By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Matt Zambonin / Freestyle Photography
Given our past record against Forge, managing to wrestle any points from them should be considered tremendously positive. The game was a bit of a bore for neutrals, as neither team looked like they would be scoring through the 90 minutes. Both defences quelled any attempt at generating true goal threats, and referee Yusri Rudolf seemed content to do the same. For the whole of the season, I’ve tried my best to avoid directly criticizing the officials. Still, following his calamitous performance in both this game and a previous fixture between Pacific and Halifax, a part of me feels the need to speak to it directly. It’s not just a matter of interpretation at this stage, as evidenced by the offside call in the 57th minute against Atletico Ottawa. In reference to Law 11.3, from the official document provided by IFAB, a player receiving the ball directly from a corner kick cannot be deemed offside. Is it an unusual circumstance? Yes, as I initially thought, they went back and forth with the ball to facilitate that decision. However, we are at a point where the referees are not just making judgment calls we disagree with, but instead are just not applying the laws of the game they are meant to uphold. We are in the midst of an officiating crisis in this country, with no signs of it stopping any time soon. Fortunately, we are not here to rate them, but instead our players. On to the rankings:
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(6.5): It’s hard to judge a game from any player where they essentially weren’t involved whatsoever. Besides the foul he won in our own half, Ruben only had one other touch in his 16 minutes on the pitch, and as such, there really isn’t much to evaluate despite him meeting my, albeit arbitrary, minute threshold for getting a rating. That said, none of this is really his fault. The game state didn’t allow him to have an effect, particularly as Forge controlled possession for the game's final minutes. It’s interesting, though, as I think Salter’s play maybe didn’t warrant a substitution, especially one that came relatively late for a change up top. That said, I do understand the willingness to put on fresh legs to challenge the opposition's defence, it just didn’t happen to work out this time.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(7.2): On one hand, Malcolm only managed to complete 74% of his passes and lost possession 21 times in his first full 90 minutes in a long time. On the other, he was playing left back. When the line-up was released prior to the game, I was flummoxed at how the players were listed, as it suggested that Malcolm would be playing further back than anyone thought possible. We’ve seen him function down the left wing with some effect, and I have commended his improved defensive performance in recent appearances. Still, I never considered that our injury issues down the left wing would ever facilitate this particular change. Perhaps this rating is a result of shifted expectations knowing what Malcolm’s normal role is in the team. In addition to the two stats mentioned above, he also only managed to win 3 of his 11 duels and committed 3 fouls. That said, both Poku and Woobens Pacius were held in check through the 90 minutes, and Malcom’s interceptions were in vital moments as the last line of defence. I wouldn’t dare suggest that a professional striker would want to transition to left-back, but in a situation where you aren’t getting the minutes up top, getting on the field in any way has to be somewhat satisfying.
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.6): The game state didn’t allow Sam Salter to truly exert himself on the pitch on Saturday. That said, it’s clear that he should still be the first-choice striker, as his ability to work with his back to goal far surpasses his other strikers on the pitch. Once again, he was able to more creatively work with his teammates in the middle of the park in the limited action he saw at the head of the spear. The one unfortunate aspect is that Salter was unable to win any of his aerial duels, something that he had been improving at over the course of the season. Those aerial duels are key to maintaining possession, and going back towards the trend that had been developing for the same in the last few games will be important to retaining the offensive spark that has marked this team’s return to success.
#7 Gianni dos Santos
(6.3): Despite some clear frustration that was warranted, particularly with a clear foul on the edge of the box early in the second half, Gianni dos Santos was not at his best against Forge. Even in his more successful moments, it felt like there was still an inability to execute at one hundred percent. I think back to the shot he took at Triston Henry in the first half and the stumble he took before trying to curl it in as the key example. Otherwise, he went 3 of 9 on ground duels, only attempted 10 passes (with a 60% success rate), and managed to give away 4 fouls. With his return to the line-uprevitalized, I had imagined that there’d be a revitalised element to our attacking play down the left, but it seems to have stagnated. Hopefully, there is a return to form, but there needs to be more from Gianni if that is to be the case.
#16 Zach Verhoven
(6): After not seeing the field against Valour last week, Zach Verhoven’s appearance was certainly not the strongest we’ve seen from him this year. Coming onto the left side of the attack, he tried mightily to get at the Forge defense and was turned away at all opportunities. The most unnecessary of which was when he was forced off the ball by Alexander Achinoiti-Jonsson, only to then grab at the Forge midfielder’s jersey, winning the opposition a free kick. In frustration, he kicked the ball away into the north side bleachers and received the most obvious yellow cards. It’s one of those things that you really can’t complain about at this point because it has been the M.O. of the referees to caution players for those actions. 2 other fouls and not a single duel won contribute to the poorest showing from any ATO individual on the day. The particularly frustrating element is that it came in the game's dying stages and really killed off any opportunity we may have had to steal the three points.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(7.1): I mentioned last week that Ollie needed to re-amplify his defensive efforts,, which must have reached him because he was all over the place on Saturday. 9 of 13 duels won against what is usually a fairly solid Forge midfield is no small feat, particularly for a player like Ollie who’s game is so concentrated on success going forward. Not to say that there weren't successes in those areas either. A number of the most threatening attacks from ATO were intricate sequences incited by an Ollie pass and able to be formulated thanks to his movement. That he was also able to complete 5 of his 6 dribbles further supplements the creativity displayed by the English midfielder. The passing statistics could have been a little better, only completing 72%, and I would like to see the team allow him to work more in the middle of the park, as a large amount of time this game was spent down the right wing. All in all, it was an extremely professional performance from the engine of this team. If others had stepped up going forward, I feel like this type of game would’ve borne fruit and really showed what makes Ollie special.
#9 Carl Haworth
(NR): After two weeks off to manage some very important personal matters, Carl Haworth returned to the lineup for just over 10 minutes against Forge. Much like the other substitutes, there were few actions to really comment on in Carl’s game, so I’ll use this space to congratulate our captain on the recent birth of his first child and wish him the best of luck in his journey in fatherhood!
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(NR): Gabi coming in at the very end didn’t really impact the game, and him coming in so late isn’t really an issue, given how close we are to the u21 minutes threshold. Nice to see him hit the pitch, but with Iliadis’ emergence, we may be looking at a player who’s fallen down the depth chart a little bit in recent weeks.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(7): Perhaps this was a game for many where they reverted back to some earlier tendencies that we had thought they’d grown out of. For Assi, this was an inability to make the decisive play in the final third. Much of his day was spent making good runs down the right and combining well with Ollie Bassett, but when he was called on to make the final play, he was unable to create anything truly frightening for the Forge defence to deal with. Otherwise, he made good decisions on the ball in less crucial situations, registering 82% pass accuracy and winning 3 of 5 duels without conceding a single foul. In a game dominated by the defences of the two teams, it was always going to be hard to affect the game going forward, but overall Assi did enough to show how important he can be to this team.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(7.4): In a game so heavily dominated by the defences, the calm demeanor of Alberto Zapater was essential to avoiding any potential calamities in managing the Forge press and the transition from defence to attack. 93% pass accuracy while losing only one of his 6 contested duels in another 90-minute performance is a testament to the class that the 38-year-old brings to this team. To lose possession only 4 times while serving as the anchor only helps to further avoid some of the disadvantageous transition situations this team found itself in through the first half of the season. There’s really only one question to ask of Alberto: how long he’ll be able to keep this up? That he’s played the last 765 minutes of the season and probably will be expected to play more is ridiculous to me at his age. My only real concern is how he’ll deal with the cold, though I guess his time in Russia will have prepared him somewhat for this particular issue.
#96 Ilias Iliadis
(6.9): One thing has become clear to me in the last couple of games with Ilias starting next to Zapater as double pivots, we’re operating now with a real Yin/Yang dynamic. Iliadis represents the youthful exuberance that borders on chaos, while Zapater is the calm, wise, stabilizing force that allows Iliadis to reach his full potential. I wouldn’t say that Iliadis was as effective as he was against Valour, but he still managed to make his mark on the game. His 93% pass accuracy was the highlight, as was the fact that he only managed to lose possession 5 times in 90 minutes. Conversely, he did manage to pick up 4 fouls, the one for which he got his yellow card being fairly dubious, and only managed to go 50/50 in his ground duels. He’s a fixture of the starting XI at this stage, and if this is the baseline, I think the new double pivot is going to work very well.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(7.6): It’s a damn shame that Miguel Acosta won’t really be in consideration for defender of the year this season. Most of that comes down to the fact that he had to play as a holding midfielder for most of the first half of the season, and the other part of that is once he was able to return to full back, he then was injured and forced to sit out multiple games. All said I don’t think there’s a better fullback on their day in this league than Miguel. Saturday was that day. The stat sheet reads like a selection from prime Cafu. 4 each of clearances, interceptions, and tackles, 9 of 13 duels won, 87% pass accuracy on 62 passes, and 3 successful dribbles. He was involved in every aspect of the game and was the blowaway best player for Atletico Ottawa. Even then, I didn’t really appreciate it in real-time. When you’ve come to expect the level that Miguel can bring, these types of performances don’t always move the needle, but they should. He’s damn good, and it’s damn good he’s back.
#5 Luke Singh
(7): Having a non-traditional left-back playing next to him in defence was always going to make for an interesting evening for Luke Singh. That Malcolm played as well as he did maybe made it all the easier for Luke, who, if anything, made his evening look pretty easy for the full 90 minutes. As usual, his long distribution from the back was a unique element that allowed the Ottawa attack to transition away from passing it around the defence. His ball-playing ability also manifested in another long shot, that this time skied harmlessly towards Freeloader Hill behind the East goal at TD Place. His stat sheet won’t blow your mind like Miguel Acosta’s, but it proves unbelievably solid once again. His yellow card won’t be as harmful as it could’ve been, given that the good behaviour initiative has rescinded one of his previous accumulations. However, it still feels like it would have been better to have avoided it.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(7): Playing as the middle of the back line for the first time in a while, as Tyr Walker was unavailable for the match, Karl Ouimette held capably and made a number of important headers on Forge set pieces, allowing ATO to collect an 8th clean sheet of the season. Effective is the name of Karl Ouimette’s game as he continues to inspire confidence in his defensive play. Given that he was shifted inside, he also had less responsibility going forward, which has been my main criticism of his play so far this season. Still, in this role, he managed to complete 88% of his passes and more than 50% of his long balls. Given how much of an aerial threat Karl has been on the defensive end, it’s unfortunate he’s not been able to find room to convert on set pieces going forward this season.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(6.8): Another clean sheet for Allstate Nate marks another successful team defensive effort. The only real challenge to the Ottawa goal came late in the first half when Ingham made a good reflex save on a Kyle Bekker shot from just inside the 18. Other than that, the defence made it easy for Nate to maintain his fairly stellar record in this recent run of form. He still struggled with distribution, going 3/14 on long balls on Saturday, but given that most of the goal kicks were short balls from his defenders, it doesn’t feel as calamitous as it might be. However, it would be nice if when playing out of the back in that way, we could be able to generate a little bit more in attack.
As I said in the intro, I’ll take any points in games against Forge. The game may have been there for the taking, but neither side looked good. We now go into a vital fixture against the league leaders Cavalry with that being the only game between two teams presently in playoff spots. My natural pessimism has told me that all good things must come to an end, so I can’t feel confident against the team we generally beat. In this sport, we romanticize so heavily feelings don’t care about your facts.
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.