By Patrick Gibson
With the first element of the off-season finally addressed in the return of Carlos Gonzalez, it’s time to move on to the next set of personnel decisions: contract options. With only 7 players under contract presently, these options present the second set of players that can continue to feature for Atletico Ottawa in 2023. Among them, we find some of the club's most loyal and important figures to both the successes and failures that the team has endured in its 4-year life span. While it took until well into December to get news on these contract options last year, I figure the news will be expedited in 2023, as there’s no World Cup to get in the way of the news cycle, and the club has, presumably, been hard at work for the last month since their elimination from the playoffs.
The winner of the 2023 Golden Scarf wrapped up his third season with the club in underwhelming fashion, all things considered. Having missed some time in the latter half of the season, his return at the end was extremely inconsistent, given he was placed in his most familiar role of Right Back/Right Centre Back. He still hit his tremendous highs at various points in 2023, but the 2022 season was still the best of his performance-wise. That said, the step up he made to fill in the defensive midfield role in the first half of the season and his undying service to the club as its all-time appearance leader make this a no-brainer option to exercise for 2024. Given that we do not have any players whose primary position is along the right side of the formation, continuity is necessary to be able to facilitate the knowledge transfer of Carlos Gonzalez’s system to the new blood that is sure to come through in the off-season. That Miguel is on the cusp of entering his prime years, as 2024 will be his age 26 season, is an added bonus, as it’s hard to find someone with his disposition in combination with his age and ability for this level.
Speaking of elite disposition, Atletico Ottawa also has a decision to make regarding the star acquisition of the summer transfer window. When Alberto Zapater’s name was announced as the solution in defensive midfield, most fans were excited but with the understanding that this was to be a temporary solution. At 38 years old, the expectation for the former Real Zaragoza captain was blown out of the water in terms of playing time, but maybe not in his ability. As a calming presence between the midfield and defense, Zapater played every minute of the season from when he was brought into the game at halftime against Valour on July 9th. If Alberto wants to continue playing, it’d be a no-brainer to bring him back for a second season in Ottawa. That said, the midfield would need reinforcements, as I’m not sure it would be a good idea to play a 39-year-old in what would be his 20th professional season, every single minute of a season.
Of the players on this list, Zachary Roy is the most unknown quantity. Having only appeared in 16 games over the last two seasons, for a total of 474 minutes, with only 3 of those coming in 2023, it seems that the 20-year-old from St. Bruno isn’t in the plans for Carlos Gonzalez. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that we won’t be seeing him back for the 2024 season, but I struggle to see why. In his limited appearances at both right back and right wing over the last two years, there is a spark that he can provide to change the game. Maybe this is the bias of the player you haven’t seen not having been able to disappoint you. I always remind myself that most players on the bench are not seeing the field for a reason, but I can’t help but think Zachary Roy can add something to this team. If it were me, I’d take the option, especially because he’ll still count as a u21 player next year, and that means his salary towards the cap is halved.
At about 5 different times in 2023, I thought Ollie Bassett’s time in Ottawa had come to an end. That we’re still here, heading into 2024, with even a puncher’s chance of having him play for a third season for Atlético, is kind of unbelievable to me. There’s no need to go into his accolades or his performances. He’s far and away the best player to adorn our red and white, regardless of him making another appearance. Was I harsh on him in the final weeks of this season? Undoubtedly. This comes with the territory, though. If you’re going to establish yourself as THE key cog in a machine, when you don’t perform to the level that we expect, the whole thing is going to come crashing down. I do expect Atletico Ottawa to exercise Ollie’s option, but I do not expect him to stay in Ottawa. He’s an ambitious young man, and he’s ready to take the next step in his career. All I can hope for is that we get a little bit back for the player that shone as the brightest star in all of Olliewood.
If you had asked me what to do with Zach Verhoven come the end of the season in July, I’d have been adamant that he needed to come back, not just on his option, but perhaps with a new, long-term deal. Now, I’m not entirely sure. This may be a case of “what have you done for me lately,” but the back half of the season was not something that showcased Zach at his best. The regular impact he made coming on as a substitute was not present, and the times he started, he faded quickly after a couple of impactful moments in the first half. Would he still have a vital piece to play as a squad player in this team? Yes, I’d probably say so, but it’s hard for me to get excited over someone that I don’t think can start week in, week out in this team, at least in how Carlos Gonzalez wants to deploy him. Taking on his option is probably the right thing to do; as I mentioned, we have a real dearth of players down the right, but he’s got to get back to making the impact that we all know he can make.
Our all-time leading goal scorer and final remaining member of the Island Games squad, Malcolm Shaw, sits in an awkward position heading into this offseason. With two strikers already locked in for 2024, he may be finding himself on the outside looking in for a roster spot, especially as he was deployed in many other non-striker positions through the second half of the year following Ruben Del Campo’s transfer into the team. This shift in role may have been a sign from the manager that he was slightly out of favor in comparison to his counterparts at the head of the formation. With Carlos Gonzalez returning to manage in 2024, this combination of factors makes it difficult for me to see Malcolm come back for a 5th season with the club, perhaps looking elsewhere to make the most of his ability as an out-and-out striker. I’d be disappointed if this is how it ends for Malcolm. As the club’s most ardent servant, he deserved to leave with a bang and not a whimper.
Of these 6 players, I don’t think there’s one I would outright reject coming back into the team next season. Would I prefer to see some of them move on to open the door for others, possibly, but that all depends on the others that are set to come into the fold. We also have to take into account those out of contract that may or may not be coming back as well. As I mentioned in the article, I don’t expect all of these players to be back. In fact, I’d be surprised if more than half of them found themselves with Atletico Ottawa next season, even if I wouldn’t have necessarily made that decision. Silly season is upon us. Time to see how silly this whole thing’s gonna get.
For another perspective using statistical models, be sure to look out for CCSG by the Numbers, where Alexander Brazier Rymek will be giving his thoughts on which of these options we should take.
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.