CCSG Player Ratings: Matchday 12 vs. Forge

CCSG Player Ratings: Matchday 12 vs. Forge

45 minutes of relative calm followed by 45 minutes of the “We’re So Back/It’s So Over” meme played out before our very eyes is certainly one way to kick off a long weekend. From a neutral’s perspective, you could easily argue that this was the single best regular season game in Canadian Premier League history. It featured twists and turns that were made more for Hollywood than they were for real life – the pinnacle of which being Liberman Torres’ nadir and apex in an Atlético Ottawa shirt occurring in the span of only seven minutes. As with any performance in which you concede three goals, major concerns have emerged that Carlos Gonzalez will need to deal with ahead of next week’s game against Pacific. Still, if you cannot celebrate that result, I question what you really get out of football. Plus, there were plenty of genuinely wonderful performances that should be highlighted for what they represent to the team going forward. Let’s relive the result, if only because these types of wins only come around so often.

A football team schedule on a green field

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#19 Ruben Del Campo

(6.9): Ruben Del Campo getting back on the scoresheet after a few games without finding the back of the net is a wonderful sign for the rest of the season. Inconsistency finding goals from the striker spot is a staple of this league and knowing that the spell in May wasn’t just a flash in the pan makes a defence of this seven-point lead atop the CPL standings much more doable. Outside of his goal, Ruben was also able to continue contributing in other ways off the ball, even if he wasn’t able to win duels against the centre backs he was matched up against. His missed big chance can be attributed to a blatant missed penalty call as Garven Metusala looked as if he was trying to rip his jersey clean off his back. Further, he did manage to draw a yellow card against Dominic Samuel, which wasn’t fully taken advantage of late in the first half as the ball shifted away from the left side of the pitch, and also generated another half decent chance on a free kick. Yes, him not being substituted in this game most likely comes down to the injury substitution that was forced for Ballou Tabla, but it was still nice to see Ruben get a full 90 minutes. 

#13 Ballou Tabla 

(NR): After the last few weeks, I think the first five or so minutes of this game looked promising for Ballou Tabla. Sure, it’s a small sample size to be evaluating, but the team dynamic right out of the gate looked far more positive than it had been. To see him go down injured and be forced off within the 12 minutes is incredibly disheartening for a player that, more than anything, just wants to contribute to the team.

Photo © Philippe Larivière

#11 Gabriel Antinoro 

(7.3): Last time out against Forge, Gabi was unable to get himself into space and didn’t provide any real threat when matched up against Dominic Samuel. Right from the get-go, this dynamic was flipped on its head. His free kick within 90 seconds dropped perfectly for Abou Sissoko to find the opening goal, mirroring his early contribution last season in the second Forge/ATO game. Through the rest of the first half, when the ball went down the left wing, Gabi found himself in space away from Dominic Samuel, and was able to make use of his pace and technical ability to pose a real threat, getting a shot on goal and winning a couple of free kicks. Gabi has had a couple of weeks recently where he hasn’t played to the best of his ability, but on Friday he certainly stepped up. I only wish that the ball had made its way to the left side of the pitch a bit more often because he was a real threat to the Forge defense.

#9 Samuel Salter

(7): To say I was trepidatious when I saw Sam Salter line up on the left wing when he was brought into the match may be the biggest understatement of the season. Thankfully, he calmed all of my fears and then some, really excelling in both attacking and defensive phases. His hold up play in the middle of the park far exceeded what he’s shown so far this year, and his movement off the ball was much improved in this new role. Predictably, Forge forced much of their attacking weight down his flank when it became clear that he was defending as the left winger in the defensive 4-4-2 shape that ATO was playing, but he did so admirably, not really giving up any true chances. I’d be open to the notion that playing him outside of the lone striker role might be for the best. The pressure of having to hold the ball up against the centre backs of other sides may have been the problem all along, because working in from out wide gave him plenty of opportunities to do the exact same thing, but to much better results.

#10 Ollie Bassett

(6.7): Given my consternation about his delivery on corners, it would be wrong of me not to lead off this evaluation of Ollie’s performance by saying he delivered those very well on Friday. Nothing hit the first man, and his free kick was weighted perfectly to find the head of Amer Didic for the second ATO goal. From set pieces, we looked dangerous in both halves, and Ollie was a factor in that. My issue with Ollie this week is something that I’ve pointed out about other players this season, but has been bubbling near the surface with Ollie for a while now. It felt like every time he touched the ball in transition, the play ground to a halt with the force of a car crash test. With quick players blistering down the wings to try and create goals to further cement a lead, Ollie’s attitude always feels too safe, especially as he occupies wide spaces, drawing defenders into the space that should be attacked by players like Twardek and de Brienne. The killer instinct to attack for greater leads feels like it only arrives in spurts rather than being a constant part of this team’s identity - can that really be a quality of a league winning team?

#8 Dani Morer

(7.4): If cloning technology is ever perfected, Dani Morer might be the top candidate on my list; I absolutely adore every part of his game. His vision is sublime, his ability to get away with tackles is demonstrative of a well-educated footballer, and his penchant for delivering in the most important moments is going to cement him in ATO lore. For the second time in a month, he’s delivered an absolute gem of a cross in injury time to rescue a result at home. I don’t know if he’s absolutely content with coming off the bench every week, as most footballers are wont to start every game, but the role he fulfills against tired defenses has been key to our ability to rewrite the script on late game performances from last season. We’re not giving points away at the death anymore, we’re taking them back, and Dani Morer is the talisman that is allowing us to do so.

#34 Manny Aparicio 

(6.3): After weeks of consistently very good to great performances from Manny Aparicio, Friday night was the return to earth from the man that has been, for my money, the best week-in, week-out player in red and white this season. The standout stat is certainly the 25% success rate on duels, which given he contested 16 in the match, is bound to have a significant impact on the result. That he also accrued a yellow card and gave away five free kicks showed that his best qualities of disrupting the game in the midfield and providing opportunities to transition the ball from defense to attack were certainly not on display. His distribution was adequate, with a shade over 80% pass accuracy and a key pass to his name, but the offensive contribution didn’t make up for the substandard midfield performance. Of course, I believe Manny will bounce back, but it’s good to see that others in the midfield can contribute when he isn’t up to his usual high standards.

#33 Abou Sissoko 

(7.4): In both games against his former club this season, Abou Sissoko has brought his A-game. It’s not just that he’s delivered a goal contribution in ATO’s two fixtures against Forge – it’s also his ability to disrupt play and maintain possession in the midfield in both of these matches that has been on full display. On Friday night, he only lost the ball three times in his 81 minutes on the pitch, with a 94% pass accuracy and a 62.5% success rate in duels. He did not give away a single free kick while earning two himself, and managed a key pass in addition to his first goal as a member of Atlético Ottawa. The goal itself needs special mention given the technique required to both get it over Chris Kalongo and cushion it enough to avoid sending it to the moon. As I mentioned previously, the fact that Sissoko was able to elevate his game when his midfield partners were not at their best is fantastic to see. Our depth in midfield is our greatest strength, after it being arguably our biggest weakness for the last four years.

#21 Alberto Zapater

(6.7): The solid hand of Alberto Zapater was just that on Friday. Nothing about his game was particularly spectacular, but he did enough to be a positive influence on the match in his role as the holding midfielder. It speaks to our depth in midfield that Carlos is comfortable substituting him early in the second half given how much he had played last season. Playing more in a 4-4-2 set-up this week levied further responsibility on Zapater in the middle of the park, something that he is clearly up to, but I also must acknowledge some of the chances that Noah Jensen was able to find in between the lines was possibly as a result of this set up. After a week where Zapater was the headline maker with his fifth goal in all competitions, it was time for the rest of the lineup to find the back of the net, and they did. I have a feeling Zapater’s aptitude in aerial situations will need to feature again this season, but that it doesn’t have to be a weekly thing is a relief.

Photo © Philippe Larivière

#6 Liberman Torres:

(NR): This is about as much as you can do in a match, and still get a NR in this column. No one player, possibly in the history of the league, has done something to draw so much ire from his own fans, only to completely redeem himself with a mammoth header that sent the 5,000+ at TD Place into a frenzy. It feels a tad reactionary to glorify it so heavily, especially given the point of the season we currently find ourselves, but given the opponent and the moment, it would almost seem wrong to exclude it in the pantheon of ATO’s greatest moments. It gains special accreditation because his pass to set up Poku would have gone down as one of our worst had the score held at three all. In that moment, the communication issues that have popped up in the past are evidently still a part of this team’s DNA. Regardless of whether his teammates told him to take his time though, which it didn’t appear they did, Liberman’s head went straight down to receive the pass and he never looked up once he got the ball. This is a schoolboy error, and needs to be remedied immediately if we’re to feel comfortable with him on the pitch. 

#22 Matteo de Brienne

(6.4): Much like Manny’s performance in this game, Matteo took a step back from his usual level in this match. I would argue that Matteo was extremely lucky to not receive a yellow card from Michael Venne for his sliding challenge on Dominic Samuel midway through the first half, and while he looked effective in brief moments in the first half when the ball was going forward down the left, the focus of the play shifting to the right gave him fewer opportunities to impress going forward in the rest of the match. That he also went one for seven on ground duels, a severe dip in performance from recent weeks, goes to show that Friday just wasn’t Matteo’s night. It’s frustrating to see a player with the talent he has not get the opportunities to influence the game going forward, for sure, as the focus of the attack seems so heavily concentrated down the right, particularly late in games. He does have the tendency to play just  that  bit quicker than everyone else, which may contribute to him not getting the ball as much as he should, but that’s how he plays, and I’d hate to see him compromise on the skills that make him the talent he is.

#5 Luke Singh

(5.8): The own goal was another schoolboy error. There’s no sugar coating it - a professional centre back should not be opening his chest towards the goal to deal with a cross at that pace inside his own six-yard box. The spacing in the move immediately preceding was also confounding, as there was no commitment from him to fill a giant void on the left side of the 18. No amount of decent play after that moment can make up for what was a calamitous bit of play, something that Luke has, unfortunately, always been prone to. It reared its ugly head once again, and there really wasn’t anything from his performance to help offset that terrible moment. I’ll also make a point to mention that his positioning on the third goal was exactly what you want from your centre back in that moment, and the pass from Torres is entirely the problem with that goal. He moved into acres of space to receive a pass with which he could calm the game down and take his time with a lead, exactly what he should be doing. Thankfully his own goal didn’t end up changing the result, and we can move forward hoping this sort of thing finally stops. That being said, I wouldn’t be too upset if Tyr Walker were to get a shot next to Didic next week.

Photo © Philippe Larivière

#55 Amer Didic

(7.3): A third goal on the season for Amer Didic, all of which have come at home, was an indicator of Atlético Ottawa’s resilience in this match. He was frankly spectacular all game, even outside the moment where he rose well above Chris Kalongo to net our second goal of the game, not losing a single duel, not committing a single foul, and managing five clearances despite having three goals scored against the ATO defense. His passing statistics remained exceptional, with another performance of 90% accuracy and 70% accuracy on long balls, and as a result the ability for this team to generate from the back has improved immensely this season. I shudder to think what this team would look like without him on the pitch, and the Halifax game on June 2nd was a prime example of it. I have been pretty vocal that Aparicio and de Brienne have been the two best players on the team this season, but more and more I become convinced that Didic is the single most important roster piece. I don’t want this to ever be proven right or wrong, because that would mean he’d be out for an extended period of time, but I can’t shake the feeling that he’s what’s keeping this ship afloat.

#23 Kris Twardek

(6.7): The amount of darting runs down the right wing from Kris Twardek where he doesn’t receive the ball is frankly ludicrous. The amount of ground that Twardek is able to cover down the wing is exactly what you want out of a modern full back. His pace, much like Matteo’s, might be a bit too fast for the way everyone else is able to play however, and I think Atlético Ottawa suffers as a result in transition. His defensive work remains stellar, but he really isn’t given the opportunity to shine much offensively. That being said, the fact Beni Badibanga really didn’t get into the game aside from one ball into Daniel Parra speaks volumes to how well he has been defensively. He might just be the unsung hero of this team when all is said and done; full backs really do not get the praise they deserve, but we were somehow able to seamlessly replace our outgoing right back with another equally fantastic option.

#29 Nathan Ingham

(7.5): In most cases where a team concedes three goals, it would be ludicrous to assert that the keeper would be man of the match - Friday night was the exception that proves the rule. Nathan Ingham was in fine form in the Atlético Ottawa goal, making seven saves and only conceding goals when his defense crumbled in front of him. Regardless of whatever distribution issues plagued him, the four saves he made in the box skyrocketed his rating. I also think the yellow card he received for the shove on Kwesi Poku in advance of taking a free kick, while certainly a moment of frustration, was necessary to wake the team up. It’s a responsibility in defence that Nate is certainly willing to shoulder, and the necessity of a vocal goalkeeper is often understated in favour of a shot-stopper. It’s these qualities that make him the 1A for Carlos González in our frankly elite goalkeeping tandem.

We’re seven points clear after 12 matches. Never in your wildest dreams would I have imagined we’d be in this position. ATO had a tremendous start to the year in a league that has been insanely competitive in the middle of the standings, and with other teams consistently taking points off one another, keeping a lead of two games or more becomes just that little bit easier as long as the boys take care of business at home. Through half of our home games this season in the league, we’ve scored 15 goals, almost as many as in each of the last two full seasons, and accrued 14 points, five off of last season’s total and seven away from our home total in 2022 when we won the league - though bear in mind that title was bought with outstanding away form. For the last three seasons we have been screaming about improving our home form, and halfway through the fixture list at home that seems to have happened, and the success is occurring away from home at the rate of the 2022 season as well. We’re spoiled as fans to be enjoying these results, and long may they continue.

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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