Atletico Ottawa: Building Blocks and Learning Curves

Atletico Ottawa earned their first win as a club on Thursday after defeating current Canadian Premier League leaders, and 2019 finalists, Cavalry FC.  The win comes after an opening three matches that saw Atletico Ottawa control matches and score goals, but also shoot themselves in the foot with momentary collapses and individual errors. Atletico Ottawa now sits 1-2-1 after four matches, tied with Pacific FC and HFX Wanderers in fourth on 5 points, with two or their three remaining matches against both the clubs they are level with, leaving us with the perfect set up or a nail biting end of the opening round of The Island Games.

The Opening Matches

From their first kick of a ball, Atletico Ottawa have looked hungry to prove a point: to show they shouldn’t be written off in their first year in the Canadian Premier League. They took a shock 2-0 lead over York 9 FC, only for Neufville to receive a questionable second yellow card, putting them down to 10 men with almost an entire half of football to play. Unfortunately Ottawa were to see their 2-0 lead vanish as York 9 were able to find two quick goals – resulting in Ottawa dropping two points and settling for a draw in their opening match.  

In their second match Ottawa began the first half somewhat underwhelming, but were still on par with Valour for much of the opening period. For the second match in a row, Ottawa saw red as Kapor was sent off for a second yellow, this time there was no debating the call.  It was a difficult and humbling second half for Ottawa as they watched Valour pass the ball with ease, eventually putting four goals past Atletico keeper Zabal. There was no beating around the bush – this was an ugly loss, an embarrassing result, but also a learning experience for the club. There were several questions to ask of the players and coaches, perhaps the most important being, how will they respond to this result. This was a match Ottawa should have gotten at least a point from, but walked away empty handed – more points dropped.

Atletico Ottawa’s third match was against FC Edmonton, and Atletico didn’t waste time in getting on the score sheet, with Acuna picking up a slack pass in the midfield and setting a Canadian Premier League record by scoring after just 22 seconds; 1-0 Ottawa. Atletico would double their lead, showing they were a much more organized side then FC Edmonton and looking almost certain to finally get their first win under their belt. Unfortunately Ottawa struggled to stay focused in the closing minutes of the game, allowing FC Edmonton back into the game when they scored in the 88th minute. Almost as if it were in slow motion, FCE added an equalizer in injury time, seeing Ottawa throw away 2 points in the closing moments of the match, and forcing them to wait for their first win.

As was the case after the Valour match, eyes were on Ottawa following their collapse vs FC Edmonton to see how they would respond against league leaders Cavalry FC. The opening half saw Ottawa set up strong, with Cavalry getting a few chances but nothing that really put Ottawa on their heels. Atletico would take a 1-0 lead through a Fisk goal from an Acuna pass, and they never looked back. The goal gave Altetico some swagger and Malcolm Shaw would double Ottawa’s lead  with a stunning long range goal that it’s the best goal of the tournament so far. Atletico Ottawa did it, not only have they managed their first win, a win over a top club, but they have shown they can see out a game, they can go toe-to-toe with the best in the league, and they put themselves in a position where they can still compete for a spot in the top 4 and a spot in the second round robin.   

Learning Curves

What Atletico Ottawa supporters have been treated to over the first four matches is very entertaining football, some heartbreak, some celebrations, but most importantly a team that appears hungry in their first season.  We have seen the team and its coaches make mistakes over the opening matches, with players getting unnecessarily sent off, the team switching off momentarily or substitutions that allowed other teams to take control of the game. However the way the club has learned from these mistakes, and responded to poor results shows there has been a lot of growth over the first four matches, and the team looks united in their effort to shock the league.

Mistakes will happen; there will always be a learning curve for a manager like Mista who has never managed in Canada before, and judgement can only really be made on how Mista and his team respond to these mistakes, and they have managed that very well so far in the league.  Each match sees the team look stronger as a unit, and the tactics become more clear and precise, which makes one wonder – how would this team have looked if they had the opportunity to play a few pre-season matches to work out some of these kinks. I believe they would be sitting comfortably in second on 9 points rather than in fourth place on 5 points. However we cannot dwell on these lost points, but rather focus on the matches ahead and keep focused and determined.

Building Blocks

In my season preview I said that Atletico Ottawa should be looking to make a top 4 finish, as I believe this squad has the talent and skill required to be a mid-table team. I also said that as it is their first year, under special circumstance, with players missing and no pre-season, fans realistically should be looking to have their club avoid sitting bottom of the table, so it is nice to FC Edmonton occupying that spot instead of Ottawa just now. The most important thing for Ottawa is that they set a strong foundation for 2021, and it seems like they have. The important question will be how many of these players can they retain for next season.

After four matches Atletico Ottawa have proven they are a contender for fourth place, they have the ability to control matches while taking their scoring opportunities and entertaining the supporters’ base. Lopez has put together a roster that has strong players in every position contributing to the success, with no weak positions. They have exceeded the expectations of nearly everyone watching this season, and have proven they are ready to compete against the best, and not just prop up the league from the bottom. There are three remaining matches; one against 2019 Champions Forge FC as well as the two clubs they sit level on 5 points with, Pacific FC and HFX Wanderers, will be defining for Atletico Ottawa season, and this writer believes that the lads in red and white stripes will finish in the top 4 at the end of round one, as long as they stay composed. They certainly have the quality to do so.