper duo can keep us in safe hands.
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.