By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Halifax Wanderers
I won’t lie, I was expecting a bit of a letdown coming off of the week we just had. Halifax has been a fantastic team at home since their calamitous defeat against York, and the circumstances surrounding the game certainly would’ve knocked most teams in this league out of their rhythm. None of that excuses the performance provided by the team on Sunday. Nothing worked, and everyone looked out of sorts. It was almost as if the team was playing with input lag, as at almost every instance, players would take an extra half second to make a decision as to what they were going to do with the ball, often eliminating the opportunity to make an incisive pass or be able to gain a step on the defender. As much as I hate to say it, this is a sobering reminder of the league's quality. There will be more times than not when that decision-making isn’t going to match the world-class players we watch in Europe. That said, these are still professional players, and my expectation for them isn’t going to waver in that regard. We need to see far more and far better, especially from a team we’ve seen play so well recently as last week. On to the rankings:
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.3): Sam Salter not starting this game made sense. In his return to Halifax, you would want to ensure that the 22-year-old wasn’t saddled with any more pressure to perform than required. That said, I feel like this team would’ve been more effective going forward with him at the tip of the spear. Of our three strikers, he looked the calmest on the ball and provided the most in trying to link play between the lines. That much wasn’t difficult to achieve, given the level displayed on Sunday. I’d expect him to get the start against Cavalry, if only because he’s the only striker that’s directly contributed to a goal in recent memory. You can be as effective as you wish in other areas of the pitch, but at the end of the day, goals matter from your “number 9”.
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(5.7): It’s been four games, and Ruben Del Campo is already showing signs of those that came beforehand. It’s not in a good way, either. His frustration has yet to boil over in the way other import strikers have been, probably due to him only having 4 games under his belt, but the fear is certainly there if things don’t fall his way soon. As for this game, he probably had the best chance for Atletico Ottawa, denied only by the outstretched hand of Yann Fillion on a cross from the right wing. He was also relatively effective in pressing, creating at least one chance by being on the front foot, but mostly just denying Halifax the ability to complete long balls forward from the defence. Next week against Cavalry feels like a make-or-break moment for the Swiss youth international. I hope he comes good, even if history may suggest otherwise.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(5.1): In some ways, one could look at this game and be fine with the performance Malcolm Shaw delivered. 3 of 3 aerial duels won, 3 of 5 ground duels won, a couple of tackles, and 82% pass accuracy are all stats that point to positive performance, or at the very least, one that wasn’t actively negative towards the rest of the side. Usually, I’d agree with the stats on a base level. This game is not one of those times. Largely, I don’t really believe Malcolm ever posed a threat to the Halifax defence in this game. Even when he managed to get a shot off at Yann Fillion, it was from an angle where a save was guaranteed, barring a colossal error from the keeper. The runs he made to try and get open weren’t the types of runs that would provide opportunities for himself or his teammates, and the hold-up play he normally provides was absent. There was a limited link between midfield and attack, Malcolm’s poor performance, to me, was one of the biggest reasons why. He hasn’t scored in the last 5 games he’s played for the club, and the form of two seasons ago looks to be well beyond him. It’s unfortunate to say, but our last remaining original may not be the man we can rely on going forward.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(NR): My only comment on Gianni dos Santos’ performance stems from one moment in the 2nd half’s injury time. As he let the ball run onto Zach Verhoven to his left and was presented with a wide-open left wing to run onto with the right back facing up against Zach, Gianni instead decided to stand still. It felt emblematic of the whole game from our wingers, and even though I think Gianni should’ve come on earlier, given a lack of any available natural left-sided players, that moment made me rethink that.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(5.8): Forced into a role he hadn’t seen any time in since 2021, if at all, Zach Verhoeven’s short stint in the second half was nothing to write home about. When tasked with trying to make something in the attacking third, Zach looked far too often to cut inside. It was a predictable thing for him to do, and the Halifax defenders capitalised repeatedly when the ball came down the left wing. Even when he was able to dribble through the defensive line, Zach couldn’t take hold and create something with it. Ultimately, I’ll give him a little benefit of the doubt, with the rest of the team not being able to create, he probably took that burden a little too heavily down the left wing and tried desperately to make something out of nothing. A whole lot of nothing.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(5.6): Taken off in the 80th minute, Ollie Bassett looked nothing like the player he’s been all season. I’ve commented that his ability to factor into the game has been the lynchpin to Atletico Ottawa looking like any competent side going forward. The epitome of his performance today was either the pass to Jean-Aniel Assi, which he overhit by about 25 yards following a Halifax turnover, or the attempted pass to Carl Haworth from 2 yards away that he still managed to under hit and give right back to Halifax. Only 4 duels contested, and only 3 passes into the final third are the signs of an engine that clearly didn’t get the necessary maintenance. Hopefully, an oil change is in order, and the motor that keeps the Atletico attack going starts firing on all cylinders again next week. I’d hate to think of the reaction to a performance like this in front of the home fans again.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.2): That Noah Verhoeven managed to be about as active in this game, where he came on after 63 minutes as he has in some of his starts, says a lot about what was going on with Atletico Ottawa. I’ve noted his passivity in previous write-ups, and he seemed to have shifted gears slightly in his brief spell on the pitch. I wasn’t wholly impressed with his decision to shoot from outside the box when he did. It seemed that he immediately put his head down and fired away with his weak foot, never troubling Yann Fillion. Perhaps it’s unfair to dock him for that, as many have called for more urgency in opportunities where shots could be taken from this Atletico Ottawa side, but I’m doing so nonetheless. With it clear that Zakaria Bahous is unavailable, this is the time for Noah to start making a run back at the starting eleven.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(6.3): Of the starting XI, Antinoro was one of two players I wasn’t 100% frustrated with. His usual energy was on display, though in at least one instance, it may have been a little bit too much. With Miguel Acosta open on his left wing, Antinoro attempted to take the ball through three defenders rather than trying to lay the ball off to his teammate. 5 of 11 ground duels alongside being dribbled past 3 times was a subpar effort defensively, for sure, but his aggression stood out against fellow midfielders that did not have the same willingness to remain active and look to play in between the lines. That said, energy isn’t enough, Antinoro needs to refine his game more for sure to be the player we all want him to become. He’s 19, though, there’s plenty of time for that and clearly plenty of opportunity.
#9 Carl Haworth
(5.5): After what was truly the best spell of Carl Haworth’s Atletico Ottawa career, his letdown was probably the most disappointing of all today. My biggest sticking point was the lone goal Halifax managed. As the ball rotated back through to the Halifax defence, it was clear there was a communication breakdown between Carl and Diego Espejo, who was playing as the right centre-back for much of the first half, that allowed Theo Collomb acres of space down Atletico Ottawa’s right flank. I know it’s easy for me to say that from my seat at the bar, but blurting out “Carl Drop” 3 or 4 times as the ball got played to Daniel Nimick makes it all the more frustrating. 2/7 on-ground duels and 74% pass accuracy, when those numbers were so much higher in the last week, is the statistical representation of that negative shift. Perhaps more rotation is needed down the right wing to ensure Carl can continue to compete.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(5.7): At this point, I could probably refer you to many of my previous articles to describe what I thought of Jean-Aniel Assi’s performance. The input lag analogy I made earlier feels like a consistent feature of Assi’s game down the right wing. When he figures it out, the success feels so much greater because it feels like he does it to himself. The other unfortunate thing is that now, we have less than one-half of the time that will count towards our u21 minutes total if Jean-Aniel is to keep playing. It’s not as big a deal with Antinoro in a position to make up the other 450 or so minutes we require from the rest of the season. All told it’s more of the same from Jean-Aniel Assi.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(6.8): It’s still mystifying how Alberto Zapater landed with Atletico Ottawa. It is so evident that he’s a level above everyone else on the pitch, and in a game where it was abundantly clear that the rest of their team wasn’t on their A-game, it was somehow more obvious how good he is. 90% pass accuracy on 48 passes feels a tad inflated given his position and the way that Atletico Ottawa was moving the ball, but it still helps to illustrate his brilliance in being able to find the best course of action more often than not when forced to do so. Even still, he managed to make 9 passes into the final third and created two chances through his accurate long balls. That he was also fantastic defensively, not conceding a single foul, making a couple of interceptions and 3 of his 4 duels, makes it evident that this team is in serious trouble without him.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(5.8): Tasked again with playing as a left wing-back, Miguel Acosta was unfortunately forced to come off the pitch following a non-contact injury in the 63rd minute. With the injuries presently facing the squad, losing another player that can feature down the left is bordering on catastrophic, especially given what Miguel can bring in defence. Today, however, wasn’t his best day. He was caught out at the back post twice and was fortunate to have the Halifax players be unable to capitalise on their opportunities. Going forward, my gripe with his play today was his insistence on switching the play as a first option multiple times rather than trying to engage with midfielders trying to support him along the left. While he managed to go 5 of 8 on those long balls, it felt that these were out of desperation or a lack of other ideas rather than a considered plan to exploit something in the Halifax defence. Without him in the team, I struggle to see how the defence continues to be effective.
#5 Luke Singh
(6): The collective frustration from the excessive long balls played in this game is mostly generated from Luke’s performance in that area. 3 of 11 in the best of times is poor, but when most of those balls were generated mostly out of desperation, it makes it all the worse. He was not himself in the air in this game either, winning only 2 of 5 aerial duels. Add in that he couldn’t affect the game by transitioning the ball forward from defence through his own dribbling, and it wasn’t a particularly strong showing from Luke. The 4 clearances and 2 tackles demonstrate enough defensive prowess for this not to be a truly calamitous performance, merely below average. It was relatively good compared to many of his teammates on Sunday.
#4 Diego Espejo
(6.5): I think it’s fair to lay blame for the goal on Diego Espejo. Not the bulk of it, but some of it, as he clearly tucked in more than he should’ve as the right-sided centre back in the first half. A positional mistake that is understandable but needs to be corrected immediately if Diego is ever to move back out from the central spot again. Statistically, it comes as a normal Diego game, with the added benefit of 4 interceptions, more than he’s had in a single game all season. However, in thinking back on this game and the season as a whole, I’ve come to a troubling realisation. Through much of his age 20-21 season, there has not been a marked improvement from last year. This is one of the key years in terms of individual development from a player, and if he’s stagnating already, this might be the level he has to stay at. I’m no player development expert, so I’ll chalk this observation up to my eternal pessimism and general malaise following this loss.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.5): Along with Diego, this rating jumped up pretty heavily following some reflection and further analysis of the game. Karl’s defensive effort was perfectly acceptable, and even going forward, he showed far more impetus than against Vancouver, where he made a number of key giveaways with the ball at his feet. That said, the 10 of 13 number regarding long ball accuracy feels inflated in both totals and importance to the game. I thought moving him to the middle of the centre of the back three was the right decision, given his performance at the end of the Vancouver game, but given the lack of familiarity with the position that Diego had in the first half, it was for the best that they switched back in the second half. That none of the defenders picked up yellow cards is also extremely important, as it delays the potential suspensions that might turn out to be more of a problem than I thought.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(5.8): The first ball Nathan Ingham played long ended up 15 yards behind and to the left of Miguel Acosta, which feels like most of his season condensed into one moment. There were also some clear communication issues in a couple of instances where defenders expected him to come out and claim the ball, and it took longer than it should have to bear fruit. The goal wasn’t his fault, in any respect, as the finish from Theo Collomb was simply sublime. My frustration with Nathan is prominent and probably overblown because most of the goals he conceded this year aren’t his fault.
It’s hard to reconcile the fact that this team has scored as much as they have and yet can play entire games where it looks like they’ve never been able to string together a move towards the opponent's goal. Holding a +4 goal differential while being 6th in the table at this point in the season is baffling, and I’m struggling to find an explanation. It’s clear that the team isn’t as good as last year, but I also feel like this side is suffering the Guy Boucher effect, to borrow another Ottawa sports analogy. The style works for a year, but the game tape is provided, and teams can now find areas to exploit to maximum effect. We’ve still got 12 games to go, in a season that is very tight, with 5 teams set to qualify for the playoffs. There’s enough to be positive about if the form from the last week comes back, and this was an aberration.
My take, this wasn’t. Even with our new anchor in midfield, I don’t think we’ll be making the playoffs. There’s plenty of context to navigate with our results from this year, but the bottom line is this: Through 16 games this season, we’ve played 8 games against the other three teams in the bottom half of the table and 8 games against the teams in the top half. We’ve collected 17 points against the other three teams in the bottom half. Against the top half, 4.
Having joined CCSG in 2022, Patrick started his footie career playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros around the same time. While the first pro team he supported was Manchester United, as soon as Atlético Ottawa came to town, he was immediately on board. His wealth of footie knowledge has been a constant asset, along with his role as caretaker for Atléti Wikipedia pages.