By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Pacific FC
2022 called, it wants its Atlético Ottawa back. By the end of this game, Atlético Ottawa was playing a 5 at the back system with two natural defenders. This team was beaten down, weary, and feeling every single degree of the heat in Langley on Sunday, and yet, they buckled down and did what great teams do in these circumstances, win. The final tally saw Atlético Ottawa only manage .24 xG, and even that seemed far too high based on the chances that the offence generated. Given the circumstances, with 3 of our 6 highest-rated regulars (per Sofascore) completely off the team sheet for various reasons, it’s the most important win of the season, especially when considering our away record compared to 2022. We should not have won this game going into it. When you consider the two teams' performances, we arguably shouldn’t have won it on the pitch. But we did, and damn if it doesn’t feel good. On to the rankings:
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(6.3): The anticipation for Ruben’s first goal is starting to grow into a bit of a worry at this stage. The performance against Pacific also felt like it, as he was playing frustrated for much of the 65 minutes he saw. That manifested in three committed fouls and just a general lack of action for the man at the head of the formation. Only attempting 7 passes in his time on the pitch was indicative partly of the game plan but also why I believe Sam Salter is the right player to lead the line at the beginning of games. Ruben plays on the line very well, and his ability in the air is to make note of, but Salter has shown recently that he is more capable of coming back to the midfield to facilitate play going forward. Ruben will need to be able to fulfill those roles if he’s to be preferred as the #9 in the stretch run. His dynamic is an important one, though, and I do feel that it’s a matter of time before he gets to where he needs to be.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(6.7): Malcolm may have been a little all over the place in this game, but I’d argue he did so in the best way possible. Tasked with a fairly complex defensive responsibility on Pacific’s right side of Josh Heard and Kunle Dada-Luke, he worked well with Niba in the first half to prevent much of a threat from coming down that side. At times, that was at the expense of giving away free kicks and committing 4 fouls in the game, but with an opposing combination with that kind of threat, his taking his defensive responsibility well was vital to the team’s success. It’s not going to come across as much on the stats sheet, as he went 3 of 10 on-ground duels and only managed to complete 71% of his passes, but what Malcolm did is so necessary for the team to be able to play like they did. Everyone needs to be switched on for 90 minutes, and Malcolm was just that.
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.2): After a handful of performances that saw him separate from the pack at striker, in my eyes, Salter took a bit of a step back in the 25 minutes he was afforded against Pacific. Part of that was the picking up of a fairly unnecessary yellow card in the dying moments of the game for his challenge on Emil Gazdov. Luckily, the impact that will have in the immediate future is minimal, as though it is the 4th yellow card for him this season; he did manage 7 games between this and his previous caution, which means his threshold for suspension is increased due to good behaviour. As for the rest of what he did on the pitch, given the day's requirements, his role was to function as a threat to the defense in case we could break out of our own final third. He only managed 1 of 5 aerial duels but did end up completing 6 of 7 passes, and he won one tackle. It’s not much to write home about, but this wasn’t meant to be Salter’s day, regardless.
#46 Zachary Roy
(6.8): In his first extended appearance of the season, Zach Roy was thrust into a left wingback role for the final 25 minutes against Pacific. As he had been in the few appearances he made last season, he looked dynamic and energetic on the ball and was making good decisions away from it. Being a naturally right-sided player, Roy had unfortunately been cast behind a number of impact players in that role, but due to injury, was forced out onto the left and made the most of the opportunity. 7/7 on passes, 3 of which were long balls, 4 of 5 on-ground duels, 2 tackles, and a successful dribble all demonstrate a player who was eager to make the most of his time out on the pitch. His presence when he was put on the pitch last season was always something I wanted to see more of. If he continues to demonstrate as complete a game as this was, there’ll be very little to suggest that he can’t be included more regularly in the rotation.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(6.9): Ollie Bassett really wishes we could play Pacific every week. He’s managed to score in each of the last 4 games against his former team, and for the first time in that run, his goal was decisive. Outside of the goal, though, OIlie remained just OK across the rest of the game. The most indicative element was that he only managed to reach 74% pass accuracy, well below his usual standard. That he also did not win either of his two ground duels also doesn’t shine the performance in the best light. Two interceptions help to show that his defensive role was not completely unfulfilled, but it serves as really the only positive statistical development in Ottawa’s third. Eventually, the team will need Ollie to return to his form from the first half of the season. I don’t believe that the defending player of the year will continue to stay at this level for the remaining nine games of this season. Maybe that’s a bit naive, but I can’t help but feel confidence in the young man.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.2): Another week, another performance where I was dissatisfied with Noah Verhoeven, as he was again unable to reach the playing level he displayed at the beginning of the year. Coming on at the half, Noah only misplaced one of his 13 passes, but he also only won one of his five duels. There were a couple of those instances where he had the ability to play out of danger but took an extra second to deal with it and made it more difficult to escape the situation than he needed to. The foul he gave away was certainly contentious, but it was still in a dangerous position, giving Pacific another set piece we needed to deal with. All that to say, I do expect more from Noah, and I’ve not seen anything recently that would show him as being a necessity for this team to function at its absolute best. The best partner for Ollie in playing ahead of Alberto is growing more difficult to determine, and not in a good way.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(NR): Thrown on for the final ten minutes or so, Gabi Antinoro looked eager to make a difference. Whether or not he did was largely irrelevant to me, as, with that much time left on the clock, all I needed from the 11 men on the pitch was to prevent Pacific from stealing the points we had defended well. 10 more u21 minutes in the bank also means that it was ultimately a positive result for ATO in Gabi’s short spell. Do I think he’s played to the level that he’s shown this season in recent weeks? Not particularly, but he’s still the player I have the most confidence in to partner with Ollie in the middle of the park, at least for now.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(7.2): While I could spend time maligning Assi’s game going forward, as I’ve been doing a fair bit this season, I’d rather focus on a stellar defensive performance from the 19-year-old, as he was essential to the Atlético Ottawa defence keeping a clean sheet, particularly as he had to work with Karl Ouimette to keep out one of the league’s most dangerous players in Ayman Sellouf. On the day, he managed to make two tackles and win 5 of his 7 ground duels while also being able to avoid committing any fouls. When he was signed, it was clear that his offensive abilities are what was most interesting to fans and coaches alike. Still, his development defensively is a revelation, and this was its pinnacle. If he can put together this type of defensive performance with a more complete offensive game that he has displayed at various times, he’ll become the monster on the field that we all believe he can become.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(6.8): Zapater continues to provide exactly what we need in a holding midfielder. While he wasn’t at his absolute best, he stayed incredibly solid and provided important interventions when asked. Ahead of two center halves playing near out of their minds, his function as their outlet to continue to hold onto possession for the little time we did was essential. 84% pass accuracy is solid, though not incredible, and his 3 tackles and block shot are the defensive highlights for another 90 minutes from a player we certainly did not expect to play this much. He clearly is holding the team together in these moments, but I’m still blown away by his ability to play as much as he has since joining the side. Zapater has not missed a single minute since being substituted at halftime against Valour on July 9th. That the team’s record is 5-1-1 since then is no coincidence.
#96 Ilias Iliadis
(6.3): Not often will you see a player tasked with playing three very different positions in the same game. For that reason, I won’t be quite as harsh on Ilias Iliadis for his performance against Pacific, which I will note is an improvement on his contributions against York last week, regardless of that additional context. Starting in midfield, he was shifted to left back when Niba was substituted at half-time before being moved to center back after the injury to Tyr Walker in the 65th minute. Defensively, he managed to win 3 of his 5 ground duels, and offensively, he managed to improve his passing accuracy statistics from last week, though that still only brought him to 74%. An interception and tackle on top of that may reflect well statistically, but he still feels out of sorts positionally. That he has Zapater alongside him will allow Ilias to learn and become more positionally aware, as it’s clear his technical level is high. He just needs to be able to put it all together.
#3 MacDonald Niba
(6.7): Another game for MacDonald Niba, another important clearance following a goalmouth scramble. While he had to come off injured at half-time, Niba certainly improved his performance from last week. He did not reach the highs that he’s provided at a number of instances this year but certainly did enough to ensure a clean sheet through the first 45 minutes. However, it’s interesting to note that his stat sheet appears relatively barren for such a defensive performance. Only one duel contested, which he lost, and no tackles are a rarity for any defender, let alone one in a system that invites such pressure. His only positive defensive statistics were an interception and the aforementioned clearance. The worst part of what we saw from Niba on Sunday was that he’s gone down injured in the middle of a defensive injury crisis. His relative health has been looming over our heads for a fair bit now, and this has felt more like a matter of when than if. With another defensive gap, it will be vital for the fringe players to step up.
#5 Luke Singh
(7.2): Luke Singh was asked to shoulder a bulk defensively without his usual partner in defense. He rose to that challenge. Doing his usual due diligence with the ball at his feet, Luke managed to accrue 91% pass accuracy while finding the mark with 6 of his 8 long balls, serving as a calm beacon to which the ATO midfield could retreat if they found themselves staring down pressure from Pacific. He even managed to crack the first shot on target of the game as he took one from about 40 yards that was hit directly at Emil Gazdov. A 50% record on duels over the course of the game could certainly have been better, but in the important moments, he could find a way to clear any danger and stop Pacific in their tracks, registering 3 tackles on the day. Over the last few games, the tendency he’s shown to have a potentially game-changing error has faded away. He’s still not a perfect center-half, but he’s certainly grown a lot since the start of the season, especially given what he worked with last year in Edmonton. He’s been asked to do a job, and he’s been able to do it, week in, week out.
#23 Tyr Walker
(8): Given this club's history in recruiting and holding on to local players, Tyr Walker was seen as a bastion of hope for the potential groundswell for talent in the nation’s capital at the start of the season. No one expected him to get much playing time, with a deep lineup of defenders ahead of him and no professional experience to speak of. When he came on for brief cameos against Vancouver and Pacific earlier this year, we, as fans, saw it as a reward for continuing to train well without the immediate prospect of playing time. With Diego Espejo's suspension and the pile of injuries in defence, that reality was quickly flipped on its head, and he was thrust into his first professional start against the number-one team in the CPL.
He answered the call, and then some. 5 tackles, 6 of 9 ground duels, and 4 clearances later, Tyr Walker put out a performance that received plaudits the country over. The only negative was that he came down injured in the 60th minute, and even then, he fought through it and made a crucial clearance on a cross that looked destined for the head of Josh Heard. From his teammate Ollie Bassett in the post-match interview to the main room of the Glebe Central Pub, teammates and fans were in awe of the poise and ability on display from the Russell native. This performance is more than just a solid replacement for an injury-riddled backline. Hopefully, it will demonstrate a new beginning for growing talent in the city of Ottawa and its surroundings. Antoine Coupland was the closest thing we had to developing a true homegrown superstar, and we let it get away. Tyr Walker’s performance shows that we have a second chance to build our brand on a local boy. We can’t waste it this time.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(7): That Ayman Sellouf could not accrue a goal contribution in this game should be enough to justify this rating. In the previous two games, Sellouf had been able to take advantage of the small errors made by the Atlético Ottawa right side to grab goals and assists. Karl Ouimette wasn’t alone in his attempts to stop the Dutchman, but it was his primary task. That the rest of his statistics don’t bear the fruit of a truly great individual defensive performance is not the issue here. He made 5 clearances and registered a blocked shot, but he only went 2 for 5 in duels. None of that really matters to me after what I saw on Sunday. The guy I’ve picked out as the most dangerous player in the league was taken off after 74 minutes after not really posing a threat. Sellouf only completed one cross and did not register a single shot on target. That’s an absolute win for Karl Ouimette, one he should take to the bank.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(7.9): All hail King Nate.
In any other circumstance, Ingham would be my runaway man of the match. 4 saves on 4 chances from inside the box harkens back to the 2022 run, where Ingham felt unbeatable at times. His command of his box, coming to make claims on balls in from Pacific, was immaculate. At every time of asking, Ingham was up to the challenge posed by an extremely potent attack. Is the distribution still a problem? Yes, it is, but I’ve harped on that enough to make even the biggest detractors sick of it. As great as the makeshift defensive line was in thwarting Pacific, it would not have withstood that test without a goalkeeper that was up to the challenge of making some truly vital saves. With this version of Nathan Ingham and a defence that will slowly get back to full strength, a title challenge may not be out of the cards just yet.
I'd have questioned our ability to take three points from the league leaders away from home while at full strength going into this match. That we managed to do it with the lineup we fielded is a level of sweetness never before defined. More of this will thrust us right back into the title race. Still, a difficult fixture against a Valour team riding the high of a comeback victory over Cavalry is not something to overlook, especially on a short week with a flight back from the west coast.
Despite all that, let’s revel in the performance of young Tyr Walker while we can. It’s not often your professional debut goes as you would dream. That he may be out for a period of time following his non-contact injury is an absolute travesty, as he’s proven that he can hold his own on the pitch. Making sure you have 23 players you can be confident in when the time calls is the ultimate goal for a manager in the CPL. That we saw Walker and Zach Roy put forward this level on Sunday is the best thing we could’ve seen alongside a full three points.
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.