By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve been excited to sit down at my computer and give my thoughts on an Atletico Ottawa game. While I understand that many feel we lost two points in this game, particularly due to how the boys played in the second half, I’d much rather be encouraged by the performance than disappointed with the result. Given that this was a short week, with a flight back from Vancouver after a truly dismal evening on Saturday, to be able to come out and be the better team against a Pacific side that trounced us the last time they came to Ottawa is the most important point. While the first half was more in Pacific’s favour, the defence was able to limit the amount of chances Pacific’s attack was able to create, they were just clinical with the best chance they had. The first half was clearly a sign of a team building into a game. However, from the second-half whistle, Ottawa looked like a different team. They were moving forward well, and while Pacific did have a decent amount of possession in the second half, ATO had a far greater share of the chances. This is a performance to build on going into a crucial fixture for seeding against Halifax on the weekend. On to the rankings:
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(NR): A brief cameo for Ruben after his start on Saturday was very much a cameo. Bar a would be chance at the death that was snuffed out by Amer Didic, Ruben was limited to the role that he’s been limited to for a while. He’s still trying to find space to get the ball, and it’s just not coming to him. After a good shift on Saturday, the return of our other two strikers was always going to limit the amount he’d be able to play. We’re all still hoping for his first goal, and he deserves it.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(7): Not being substituted in this match marks a full 254 minutes played in less than a week for Malcolm Shaw. This time was split with the Trinidad and Tobago national team, where he managed to convert a penalty for his first-ever international goal in a 3-2 win over El Salvador. In this game, he showed no signs of wear from international duty. While he didn’t see too much of the ball, his presence on the left wing offered more of a threat from that position than we’ve seen recently. Combining that with a 66% win rate in duels and a number of good defensive sequences without giving up a foul contributes to a really high-level performance from our joint all-time appearance leader. The missed chance in the 82nd minute will go down as a missed big chance on the stat sheet, but given the mustard on the pass from Miguel Acosta, I’m going to give Malcolm the benefit of the doubt on the missed finish. It is still concerning that he only has 1 goal this season, of course, but with performances like this, he should get at least one before the year wraps up.
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.4): As forgiving as I was about the missed chance from Malcolm, I cannot do the same for the two from Sam Salter. Both times he found himself 1v1 with Emil Gazdov, he couldn’t muster anything more than to hit the ball directly at him. Part of that may have been him being on his right foot, and the second chance coming off a rebound from a penalty could also be a mitigating factor, but knowing the type of chances he’s been able to convert this season, I expect a lot more. Even outside of those opportunities, his night was a mixed bag. That he only managed 67% pass accuracy in 80 minutes is unfortunate, given how the striker is supposed to work back in the system ATO plays. Bar the two instances mentioned above. He also didn’t seem to be able to work back into the system as he had in the past. It will be interesting to see if he can bounce back against Halifax on Saturday and hopefully get out of the scoring funk he’s currently in.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(6.5): He’s still playing far too forward and far too much on the right, but there were signs that Ollie’s last couple of weeks were aberrations. Had he converted the penalty, I’m not sure this score would be much higher, but it wouldn’t hurt his overall rating. That this is the first time he’s missed for Atletico Ottawa in regular play makes it sting a little less, but it’s still stinging as I write this. In line with the rest of his season, he only managed to win 40% of his duels and finished with 84% pass accuracy. His ball out to Carl Haworth at the death is the sort of thing I want to see from him a lot more, and his distribution in transition is the thing that has made him a valuable asset when he isn’t scoring goals. I think there’s plenty to be excited about if Ollie is able to fit just a little bit further back into the system.
#9 Carl Haworth
(NR): A good 10 minutes may be what we can expect from here on out for Carl Haworth. Had he found Ruben Del Campo in the 97th minute to end the game, TD Place might have exploded, and I’m not sure Iggy Pop would have been able to go on for his CityFolk performance.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(7.2): I had a conversation at halftime that boiled down to the following: I don’t know if Jean-Aniel Assi can be trusted to play on the left wing, given his lack of a left foot. The final 10 minutes and injury time have proven me wrong. While the three fouls he committed during the game are a fair cause for concern, on the balance, I think he defended well, especially given a brief injury scare midway through the first half. His highlight, though, left-footed was going forward, as to be expected. With 61 touches in the game, you’d expect him to be generating plenty of danger for the Pacific defence. With 1 big chance created and 95% pass accuracy on 44 passes, he did just that. As he has been able to show at points this season, Assi was decisive in his approach to the Pacific net and was willing and able to take the space that Pacific was allowing him to have, a tendency our wingers haven’t always had. If he continues on this path, his road back to the MLS may be shorter than we had all imagined.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6): If I’m Carlos Gonzalez, Noah Verhoeven should only see extended minutes at this point for rotation purposes to ensure the rest of the team doesn’t get injured. He’s not been good enough in recent weeks, and with the emergence of Ilias Iliadis as a left footed central midfielder, there doesn’t seem to be a place for him in the starting XI. He continues to play a much less active game in midfield, and it reflects even poorer on him when the things he initiates result in negative game states for Atletico Ottawa. Noah committed three fouls in his first half against Pacific without any duel wins or positive defensive stats to show for it. That he managed less than half the total touches as the player who replaced him in the same amount of time on the pitch further proves my point. It’s unfortunate because the season started so well for him, but it seems the rest of the team and the league have caught up.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(7.6): In my last article, I was adamant that in order for this team to succeed, Alberto Zapater needed to assert himself more in the offensive third than he had been the rest of the season. He managed to do that against Pacific, with a return to form in shutting down chances on the defensive end as well. His ball to Maxim Tissot at the back post in first-half injury time was the exact sort of thing we need to see from Alberto at times during games. It doesn’t need to happen more than once or twice, but doing that forces defenders to think about how to attack our right-sided overload in those situations. At one point in the first half, Sean Young was free to track back behind his defensive line and call one of his teammates over to double team Ollie Bassett along the right wing because there wasn’t a threat in the position Ollie would have vacated. Through the rest of the second half, the commitment to the right corner wasn’t as strong from the Pacific defence, and I’d like to think Zapater sauntering forward was playing into their minds. Otherwise, Le Taureau managed 4 tackles, won 6 of 7 ground duels, and created a big chance on his lovely lofted pass to a charging Ilias Iliadis in the 69th minute. The Alberto we saw on Wednesday is one that puts all of his qualities on full display, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
#96 Ilias Iliadis
(7.3): I’ve totally turned the corner on Ilias Iliadis.
Frequent readers of this piece will note that I initially saw him as a player with all the physical tools that didn’t seem to know where he needed to be on the pitch. In seeing him play these past couple of games, I’m going to attribute that almost totally to uncertainty in his role for the team. In the midfield next to Alberto Zapater, he is exactly the energy that this team needs. Someone who’s willing to dart forward and get on the ball as much as possible, even if Ollie Bassett is going to have first priority, is a tough hand to be dealt, but Ilias does it with aplomb. Take into account his defensive presence as well, and it’s clear to see why he was integrated into the team so quickly upon his loan from CF Montreal. He still has a problem with fouling, and he may not be the most consistent regarding his defensive work, but his presence is essential, especially from a left-footed player. This team is clearly at its best when he’s on the field, regardless if he’s playing to his absolute full potential.
#15 Maxim Tissot
(7.2): The return of the most polarising player in ATO history. While he may have started against Vancouver, this was the return of the Max Tissot everyone has an opinion on. On the positive side, Tissot was the player who earned the penalty in the 52nd minute and provided the equalizer in the 62nd with what is, at this point, a pretty standard free-kick off the left boot of the 31-year-old from Gatineau. On the other hand, he was only able to complete 68% of his passes and only one of three long balls. With a solid hand in Luke Singh playing behind him and a player like Ilias Iliadis alongside who can drift back if Max is on a run that he is wont to do, there’s enough cover to provide him the freedom to be a little bit more attacking. That said, the attacking element needs to come off because the defensive work is sometimes lacking. If he doesn’t convert from set pieces or isn’t getting balls into the box, as he didn’t even attempt a cross against Pacific, there will be questions asked. For now, we can all relax and marvel at the 2nd free-kick he’s managed to convert this season. It was so money, I muttered “yup” the instant the ball went over the wall.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(6.8): While not a complete return to form for Miguel Acosta after a pretty awful performance against Vancouver, he still managed to play closer to the standard we, as fans, have set for him. The only real blemish on his record from today’s game was the giveaway to Josh Heard midway through the second half. That he recovered and won a throw-in from his position speaks to his ability as a one-on-one defender, which I still believe is the highest in the Canadian Premier League. Of our back three, he had the lowest pass accuracy by a fair margin, but that’s to be expected as the right centre-back is the one that has been the most likely to go forward whenever we’ve implemented this particular line-up. Meaning that the passes he makes are more often than not more aggressive, an example of which was his lovely through ball to Malcolm Shaw to spring him in the 82nd minute. That the pass wasn’t rewarded with a goal is a travesty. We all knew that the Vancouver game was an aberration. This match proved it.
#5 Luke Singh
(6.8): In his return from suspension, Luke Singh once again demonstrated why he’s such a valuable piece of the puzzle for Atletico Ottawa. While he did not have the strongest game defensively, managing to only win 1 of 4 ground duels, only one tackle, and having been dribbled past for Pacific’s only goal of the game, his presence as an outlet for the midfield when being pressed supersedes almost all of that. The biggest difference between having him on the left side of a back three and having Niba there is the ability to distribute. Time and time again against Vancouver, Niba was overhitting passes, something that Luke rarely does, if ever. There’s no world where Niba can make the pass that Luke made to split the defence and force Kunle Dada-Luke to foul Tissot in the box. That sort of danger from that deep is a talent that, at this level, is hard to come by, and that Luke has the confidence to step forward on occasion to deliver that kind of ball, or take a shot from a distance, is something that’s needed for our defensive line to truly flourish.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.3): It’s probably not a good sign that I’m terrified any time our most experienced defender takes more than 2 touches with the ball. Karl’s issues in possession have been well documented in this space this season, and unfortunately, it reared its ugly head again versus Pacific. I’m speaking almost entirely of a sequence early in the second half where Karl won the ball from Josh Heard deep in ATO’s defensive third, only for him to be indecisive on the ball and have Heard steal it right back, drawing a foul in the process in a very dangerous area. That Karl also committed three fouls and only won 1 of 6 ground duels in this game further contributes to the notion that he’s not adjusted well to playing in the middle of the back three in the absence of Diego Espejo. I’ll also put a bit of blame on him for the Pacific goal as well, as he froze completely when Luke Singh went in to challenge Steffen Yeates. Had he taken even one step towards the ball, he would’ve been able to close in on the Pacific attacker and put a stop to the chance. With Diego hopefully coming back soon, it may be a case of Ouimette being the one left out of the current rotation.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(7): Allstate Nate made the save of the 2023 Canadian Premier League season in the 77th minute by tipping a curling effort from my frontrunner for CPL POTY, Ayman Sellouf, onto the crossbar. That he continued the trend of poor distribution from goal doesn’t really matter when you’re able to come out and do something like that to keep your team in the game. With great command of his box, plus another save to count towards his statistics, you can’t ask for more from a shot-stopper. You’d probably want a slightly more complete performance from a keeper as a whole, but Nate did it as best as could be expected if the primary job is to make saves. No one on earth was stopping Steffen Yeates’ 29th-minute effort; just pure power from the Pacific midfielder. I’d rather Nate not have to make that type of save every week, but if the situation demands it, I won’t complain if the ball doesn’t end up in the back of the net.
12 points remain to be taken this season. Odds are we won’t come close to first, but seeding can still shuffle around for the 4 remaining seeds in the playoffs. Despite all that, I want to focus on what we, as a community, did in this game. Given that this midweek fixture was rescheduled to 5:30, we drew over 4200 people. That’s still below our season average, but as the first whistle grew closer, there were far fewer people than that in their seats across the south side. But we got there, and the crowd was still as pumped as ever. There was a lot of noise about this game for many reasons, and we responded by being absolutely electric in the dub. Maybe a tad harsh on the referee, but that comes with the territory. People came out despite Iggy Pop and other acts, playing on the lawn right next to the stadium. That number and the enthusiasm shown at TD Place makes me smile because it’s clear this city is starting to coalesce around this club. There’s still plenty of work to be done, but what’s being built here is exciting, and I’m glad I’m on the ground floor.
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.