By Patrick Gibson
Photo Credits: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography
Perhaps I should’ve held off on my last State of the Union for at least a couple of weeks longer, as everything’s gone plummeting downhill since. To lose 4 of the last 5 games to goals in injury time is emblematic of a team that is not being coached properly. I mentioned last week that the tinkering Carlos Gonzalez has done to try and shift this team out of its funk has not done the team any favours, but that was underselling it. There is a distinct lack of drive and energy flowing through this team going forward and a tendency to switch off defensively in the game's waning minutes as they expend all their energy trying to go forward in that same time frame. To concede on Valour’s only real chance of the game is soul-crushing but emblematic of all the issues that have come to the fore at the worst possible time. On to the rankings:
#99 Ruben Del Campo
(NR): It’s hard to fault Ruben for not scoring when he only sees ten minutes in a game, but there was one instance where I still got frustrated with him as a striker. With the ball at his feet at about the penalty spot, he looked to play Ollie Bassett through rather than take the shot himself. While he was being pressured by a Valour player at the time, the mentality that a striker should have in that situation is to get a shot off. That he didn’t is a testament to the way the entire team is playing.
#19 Malcolm Shaw
(6.4): Malcolm looked far more effective working out on the right than he did on the left. Given he’s been put on the left most of the season, it’s no wonder he’s not really been able to find himself in scoring positions at any point of the year. He still engaged in some pretty hard-nosed battles with Andy Baquero when he was initially substituted into the game, but those also led to a wholly unnecessary free kick for Valour; that wasn’t really in a dangerous position, but it’s still a tendency that Malcolm has had for the whole of this season. Still, it’d be nice to see him in a position where he could get some service. The man who came into the season as the all-time leading scorer may not have had the best season, but he’s equally been lacking opportunities in front of goal.
#18 Samuel Salter
(6.2): Many people will look at the statistics from this game and celebrate Salter's effort in between the lines. However, I will look at another game from a striker that didn’t generate enough opportunities. Both of his goals last week against Halifax were not pretty by any means, as both had Wanderers make contact with the ball before they went into the net and in this game, his only chance was directed directly at Yesli, much like his efforts against Pacific in our last home game. Combine that with only 71% pass accuracy today, and the good is severely outweighed by the bad, in my opinion. Sam’s 7 goals this season are as many as Brian Wright had last year, but with that representing a rate of .25 goals per game, you can’t celebrate it as much as you’d like, especially from your primary striker.
#10 Ollie Bassett
(6.4): Forced out on the left to start the game for the second time, Ollie Bassett didn’t get to be himself until about the 75th minute. There, he shifted into the right-centre channel of the pitch and began to play dangerous one-twos with his right wing-back. All of Ottawa’s best chances came as a result of him coming inside and distributing from there, including a shot of his own that was blocked away for a corner. That said, the rest of the 75 minutes were lackadaisical at best. Additionally, the service was incredibly poor when he took free kicks or corners in this game. That more than one corner hit the first man is a testament to poor execution from set plays. He has it in his locker to be dangerous in these moments. But Sunday afternoon was not one of those days.
#14 Jean-Aniel Assi
(6.8): I think I’ve led 90% of these recaps for Jean-Aniel with some sort of “if only he could do x” type of comment. You could say the same for the game against Valour. He found space down the right wing and cut in a number of times, and yet, only one pass found a player’s foot at any point in the game, that being the shot that Salter sent directly at Yesli’s hands. 3 key passes but only 67% pass accuracy, when that’s been consistently his best average statistic over the course of the season, is the exact example of the dichotomy that the young man presents. Once again, if he had everything together, he wouldn’t be here in the first place, but we know he can do the things he so often screws up. Getting him to put it all together at some point in this stretch run would have been nice, as it’s been a long time since the best version of Jean-Aniel has appeared on the pitch.
#9 Carl Haworth
(6.5): It wasn’t the farewell that our captain deserved. Whether that was the result or the performance that led to it. Carl didn’t have his best game out wide, as the way the formation was set up had the right wing a bit crowded between him, Assi, and Acosta for the first half. That he also only managed to attempt 13 passes, completing only 7, indicates that he was never really integrated into the team. With the lineup that was presented, I was happy that Carl was allowed to play out on the right, as his time down the left wing this season has been wholly ineffective. To be able to be a part of such a great day, with a season-high attendance to see him off, is certainly something special. Unfortunately, the result was the exact opposite of that.
#30 Gabriel Antinoro
(NR): I hope next year Gabi ends up with more responsibility on a week-to-week basis. His energy on the pitch always seems to pick up the rest of the team alongside him, and that really feels like the biggest deficit the team suffers from in the early stages of games. His getting into dangerous situations from the off will only help to build the confidence of the rest of the side. Maybe there’s a bit of a glut in the lineup at this time, but any time he’s on the pitch, I feel better about our chances.
#11 Noah Verhoeven
(6.4): After a string of incredibly disappointing performances, Noah’s contribution to this match was far more positive. While on the attacking side, he remained his usually low-activity self. He engaged more defensively and served as an important transition between attack and defence in the later stages. Perhaps it’s a result of low expectations from his recent performances, but I wouldn’t be upset to see this level from Noah in the final couple of games of the season. He still needs to be more involved going forward, but if he can maintain his 80% pass accuracy and find people in the box with crosses, he'll be a useful contributor if he’s not going to force himself into the 18.
#21 Alberto Zapater
(7.2): At this point, Alberto’s being tasked with doing the job of what should be two people. Going against a Valour side whose team works around the contribution of Diego Gutierrez and Dante Campbell, in my opinion, the two best players on their roster, was always going to be a challenge. That Alberto managed to work a full 90 minutes against that midfield was immense, and it should be no surprise to those who watched the game that he was the best player out there. I lost count of the number of times he calmly manoeuvred around pressure from Valour players and then laid a calm pass to a teammate or earned a free kick. In addition to his ever-calm presence, he won 11 of 12 duels and 6 tackles defensively, getting in the way of any Valour chances after the first few minutes. It’d be nice to see him playing like this as a part of a midfield three to truly allow ATO to dominate the ball.
#96 Ilias Iliadis
(6.6): On the game's balance, Iliadis’ performance was positive, even if it was all over the place—89% pass accuracy but also only 2 for 11 on crosses. A corner careened off the crossbar, but then two more were hit directly at Yesli. He won two free kicks but also gave two away. He made 3 interceptions but was also dribbled past 3 times. In both aerial and ground duels, he managed to win 50% of them. Once again, he was far more effective when put in the midfield than when he was shifted out wide to accommodate the replacement of Maxim Tissot. With only one player seemingly able to play as the left wing-back, it seems reasonable to assume that this shouldn’t be a role that continues for the team going forward. Forcing Ilias out wide has hampered an already otherwise overwhelmed midfield.
#15 Maxim Tissot
(6.3): Another week from Max Tissot, and another underwhelming performance. His inability to get the ball into dangerous areas when making good runs down the left flank continues to disappoint. That he’s continued to get in dangerous positions and never really made a consistent impact in his assist total is astounding to me through two seasons. 2 assists for someone who gets forward as much as he does is not enough, especially when half of his goals for the club have been from dead-ball situations. That he doesn’t do enough defensively in most games to make up for it is the lynchpin as to why people are so often frustrated with him. He wasn’t really caught out of position in this game, and Niyongabire’s afternoon saw him against Luke Singh more than Max, so it makes sense that this game wasn’t truly awful for him.
#17 Miguel Acosta
(6.9): The ability to bounce back after a truly horrid performance against Halifax was something I expected from Miguel, and he delivered. A block, a couple of clearances, and a couple of interceptions made for a more effective defensive game from the Spaniard, and that with only being dribbled past once in the 90 minutes. 83% pass accuracy with a key pass included in that mix is also an important piece of the puzzle, but again, there were issues with overcrowding on the right side for the first half. It brought plenty of attention from Valour defenders, and many attacks seemed to be stymied as a result. That’s not Miguel’s fault, but he was involved in that particular issue. All of that was secondary to the news that Miguel was awarded the Golden Scarf as CCSG’s player of the year. Jon brought it up in his article for why he should be honoured, but his filling in essentially everywhere this season has been crucial to Atletico Ottawa’s ability to not completely crumble under the weight of their offseason decision-making.
#5 Luke Singh
(6.6): At the point where Luke Singh took it upon himself to take the shot that travelled harmlessly wide of the goal, I remarked, “Well if no one else was going to do it…”. I’m sure it was a frustrating game for Luke as he didn't have much to do outside of the first twenty minutes. Early on, he made a couple of key interventions on intricate Valour moves through the middle, which was a tad high risk as he stepped out of his position, but still managed to execute, something that couldn’t be said on the offensive side of the ball. Even though Pacifique Niyongabire was able to make some inroads offensively, Luke matched up well against the dangerous Burundese international. I still feel that the best XI features Diego Espejo and Luke together in defence, so hopefully, we see that in the last two games of the season.
#20 Karl Ouimette
(6.5): Back into the lineup after not featuring last Monday, Karl Ouimette found himself in the middle of Atletico Ottawa’s back 3 on Sunday. I wouldn’t say there was anything truly egregious in his performance, but nothing stood out to me either. The only real cause for concern was his play on the Valour goal, but even then, I don’t think I have the understanding necessary to explain the minutiae that would run through a defender’s mind in that scenario. The optics though, of Karl looking directly at Walter Ponce before he receives the ball, and standing directly in place doesn’t look great. To be fair to Karl, the angle the ball came at would only have been possible if it went through Miguel Acosta’s legs, which it did happen to do. Still, I would’ve liked to see him get closer to Ponce for that cross to have had some difficulty to it rather than the tap-in that it was.
#29 Nathan Ingham
(6.5): Nathan Ingham really didn’t have to do anything against Valour. The only shot on target was their goal in the 95th minute, and there was no way Ingham would ever get a finger to that ball. It’s nice to see that the tactics on goal kicks, and with the ball in his possession, have changed to accommodate for a lack of ability in his distribution. That none of his goal kicks went flying harmlessly into touch is a step up from most performances this season. It’s usually nice to have a game from a keeper that doesn’t end up with much to do; this was not one of those times. The defence held well for all but one moment in this game, and the attack couldn’t take advantage of that fact. Nathan Ingham didn’t deserve to lose this one; he was just a passenger on the journey.
I lead this piece by discussing the issues plaguing this team and putting them squarely at the feet of the manager. Clearly, a change is needed, and these should be the last couple of games that Carlos Gonzalez is in charge of Atletico Ottawa. It’s unfortunate things have gone this way, but the offensive impetus that Carlos said would arrive this season has clearly not been present. With this likely being the final home game of the season, we end up finishing with as many goals in all competitions at TD Place as we did last year, with 16. It’s more league goals than last year, but it’s really not enough to inspire confidence when the defensive effort has not been as solid as last year’s team. Next week’s game against York will determine whether or not we make the playoffs. After the July 23rd loss to Halifax, I stated that we’d miss the playoffs because we were unable to win against big teams. We’ve managed 2 points from 6 games against our last two opponents. We’ve gone 0-2-4 in our last 6. You do the math.
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.