By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Freestyle Photography / Matt Zambonin
What I wouldn’t have given to have watched this game as a neutral. End to end, filled with chances, and full of drama between two teams that clearly have some animosity with one another. But, as an interested party, I spent the entire 90+ with my heart in my throat, on the verge of displaying a level of emotion that would’ve sent something in my vicinity hurtling toward the ground. That said, I felt it in my bones that this would be the week the other shoe would drop, and 30 minutes in, it certainly felt like it. That this bunch was able to fight back and steal a point from York in a hyper-close playoff race was an absolute marvel. That we couldn’t get over the line and finally beat them at home is a different story. All in all, though, the collective played better than the sum of its parts, save for one crucial performance from our captain. On to the rankings:
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.5): There comes a point where a player over-contributes to areas of the pitch that isn’t the role his position is supposed to provide. Against York, I feel like Sam Salter was doing just that. While he did make a couple of good runs in behind that received limited service at best, most of his time when ATO had possession was spent in the pocket of space that would otherwise be occupied by Ollie Bassett or Carl Haworth. There were a few instances of him playing in tight spaces with those two, but it never really built into anything more than a reset of possession early on. That he did not manage to register a single shot, earn a single free kick, or win a majority of his ground duels, going 1/5 on the day, leans even more into a narrative that it just wasn’t his best day on the pitch. Could he have had better service? Yes, but it felt like he was trying to get involved in the play in a way that eliminated the threat he could pose to the York back line.
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(6.9): It may not have been the goal we were all hoping to see, but man, what a ball it was to find the head of Diego Espejo in the 81st minute. As Iain Hume pointed out on commentary, the ability to wrap his foot around that ball, moving at that speed to force Niko Gianntsopoulous to make a poor decision, was a tremendous bit of skill. Outside of the assist, Del Campo provided a bit more of what was needed as a striker in the second half. Rather than trying to get involved by coming to the ball, he found spaces along the York line to serve as an outlet for his teammates, allowing more space in the middle of the park for the midfielders to run into, with or without the ball. It is surprising that he only attempted 5 passes in his half on the pitch, as it felt like he was very involved in what the team was trying to do when trailing. If he continues to play like this, his opportunities to provide goals will soar, and he’ll mount a real challenge to Sam Salter’s starting spot.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(6.6): Coming off a game where he wasn’t at his best, Malcolm Shaw responded well in the role he was tasked with in the second half. Shaw looked quite comfortable in his role-playing as the left winger in the midfield four. His heat map certainly doesn’t look like someone we know as a natural striker. With Ilias Iliadis filling the left-back role towards the end of the game, Malcolm sometimes worked inside as a third central midfielder and looked calm with the ball at his feet. Impressively, he defended well down the left as well, most importantly doing so without fouling, as he’s been prone to do this season and in years past. I’m not sure if he’s done quite enough to move up the depth chart up top, but with the injury crisis down the left wing, he should still see minutes if this is the type of play that he can provide in his limited minutes.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(6.4): After coming into the previous two games essentially in injury time, Gianni dos Santos got a bit more run in this game as ATO looked to push for the equalizing goal and hopefully a winner. While not really standing out, as he played down the right wing despite being focused on the left for the rest of the season prior to his injury, he didn’t do much wrong either in his time on the pitch. The only moment that stood out was a transition moment where he dribbled basically directly into the defender ahead of him after a significant amount of time on the ball, albeit with very little support from his fellow attackers. I think Gianni’s instincts are among the best in the team, knowing where to be and how to get there. It’s the final product that is tremendously inconsistent. To me, the final, perfect version of this team has a Gianni dos Santos that can find consistency in the final third.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(6.5): While nothing quite like the ball he played for his assist against Cavalry was provided by Zach Verhoven against York, he still did his job down the left wing, to a certain extent. His dribbling was on full display as there were multiple sequences where he easily cut in from the left and took on multiple York defenders. Like Gianni, however, Zach’s game lacked the final product. Given how focused the team tends to be down the right side in slower-developing plays, the left winger is often tasked with roaming inside and functioning as a second striker. Zach’s skillset doesn’t feel like the most suited to this, but the statistics show a pretty successful game on his part. 17 of 18 passes completed and 6 of 11 ground duels won are certainly quite positive to take from someone that is not playing on his natural wing. With 3 tackles as well, his defensive work is also to be commended.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(6.4): After a start to the season where he was essentially the only one keeping us afloat, Ollie’s performances continue to stagnate. Some of it can be traced to how York lined up, allowing very little space in the midfield and forcing Ollie to drift to the right wing to get any sustained time on the ball, but it also comes down to an inability to execute on his part. After a string of 4 consecutive games with a goal contribution, Ollie has only managed to create 1 chance in ATO’s last three. In addition to his offensive woes, he was on the wrong end of most of his duels, only winning 2 of 7 total. On a positive note, he continues to make good decisions with the ball at his feet, completing 85% of his passes and still contributing defensively with an interception and two tackles. Knowing what his level has been this season, these types of performances are a real disappointment as we’re seeing them be strung together. As we well know, a successful Atletico Ottawa is far more likely when an in-form Ollie Bassett is conducting the attack.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.3): I could probably look at the last few of these I’ve written and copy and paste them regarding Noah Verhoeven. Ultimately, only playing one half of a game will skew a player towards a lower amount of actions on the ball, but it’s still something I’ve taken note of with Noah. He also seems to be trending more toward the Ollie problem of going out wide to receive the ball at any point, limiting the amount the team can generate through the middle of the park. I do want to commend his willingness to work off the ball to get into positions to receive it. That the team focuses the play more down the right than the left when in control isn’t his fault, and it’s good to see that he’s still trying to make space for his teammates with his runs, much like on the goal against Cavalry last week. I feel like if Noah was given license to distribute a little bit more than he has been, there would be a new dynamic in how we move forward that would hopefully create new areas of attack that seem inaccessible to this side at the moment.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(6.5): As with Gianni, Gabi’s 15 minutes on the pitch didn’t generate too much of a performance. As the season winds down, though, I hope to see him get a few more minutes than a customary end-of-game substitution if only to ensure we hit the u21-minute total with plenty of time to spare. Gabi has been my favourite of our off-season signings to watch this season. Maybe that’s due to reduced expectations, given his youth, or his potential is starting to shine through. Regardless, I see bright things ahead for the young man, and as he continues to work on his execution, as I think his understanding of the game is ahead of where one would expect at this level, he’ll only continue to impress me more.
#9 Carl Haworth
(9): Oh Captain, my Captain. Almost a year to the day of the last time an Atletico Ottawa player managed to score a brace, Carl Haworth delivered two sensational goals to keep this team relevant. The first was a brilliant bit of pressing play that saw a silky smooth nutmeg of Tass Mourdoukoutas before sending Niko Giantsopoulos the wrong way. The second was a free kick that longtime Fury fans will just chalk up as another day at the office for the veteran right winger. It wasn’t just the goals either that put Carl on another planet to everyone else on the pitch in this game. 5/5 successful dribbles, 89% pass accuracy on 37 passes, and 7 of 9 duels won demonstrate a complete performance from the man that his teammates chose to be the leader of this team on the pitch. It’s clear that we are at our best with Carl in the lineup down the right wing. After a 2022 season that didn’t reach the heights we expected from him, Carl has come back from injury reinvigorated, and you’d be hard-pressed to get me to believe he’s 34 years old.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(7): Even with this being Alberto’s most muted performance, there were still a couple of instances where I was left shaking my head at how fortunate we were to have a player of his caliber anywhere on the pitch. The most significant one was in the 89th minute, with Kevin Santos bearing down on goal, Zapater positioned himself beautifully as the last defender to handle not only if the York attacker were to continue toward goal but also to cut off the cutback to the trailing York player that was free in the centre of the pitch. It’s astonishing to me that he’s able to track back like that, looking far younger than any 38-year-old on a football pitch has any right to. 6 tackles, 8 recoveries, and 7/10 on duels are just another day at the office for the man that has revitalized this team.
#96 Ilias Iliadis
(6): After seeing only 10 minutes in his club debut last week, Ilias Iliadis was trusted to fill Noah Verhoeven’s role in coming onto the pitch at halftime. After about 20 minutes, he was shifted to the role he filled for CF Montreal earlier this season at left-back after it looked like he wasn’t fitting into his role in the middle of the pitch whatsoever. To me, he was everywhere in the midfield in the wrong way. Normally that descriptor is used to talk about a player like N’Golo Kanté, who fills every space imaginable and seemingly shuts down an opponent single-handedly. Ilias seemed to be trying to do too much when he was in that position, and when he shifted to the left, he provided much more impact on the game. The other issue with his performance was the number of wayward passes in very dangerous positions. That he only managed 63% pass accuracy is a cause for concern, even without looking at the specific impacts of the passes he missed. As with the rest of our signings, I’ll give him time, as there are definitely positives to take from his first two games. If those can shine through, he’ll be a valuable rotation piece through the closing segments of the season.
#3 MacDonald Niba
(6): As much as Niba did impact the game in a positive manner, it’s difficult to see past how he performed on York’s first two goals, where Clement Bahiya made him look amateurish. Despite going 8 of 12 on duels and making 9 recoveries, the one time he was dribbled past was on one of the York goals. Maybe it is harsh to apply the result of the sequence so heavily to an analysis of a player. Still, particularly on the first York goal, he had the opportunity to play the ball into touch but chose a more complicated route to try and keep the ball in play. Knowing he’s playing out of position as a natural centre back at left back, I do want to give him the benefit of the doubt, but Martin Nash did well tactically to use Bahiya down the York right wing to give Niba fits throughout the game. Again, on the balance, Niba’s impact on the game was more positive than negative. Still, with the results of his negative moments being so dramatic in comparison, it’s hard to remove any of those positives.
#5 Luke Singh
(6.6): The challenge that I mentioned earlier from Zapater was necessary due to Luke Singh committing in the previous phase of play to try and cut off the supply to Kevin Santos. That’s not to say that Luke had a bad game, just one that was very up and down. While he did manage to win all 3 of his aerial duels, he only won one of four ground duels. While he was extremely successful with his long balls, completing 9 of 11 attempts, he registered fewer tackles than fouls committed. Despite being part of a defensive line conceding three times, Luke wasn’t at fault for any of them. He may have been able to provide better support for Niba in sequences where Bahiya got around our left back, but to put any blame on him would be a mistake. The last few weeks haven’t seen anything tremendous from the defender, but he’s not been bad. This consistently solid level is nice to see from a young centre-back, and if he can find the impact of some of his better games from earlier in the campaign, it will be vital, as he’ll have a massive role in the final stretch.
#4 Diego Espejo
(7.1): As of August 5th, 2023, Diego Espejo has now scored more goals for Atletico Ottawa than all of the non-Canadian eligible strikers that have ever suited up for this club. It is unfortunate that Diego will miss the upcoming fixture against Pacific due to suspension, but given the emotion that poured out when he scored that goal, I forgive him. Outside of the goal, though, it wasn’t his best performance. He went 2 of 8 on ground duels, which feels unforgivable for a defender, but given the motivation that a certain opposition player was playing with, I can see why some of those results didn’t go his way. He still managed to make 5 clearances and 2 tackles, but the two fouls he committed feel like they offset the latter. I still think there is a larger discussion to be had about Diego’s overall level and the lack of demonstrable progress despite having a great season last year. To me, the normal development pathway would see him truly dominate this league with a full professional year under his belt, but the stagnation seems to be setting in. He’s a great defender for this level, but a part of me wants to see him grow into the best player he can be, and I don’t know if he can do that here.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.5): Karl Ouimette committing to Mo Babouli’s run and leaving Kevin Santos at the back post for the second York goal still confuses me. That wasn’t the only defensive instance where Karl was a tad questionable on this night, as he was also dribbled past three times. Offensively though, he improved from the last couple of weeks in which he wasn’t giving the ball away and was playing safely and intelligently with the ball at his feet. 89% pass accuracy and 4 of 6 long balls while not being dispossessed are the evidence of that, along with the 7 passes made into the final third and winning two free kicks. Defensively, he did manage to win 6 of 9 ground duels, but, surprisingly, given his skill set, he only won 1 of 3 aerial duels. I know we can see better from Karl, and I expect it from him in this stretch run, as he’ll be shifted inside next week against Pacific to cover for the suspension from Diego Espejo.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(6): The third York goal is among the most unfortunate own goals I believe I’ve ever seen in my years watching this sport. The touch from Babouli was wholly incidental and flew on an unbelievable trajectory only to ricochet off our keeper’s back. Outside of the goals, I feel Nate played very well in situations requiring him to. Particularly as it came to coming off his line to challenge through balls from York that managed to cut open our defence. We haven't had to deal with challenging and denying their strikers from getting opportunities much this season, but seeing Ingham be more active in managing his 18 was really encouraging to see. He did have one or two moments where he could not place long balls, and they went harmlessly into touch.
Games like these are why I try to convince myself that I shouldn’t let 11 men on a soccer pitch dictate my mental health for the next week. The last few weeks have been extremely high, and my life has just felt better. Losing this game, particularly given the outside circumstances surrounding our last matchup, would’ve crushed me. That the team showed fight to steal a point away despite the lapses on which York capitalized means that I’m not absolutely despondent while writing this. In case you needed a reminder, fandom is a disease.
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.