CCSG Player Rankings: Voyageur's Cup QF - Leg 2

CCSG Player Rankings: Voyageur's Cup QF - Leg 2

It was bound to happen. We can kid ourselves all we want, but to think this team was going to continue steamrolling through a league that is designed to ensure more than a modicum of parity would be incredibly naïve. Yes, Atlético Ottawa remains undefeated in CPL play given this loss occurred in the Voyageur’s Cup, but the defeat still came at the hands of a CPL opponent. Pacific were the better side Wednesday night by a clear margin, and the 2-1 scoreline flattered the visitors immensely. Were it not for two missed chances inside the 6-yard box early in the second half for the home side, this game could have been a runaway similar to ATO’s drubbing of Valour earlier in the competition. There are plenty of reasons why Pacific claimed victory on Wednesday, so rather than dive into the minutiae of each individual performance in a game that just seemed to have a collective malaise looming over the 10 outfield ATO players, let’s look at the big picture instead.

There are important parallels between the Forge side that came into TD Place on Saturday and the ATO team that played at Starlight on Wednesday. Both teams came off a major emotional victory and were thrust into an important fixture on short rest. To add to the misery, ATO needed an additional 3,300 kilometres in the trip between the two stadiums they played at. This is not to excuse the level of performance, but to simply contextualize within the general lack of rotation that has been present through the first 10 games of the season. 5 players have started all ten matches, accounting for half of our outfield lineup in each game. Amer Didic has played every single minute of the league season and was only rested for 19 minutes following his substitution in the preliminary round against Valour, and both Luke Singh and Manny Aparicio have been rested for less than a cumulative half of football respectively. 

Carlos Gonzalez is right not to rotate these players so far, as they have been able to perform and prior to Wednesday, hadn’t really shown that fatigue had significantly affected their ability to contribute on the pitch. Even in this defeat, I wouldn’t suggest that major changes need to be made going forward. This is merely an acknowledgement that even the best teams have days where fixture congestion will catch up to them, as well as days where the opposing team will rise to their best. Pacific looked industrious going forward while Atlético Ottawa looked lethargic for much of the first half, and to be frank, much of the second half as well. 

The majority of the energy being used by Atletico Ottawa’s players was more to recover defensively than to put pressure on the Pacific defence, and this extended deep into the second half, with a lot of time spent on the ball in our own half trying to break down a Pacific side that were not sitting back trying to absorb the pressure and were pushing upfield with their press. Teams being willing to work this high press have made Atlético Ottawa look much worse this season, with the first half against York being the other standout example. It’s part of why the leads we’ve been able to accrue early in games have been essential to the overall success of the team, as we can surrender possession and hit on the counter where we have been more clinical than in years past. It’s also why the games in which we haven’t been able to get goals in the first half have been far nervier, and just generally worse performance-wise. Yes, saying that does sound blatantly obvious, but look at the Vancouver game and how anxious we looked given our inability to convert in the first 45 minutes.

These efforts are appreciated, but at a certain point the execution needs to match it. For some players, that has been the case all season. To anyone that has been reading on a weekly basis, Ballou Tabla is the best example of this phenomenon. He has been unable to provide the goal contributions that you would normally associate with a player of his calibre, and he’s been unable to string together a consistent 90 minutes to make up for the lack of presence in front of goal. For other players though, this popped up in the worst way against Pacific. I’m talking mostly about Matteo de Brienne here, whom I’m sure many will be shocked to see rated so poorly. While some of this can be attributed to Matteo being on an island down the left for much of the second half, a consequence of the changes Carlos Gonzalez made at halftime, he was not threatening on the ball, and also ended up losing possession 22 times. In most cases, his defensive work would more than make up for this lack of attacking success, but for me, this just couldn’t overcome what I thought was a lacklustre game going forward.

Photo © CPL Photos

Returning to the notion of Carlos and rotation, the one thing I will question from Wednesday night is his choice in substitutions. The changes he made consistently forced players out of position and created an unbalanced management of the space on the pitch. For instance, Morer playing on the left when he came on in the first half, taking off Tabla to bring in Salter but leaving de Brienne as essentially the only left-sided player on the pitch for a significant portion of the second half, and not bringing on someone to match the pace of Kunle Dada-Luke earlier when de Brienne was returned to left back. These issues with substitutes haven't surfaced yet this season but were a common criticism of Carlos over the last couple of years. With the bench starting to thin even more due to injury, it’s possible that he doesn’t have confidence in players to take on more significant roles in close games. However, taking players out of position because you don’t have the confidence to put other players in their appropriate positions is only going to hamper the overall potential of the team.

Before I get to the positive side of things, I do want to touch on what appears to be the second season-ending injury sustained at Starlight stadium in as many games. The loss of Max Tissot marks as well the second season-ending injury to the ATO roster, having lost Jonathan Grant in the pre-season, making the already thin defensive line feel even thinner. I had been more positive on Max’s contributions to the lineup so far this season, and it’s clear that he had taken the mantle of captain seriously. What scares me the most is his history with knee injuries, and the potential that at his age this isn’t something he’s going to come back from. Given the cap relief does not apply to this injury, it will be interesting to see what the solution will be for filling his roster spot come the opening of the summer transfer period, if anything at all.

Photo © CPL Photos

Now, despite all of these negatives I’ve brought up, there are positive individual performances to point to from this game, and plenty of optimism to hold onto overall. For example Rayane Yesli did a great job in goal. With a defence that was not up to the task they were presented with, Yesli stood firm and still managed to make 9 saves, with 6 coming from shots inside his own penalty area. Yes, Pacific’s lack of composure in front of goal in the second half may have helped, but in no circumstance was he at fault for any of the chances Pacific took. 

Additionally, Sam Salter came in and put home his first of the season off a lovely little ball from Dani Morer, and looked in better spirits going forward than he has all season. While he was partnered with Ruben Del Campo in a two-striker formation, which is not a standard part of the ATO game plan, he still appeared more into the game than he had to start the year.. 

Finally, Dani Morer continued to impress me with his technical ability on that very same assist. While he did not look comfortable on the left side in the first half, when he was returned to the right in the second half his quality started to shine through, and it always seemed that any threat would come through him.

On the whole, and it seems callous to say, we needed this. The true measure of a team is not how they respond after a victory but how they do so after a defeat. With this being their third game in 9 days, the whole team is going to be exhausted. Halifax will come in motivated to reverse their fortunes, especially having felt hard done by the dismissal of Lorenzo Callegari early in the previous matchup between these two teams. But that said, this team at its best is still the favourite in the CPL and has claimed 17 of a possible 21 points. One result in the cup doesn’t change the fantastic start to the season. Instead, it highlights the areas that need to be worked on to ensure that this continues through the remaining 75% of the season. The expectation should still be a victory against Halifax, and if that victory comes in the manner that many of our victories have this season, it will be a lesson that this team has the mentality required to mount a title-winning campaign. Last year, it was clear that the mentality wasn’t there, and it manifested itself in all those late losses in September and October. It won’t be an easy game, there really aren’t any in the CPL but you don’t win a league based off of easy games, you win by digging down and finding the way to win no matter the circumstance. This team is too good not to make the playoffs, of that much I’m confident, but Sunday will show if they can claim the prize at the end of the road.

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 footy knowledge has been a constant asset, along with his role as caretaker for Atléti Wikipedia pages.

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