By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Valour FC
Atlético Ottawa is doing their best for the environment by planting trees everywhere they go. 2 straight wins away from TD Place takes us to 31 points on the season, managing to take 19 of our last 24, and firmly cement last year’s regular season champions in the title race once again. With just over a quarter of the season remaining, it would’ve been ridiculous to assume this would have been the case through the first quarter, given that Atlético had only managed to win 5 points in that stretch. This win against Valour, though, felt different, in that we were allowed to be calm in the waning minutes of the match, managing to go up 3-0 before the absolute wondergoal put forward by Marcello Polisi to render the game’s final 3-1 scoreline. It was a performance that seemed the absolute opposite of what we saw against Pacific in that the backline looked very shaky at times, but the midfield and attack looked dynamic going forward. On to the rankings:
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(6.5): Ruben Del Campo’s luck needs to turn at a certain point. He’s been able to get into very dangerous positions a number of times in his 7 appearances for the club, but time and time again, he finds himself unable to put the last element together to grab their goal. A break off of a corner where he laid the ball to Noah Verhoeven and expected a return pass, only for that to not break quite as he had hoped, saw Ruben still work towards a shot, but unfortunately, it only found the boot of a Valour defender. His skill set fits the system so well, and his penchant for winning aerial duels has created a number of half-chances so far. Still, it must be said that only one goal contribution does not bely the overall contribution Ruben has made when on the pitch this season. As much as I want to continue talking about the positives from Ruben, he will still need to get the results. While we’re still winning, and he’s being positive, you won’t be hearing the negative side from me.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(NR): The brief spell from Malcolm Shaw down the right wing demonstrated similar positives as his performance down the left last week against Pacific, albeit in a role less demanding with a 2-goal lead. His defensive work has come on leaps and bounds under Carlos Gonzalez, and the flexibility to provide minutes at a number of positions has been essential to the game plan in this recent run. He may no longer be the choice to get minutes at the head of the formation, but the work he’s done off the ball to keep leads for this team means he should keep getting minutes regardless.
#18 Samuel Salter
(7): Sammy managing to bag his 5th goal of the season with a cheeky backheel was exactly the type of start this team needed. It was the third time that Salter had managed to open the scoring within the first 15 minutes this season, and in all three games, Atlético Ottawa has gone on to win. Outside of the goal, it was a fairly pedestrian evening for the 23-year-old. He went slightly below 50% on his duels, completed only 50% of his passes, and was unable to convert a second when he was sent through on goal by Ollie Bassett about 10-15 minutes after he converted his first chance. His usual play as a hold-up striker was not what was asked of him in this match, as much as it usually is, and he still went out and fulfilled his duty in the 57 minutes he played. It’s hard to get mad at a striker when he fulfills his duty, and this type of performance from Salter would have drawn maybe a bit more ire from me at the beginning of the year, but now that he’s scoring more regularly, it’s far more forgivable.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(6.9): In his first start in nearly two and a half months, Gianni dos Santos was able to provide a pretty wild assist to set up Ollie Bassett’s first goal of the night. The fact Gianni was able to control the ball, given the bobble it took at the top of the 18-yard box, was astounding. That he found the correct pass at the end of the sequence was a testament to his skill and vision. That said, it was clear that this was his first time seeing extended minutes in a while, as he looked a little clunky throughout the day. He did not win a single one of his four duels, and he only managed to complete 64% of his passes. That 2 of the 9 completed passes were deemed key shows exactly why I still want Gianni to play a significant role for this team. He is explosive in a way that we often lack, particularly playing down the left side. We need balance to continue our run of attacking form and putting all of the weight on Jean-Aniel Assi and Ollie Bassett to create down the right will be found out sooner or later.
#46 Zachary Roy
(6.8) Zach Roy was rewarded with his second-ever start Following a very effective twenty-five minutes against the league leaders. Funnily enough, his first also came against Valour last season. Zach rewarded his manager’s confidence by providing another rock-steady 45 minutes as the left-wing back in this game. His link-up with Gianni dos Santos was a tad rough throughout that first half, and there were a couple of instances where he held onto the ball too long and provided Valour an opportunity to press him off the ball. Still, that was the extent of the negatives from his 3rd appearance this season. His pace is what suits him so well to the role of left wing-back when we are forced into the 5-3-2 set-up we ran out against Valour, as he’s able to recover if he’s caught out going forward, which honestly, he really didn’t on Friday. With a returning Miguel Acosta, and hopefully some good news with regards to our other injuries to players on the left side, his minutes may diminish, but knowing the end of your bench can go out and do this in a pinch is understated in its level of importance.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(8.5): For much of the last month, I’ve been extremely tepid on the performances put forward by Ollie Bassett. Thankfully, our reigning MVP has finally returned to the pitch. It’s not just the goals I’ll get to in a second, but that he could be so effective in the other areas of the pitch that demanded as such. Ollie managed to get back to over 50% on his ground duels, something that had been clearly lacking in the previous month and also contributed defensively with two tackles and a clearance. The completeness of the performance is what has me so jazzed for the stretch run as an inform Ollie Bassett being able to affect both ends of the pitch should be a nightmare for every other CanPL side. As for the goals, you can talk about Yesli on them until you’re blue in the face, but Ollie made him make a save. It’s something that many players in this league don’t do enough, not to mention the audacity to try to go direct from the free kick for his second. When Ollie is driving the play in this way, even if he’s not scoring, it makes this team the ultimate version of itself.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(NR): Coming on for Ollie in the 75th, Noah Verhoeven had an effective final 15 defensively for Atlético Ottawa, and if not for a Valour defender’s outstretched boot, might have had an assist for his efforts. Being able to win all four duels he contested in such a short time while also winning two free kicks and completing a successful dribble from midfield is exactly the sort of thing that will hopefully help Noah rebuild some confidence and earn him some more minutes in the crowded midfield slot next to Ollie.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(6.3): As optimistic as I am about Gabi, and as much as I love how he plays, I do have to take a step back and realize when he isn’t performing as well as he should be. He continues to be incredibly active and jumps forward and backward as needed in the transitory moments, but he’s still unable to find consistency in his distribution. He only attempted 4 passes in this game and completed two of them, and to me, it seems that the frenetic pace at which he approaches the game does get in his way at times going forward. Defensively, however, it provides more of a positive presence than a negative one. This trend continued with 2 tackles and an interception against Valour, something he’s able to do fairly consistently when substituted in. He’s a bundle of energy, and so far this season, he’s proven that the energy he brings improves the performance of the team. Sometimes though, you can be a bit too wired.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(7.6): I’m going to need the spices that Jean-Aniel Assi was cooking with on Friday. The 19-year-old was able to get in behind Jordan Haynes a number of times down the right wing in the first half, including the lovely bit of tenacity that preceded his assist on the opening goal. That was only the first of 3 successful dribbles down Valour’s left flank, but it was far from the only thing that he provided. Going 6/10 on ground duels when he had had games previously where this type of activity in duels was not as successful was vital to the complete game that he displayed. Last week I mentioned how amazing it would be if Assi were able to combine his ever-growing defensive game with an elite performance going forward. This was that performance, and I did not think we’d be seeing it so soon after saying so. It’ll be unfair to expect this from him week-in/week-out, but getting this type of performance in important games this late in this season will be a huge boon to ATO’s title chances.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(6.7): In looking at the 7 and a half games he’s played this season, I’m confident in saying that this was the weakest Alberto Zapater has looked. Now, given his class, a poor performance in the context of Zapater is one that’s merely mediocre for the rest of the CPL. While he did manage to win two of three ground duels, he lost out on both the aerial duels he contested. Especially interesting as he’s been controlling the aerial engagements he takes incredibly well so far. Only 72% passing would be a cause for concern for most midfielders in this league, but it is merely just a blip on an otherwise stellar resume thus far from the 38-year-old. I could throw out the customary excuses regarding the pitch or that Zapater is tired because he came off a full season at Zaragoza and has played every minute since he first stepped on the pitch, but in reality, it was probably just a subpar game. That other players stepped up to account for his level is what you want to see from a team set to contend.
#96 Ilias Iliadis
(7.2): After two performances that I was concerned about, Ilias Iliadis finally announced his arrival to the Canadian Premier League. Given the chaotic nature of the midfield battle, he felt right at home and really should’ve been rewarded with a goal after his brilliant roulette and shot that went just wide of the far post. Before getting into his defensive highlights, I want to point out that the pass accuracy remains a problem, as, once again, he could not surpass 70% in that area. However, completing 4 of 6 long balls does help to mitigate the negative impact that would otherwise have. In this game, at least, he and Zapater overthought some of their passing decisions, which was reflected in the lack of key passes and lower overall accuracy in this tie. Now, defensively was where Iliadis shined. 5 tackles, 3 interceptions, and a 7 of 13 success rate in ground duels as a midfielder is a statistical haul. Suppose he can continue to put up these defensive numbers alongside Ollie Bassett and allow the midfield to function more as a double pivot to give Ollie room to roam forward. In that case, it’ll be an interesting wrinkle for teams to deal with.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7.3): It’s like he was never gone. When I saw Miguel’s name on the bench, I figured he’d only be brought on in an emergency for precautionary reasons. Turns out, they wanted to get a full 45 out of him, and it certainly was a full 45. 5 of 7 ground duels, 3 tackles, and an interception later, and we saw exactly why he’s trusted to play any defensive role that he is asked. The Valour right side could not create anything in the second half due to his mere existence in defence, and it’s not shocking why. It is amazing to see such a veteran presence from a 25-year-old defender in that he is always able to make the right choice in vital 1 on 1 defensive situations. He remains calm and, conversely, frustrates attackers to no end. Given the bulk load of injuries to players in the defensive rotation, it’s nice to see one of them return. And not just return, but do so clearly at 100%.
#5 Luke Singh
(7): Even with 8 games remaining, it’ll take something extraordinary to prevent Luke Singh from being the unsung hero of the 2023 Atlético Ottawa season. His performance against Valour continued his streak of incredibly solid defensive performances and, most importantly, another game without a befuddling error. It is an aberration to see that he did not win a single aerial duel, but winning 4 of 5 on the ground and providing an additional 4 tackles more than accounts for an effective defensive performance. Given the situation in the backline, he did not go on one of his traditional forays into the attacking space, and that shows a good understanding of the game state, something that doesn’t come naturally to young defenders. Working with the veterans on this team has certainly helped Luke’s decision-making progress over the course of the year. His penchant for long balls has helped us more than it has hurt us this season, but I do wish he could lower the amount he attempts in a given game, as 11 feels like a lot, both via the eye test and just on the page. Regardless, he’s been a vital piece to the puzzle these last few weeks, and if this team wants to reach the same heights as last year, it’ll be with Luke as one of the key gears.
#23 Tyr Walker
(7): At many points in the first half, I felt that all my fears about Tyr Walker were going to come true. The adjustment between playing at Starlight Stadium to IG Field is significant. There was far more space to manage on Friday than there was in his first start, and in the first half, I don’t think Tyr did a great job of managing that space. Time and again, Walter Ponce was able to shake him and get into dangerous positions. That he did not score is a borderline miracle and emblematic of Valour’s entire season. Thankfully, the second half was a different story. Tyr made adjustments and was able to work much more effectively in his position as the Valour strikers only managed one clear-cut chance in the second 45. 5 of 5 on ground duels and 3 of 5 in the air made him Ottawa’s most effective defender in those categories by far on Friday, and adding 8 clearances to that shows how well he understands being the center of 3 central defenders. That we have two young guys that can serve so effectively as the last line of defence fills me with a massive wave of confidence. So much so that I almost forgot Diego Espejo wasn’t there on Friday.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.8): As I said about Luke Singh, Karl Ouimette will be one of the key cogs in the machine in the final few games of the regular season. Though I feel like Karl’s received more general praise for his play than Luke, they bring something different to the side. That Karl’s been able to be flexible and play out on the right when requested has been a big help, as Miguel’s had to shift to the left or into the midfield to accommodate for a lack of depth in those positions. Against Valour, Karl was solid but not spectacular. That he contested only two duels the entire 90 minutes is certainly an aberration, but it is a good sign that he managed to win both of them. As with the rest of the team, his pass accuracy suffered on Friday, managing only to complete 64% of his passes and only 1 of 6 long balls. I’ve talked about my concern with Karl when he’s on the ball, as his decision-making this season has resulted in some key errors in key positions. It’s really the only downside to what he’s been able to bring to our backline.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(8): All. State. Nate. The save on Juan Pablo Sanchez was clearly the apex of the evening, but following up last week’s performance with this one shows that the Nathan Ingham, who was the best goalkeeper in the Canadian Premier League last season, has returned. He may not have had to command his area as forcefully as was required against Pacific, but Nate was still called in to make a number of crucial saves, especially given the chances that Valour had in the first half. To be fair, there was an element of luck to the performance, as Walter Ponce missed 3 big chances somehow, and Nate could not keep a clean sheet. However, you can’t blame him when the one goal he conceded was an absolute thunderbolt from 35 yards out. That we now have a goalkeeper to further solidify a back line that is finally rounding into shape should put fear in the hearts and minds of the rest of the CPL. You make your own luck around the goal, and by regaining his form, Nathan Ingham is creating a nightmare for opposing attackers in his own 18.
ATO has been on a tremendous run of form. The team being able to go out, away from home, and take care of business against a side that has been struggling this season is a sign that this team has recovered from its incredibly slow start. The boys now sit above Forge on goal difference heading into our game against them on the 26th. Regardless of how either team looks, I am still abjectly terrified that this will go poorly. History has a tendency to repeat itself, and the matchup with Forge has been a prime example of that. If we are to find a way to get the three points against the three-time North Star Shield winners, I might be inclined to say we’ve turned a corner. Until then, I’ll be stuck here, trying to find what little hope I can.
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.