2024 CCSG Player Rankings: Matchday 1 vs. York United

2024 CCSG Player Rankings: Matchday 1 vs. York United

After 45 minutes that felt quite like “more of the same”, Atlético Ottawa was able to find the extra gear that they were missing for much of last season in the second half, clawing back from an Austin Ricci goal in the 49th minute to finally claim victory over York United at TD Place. It was evident that the team still hasn’t fully come together with all the new faces in the lineup, which can be forgiven because it’s the first game of the season, but it also highlights just how important it is to have high-level talent on the pitch who can play their roles. There’s plenty to focus on improving in the weeks ahead, but nothing that should be concerning to the fanbase writ large. There will be growing pains, but that’s all the mistakes were on Saturday, growing pains. If we come back in two months and some of these negatives are still present, then there’s a different conversation to be had. All told, let’s get to my first assessment of the year.

#9 Samuel Salter

(6): The best way to summarize Sam Salter’s performance against York is to say he was stuck in 2023. His involvement in link-up play was severely lacking, and there were clear communication issues between him and Ballou Tabla throughout the first half. This led to unnecessary giveaways at the halfway line which contributed to York having far more control of the ball and killed any momentum generated by the defense and midfield breaking through the York United press. It’s never a positive to see your #9 end the opening game of the season without managing a single shot, and unfortunately, it makes sense. He was not getting into dangerous areas when crossing opportunities presented themselves, which were plentiful with the presence of our wingbacks, and this is evidenced by his heat map having no presence in the opposing 18-yard box. I have high hopes for Salter this season as one of the biggest benefactors of the new wave of talent, as he should be provided with more opportunities to put the ball in the back of the net, but he can’t make good on that promise if he isn’t in the areas to do so.

#19 Ruben Del Campo

(NR): A 10-minute cameo from Ruben didn’t generate anything to suggest he’s transformed from the player he was last season. His vertical leap is still impressive but little else stands out when he’s leading the line. That said, his role was to help try and slow things down late on in the game while holding a lead, so being too critical is unnecessary.

#13 Ballou Tabla 

(6.6): The return of Ballou Tabla was not as triumphant as we had dreamed. In similar fashion to much of his season in 2022, the first big chance that presented itself for the winger was wasted. Through on goal, he rounded Vincensini only to stumble off balance and send the ball careening somewhere in the lower atmosphere. Outside of the missed opportunity, Tabla appeared to be working himself back into full fitness as he still looked a little rusty in how he took on defenders and as well as how he worked with the rest of the team. That said, there’s plenty of potential for greatness in the partnership between Tabla and Matteo de Brienne down the left. Both players have a dynamism about their game that should produce fireworks once they become comfortable with one another. His highlight of the game was clearly the cross that eventually led to Atlético Ottawa’s opening goal, and that sort of execution is going to be invaluable to any chance ATO has of claiming silverware this season.

Photo © Phil Larivière

#34 Manny Aparicio 

(7.8): On the other hand, it would be hard to imagine a better debut than the one Manny Aparicio had. A goal and an assist in front of the 4000+ braving the elements at TD Place will immediately endear him to anyone that has not yet been made aware of his talent. His goal was emblematic of the type of pressure and positioning that had been lacking for Atletico Ottawa last season. Finding the loose second or third ball to capitalize on vital attacking chances was something this team did not do at all last year, and Manny getting a head on the rebound following an excellent save from Vincensini is the biggest sign to me that something has fundamentally changed in the makeup of this side. He will need to clean up a bit defensively, as much as his midfield partners can make up for that, and I can foresee the yellow card problem that has plagued him in the past may not be something easily shaken. Regardless, Aparicio’s presence in the middle of the park cannot be understated, and it feels different from everyone else we’ve ever seen in red and white.

#33 Abou Sissoko 

(6.9): Alongside Aparicio in midfield was a quiet but effective game from Abou Sissoko. His clumsiness in tripping over himself late in the game when 1 on 1 with Vincensini notwithstanding, Sissoko’s confidence in the middle of the park was demonstrated in spades. As the highest pressing of our midfielders when pressure was being applied, his role is vital in being able to make the opponent uncomfortable in possession in their own half. He was denied an opening-day goal in the moments immediately preceding Manny Aparicio’s goal, but given the final outcome on that play we can’t hold him too responsible for the missed big chance. He will have to start winning his ground duels if the press is to be effective in any way, as he only managed a 33% success rate in this game, but his aggression is a welcome addition, and his relative calm with the ball at his feet is important to being able to manage games like we needed to in the final quarter hour of this game.

#10 Ollie Bassett

(6.4): Coming off for Maxim Tissot to help protect our late lead, Ollie Bassett was not his usual self. Given the rest of the talent on the field, I have come around to the idea of Bassett playing on the right to give space for the rest of the midfield to work. It’s a case of if Bassett is going to end up down there regardless, you may as well play him there to maintain your tactical shape. The problem with him out there though, is that he ended the game not having completed any of his 6 crosses nor having dribbled past any defenders. Combine that with a sub 70% pass completion percentage and one of the most effective attacking players in the league was far from his best on Saturday. As the season wears on I expect him to continue to work well with Kris Twardek and figure out how to maximize his talent in this new role, as frustrated as I might have been that he isn’t playing through the middle of the pitch.

#7 Kevin dos Santos

(6.5): Coming in for Ballou Tabla with 20 minutes remaining, Kevin Dos Santos’ impact on the game was minimal given the events that occurred as he entered play. This sort of late-game substitute role will likely be how he features for the better part of the season, and in times where we are defending late leads, we’ll need to see how he holds up defensively, working alongside whichever fullback he happens to be in front of. Any winger in this system is going to need to contribute defensively almost as much, if not more, than their offensive contributions. My focus is going to be on that part of dos Santos’ game as I had only viewed him as an attacker in his time at York.

Photo © Phil Larivière

#21 Alberto Zapater

(7.5): Class is permanent. The age-old expression has never been more apt as a descriptor than the case of Alberto Zapater. Even at 38, Zapater functions as the rock in midfield, able to nullify opposing pressure when on the ball and to sniff out potential threats as the opponent looks to transition from the midfield to attack. The tackle Zapater made against Mo Babouli in a desperate one-on-one situation following a Luke Singh giveaway was immaculate, and yet it seemed to barely faze the Spaniard. 5 of 6 ground duels won, 5 tackles made, 7 defensive actions, all things that you love to see out of your #6. Hovering at around 80% completion percentage and never once being dispossessed, he had the markers of an absolute rock in the middle of the pitch. Having Zapater available for as many games as possible must be the goal for Carlos Gonzalez. Once Liberman Torres is available to be selected, I can see a little more rotation to help Zapater, because a 38, turning 39-year-old on turf for a full season has a definite shelf life. That said, I hope desperately that the expiration date doesn’t come any time soon.

#22 Matteo de Brienne

(7.7): One of two homecomings on Saturday, no person has saved ATO’s bacon in a single game quite like Matteo de Brienne. Several vital defensive clearances were on offer from the 22-year-old from Barrhaven, including a key block of a York United effort as injury time approached. The ensuing celebration from de Brienne is the exact type of passion you want to see from young defenders. Going forward, he may not have provided the killer crosses that he was known for at Valour last season, but that should come. We’ve seen the early signs of a lethal partnership down the left between him and Ballou Tabla, and his pace will allow him to recover quickly if he is ever caught just that little too far up the pitch. Only winning 2 of 9 ground duels is concerning, but if he’s able to continue being effective in delivering long balls (50% success rate) and being where he needs to be in key moments, that really won’t matter to me. Flash go zoom, right into our hearts, just as we all expected.

#5 Luke Singh

(6.3): The only returning piece in the defensive line for Atletico Ottawa was the weak link on Saturday. On a couple of occasions in the first half, Luke Singh went on meandering runs to try and break through the York United press. It did not work. If not for the defensive effort of his teammates, and one of the worst misses I’ve ever seen from Austin Ricci, Atletico Ottawa could have reasonably been down 2-0. The yellow card he took was also quite silly. He stabilized well enough in the second half, but ultimately didn’t have enough defensive actions to make up for the errors in the first half. He was only 3/7 on long balls, a quality I thought he would continue to bring to the forefront after last season. Only 78% accuracy on passes in a system that usually has its centre-backs working at a much higher clip is also a concern. Given who he’s playing with, he needs to elevate to match the output of the rest of his defensive partners. Singh’s ability is certainly there, and hopefully this is just a sign of wearing off rust. With Tyr Walker waiting in the wings, he might not get more chances, especially as we need to start accumulating u21 minutes.

#55 Amer Didic

(6.8): The other half of our centre-back partnership did what he needed to do in his debut. Amer Didic was a presence in the back as he had been for Pacific for the last two years. Most of the action was taking place ahead of him, but when he was called upon, he answered. That said, he was nowhere near his final form, which should scare the rest of the league. Much like Luke Singh, Didic did not have a ton to deal with in the defensive third, however when called upon in the air, he used every inch of his 6’4” frame with aplomb. His long balls will need to improve slightly, as he completed less than 50%, considering they feature heavily for centre-halves in the Carlos Gonzalez system. However, Didic’s main offensive value is to come as a part of set pieces, which ATO were able to convert without involving him. All in all, Didic looked calm in the system, and my tiny fears that taking him away from Thomas Meilleur-Giguère would significantly affect his play now seem unfounded. He’s going to be the centrepiece in the middle of the defence this season, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo © Phil Larivière

#23 Kris Twardek

(8.1): I said it would be hard to imagine a better debut for a new team than the performance delivered by Manny Aparicio. The reason I didn’t say it was impossible was because of what Kris Twardek brought to his homecoming. Just putting home a 79th-minute winner would do wonders to endear you to supporters, but Twardek was far more than just Johnny on the spot. Part of it was the sequences down the right in the first half where he showed his propensity to try and beat his marker with a half dozen stepovers, and part of it was the intensity with which he played every moment of the game. His presence down the right made up for what was a subpar Ollie Bassett performance, and he was serviceable in defence despite being a converted right winger, winning 60% of his duels. He’ll need to improve his passing stats, as he was 68% accurate with no key passes from the positions he was getting into, but Twardek has cemented himself as an essential part of this eleven. 

Out of anyone in this team, whoever took over at right back had the hardest task in my mind. That being the pressure of replacing the beloved figure that is Miguel Acosta. They’ve got very different skill sets, of course, but any person who takes over the position occupied by the club’s all-time appearance leader is going to be measured against their predecessor. It’s only one game but Twardek met the moment and quite literally, in the case of Austin Ricci, silenced any critics he may have had. For this Manchester United fan, the image of Antonio Valencia converting from right winger to right back is the mould I would love to see filled by Twardek, and, from his first 90 minutes, it seems like he just might.

#15 Maxim Tissot

(NR): The few minutes Maxim Tissot spent on the pitch were to simply see out the remainder of the game, as he came in for Ollie Bassett. One note is that he played inside of Matteo de Brienne when this happened, rather than having de Brienne push up the pitch in a natural 5-4-1. Is this suggesting that maybe Max is going to feature more centrally given our lack of depth at centre-back?

#29 Nathan Ingham

(7.1): Before I expand on Nathan Ingham’s performance on Saturday, I will commend him for avoiding a signature Nathan Ingham long ball sent aimlessly into touch, particularly with the gusting winds through the wind tunnel that is TD Place. 5/11 on long balls is an improvement for Ingham, and that he did not make a single error with the ball at his feet is the type of thing we desperately want to see from our keeper. He also made a few key saves, including a vital one on Austin Ricci who looked to double his tally minutes after his first. Unfortunately, I’m going to penalize him a bit for York’s goal. Not only did he punch the ball back into the box at the feet of Austin Ricci, but also was beaten at his near post. The rest of his day more than made up for this mistake, but with the other errors from the Atlético Ottawa defence, it would be reasonable to say that the boys had a bit of luck in claiming the three points. Whatever we take from Ingham’s performance, we can at least hope that the improved distribution will be a year-long trend, which means I can stop mentioning it every week.

Atlético Ottawa’s 4th home opener has come and gone, and the team’s record in those games has improved to 3-1-0. After starting last season negatively, recall that the team did not win at home for a 9-game stretch between August 2022 and June 2023, so being able to earn a positive result from a game with the team working out the kinks is a massive step forward. The urgency that the team played with when they went behind is something I think many fans would be thrilled to see from the first whistle, rather than having to take a kick in the pants to get going. That it was there at all though is an improvement from last year, and the result it brought is mainlining hope right into my veins. 

The passion in this group is palpable, and the relationship that they are cultivating with the faithful at TD Place, for those that weren’t already here, can only serve to embolden them. The stands may not have been as full as they have been in recent years, but on the broadcast, you were not able to hear the difference. There might just be something special brewing with this line-up, breaking our three-season long streak of not beating York at home being the first of many firsts that will hopefully be on offer in 2024. The season started with the team finally being presented a trophy for our efforts in 2022, and I think there are a fair few who feel that the season will be closing quite similarly.

About Patrick

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.

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