The “Winter of Fernando” Weather Proves too Cold for York United: Giving Ottawa a historic win

The “Winter of Fernando” Weather Proves too Cold for York United: Giving Ottawa a historic win

The longest off-season in world football finally came to an end when Atlético Ottawa hosted York United in the Canadian Premier League season opener on April 13, at TD Place in downtown Ottawa.

Deemed “Match of the Week” by the Canadian Premier League, Atlético Ottawa clutched the first three points of the year in a comeback victory over York United beating their Ontario rivals 2-1 for the first time ever on home turf, in front of 4,049 cheering fans.

Atlético’s win comes after an offseason of significant changes for both sides; under new ownership, York saw ten players leave, including Atlético’s new signees and notable names Kévin Dos Santos and Jonathan Grant. Unfortunately, Grant suffered a knee injury during the pre-season and is unable to play this year. In Ottawa, CEO Fernando Lopez was hard at work with what fans have coined the “Cold Fernando Winter”, which saw thirteen new all-star signings.

Atlético Ottawa players celebrating their win in front of the supporters’ section credit: Phil Larivière

The teams last faced off in 2023 at York Lions Stadium, where an 88th minute goal by Kévin Dos Santos (now with Ottawa) pushed Atlético Ottawa out of playoff position - York went on to place 5th in both the regular season and playoffs after a win against Vancouver FC and a loss to Pacific FC. Ottawa went on to finish 6th in the 2023 season, missing out on playoffs after a disappointing end to their season that saw a myriad of goals against them in the dying minutes of their matches. Without the pressure of playoffs, Ottawa was able to beat Forge FC 1-0 in their last match of 2023, a bittersweet ending to the season.

Atlético CEO Fernando Lopez and Head Coach Carlos González responded in the offseason and brought in MASSIVE changes that saw Ottawa with a renewed roster of all-star players ready to dominate the league and beat York in this first match of 2024. With all that said, let’s get into the key moments of this historic match.

Atlético Ottawa’s starting lineups credit: Phil Larivière

York kicked off the match, which saw a clunky first 15 minutes with both teams struggling with possession and plays. It wasn’t until York’s Voytsekhovskyy sent a pass from Wright just wide of Ottawa’s goal in the 10th minute that the teams found their rhythm. York saw their second chance in the 22th minute after Ferrari intercepted a pass from Luke Singh and fed it to Ricci to play it forward for Wright, who then sent the ball into the box for Ferrari, who back-heeled it to Ricci. Atlético’s goalkeeper Nathan Ingham dove to prevent the shot leaving the net undefended, before Ricci sent the ball wide in what should have been the opening goal.

York got a second chance just over ten minutes later when Babouli sent a low cross to Wright outside the 6-yard box, but Ingham was ready for the strike and easily deflected the shot. Two minutes later, Wright shot from outside the 18-yard, forcing Ingham to make another save.

In the 42th minute, Atlético’s Ballou Tabla passed to Matteo de Brienne who snuck into the inside of York’s defenders for a shot at the net that was easily caught by York goalkeeper Vincensini. This was the second time Atlético sent the ball into the arms of Vincensini, the first being from Ollie Bassett on a free kick in the 19th minute.

The first card of the match was given at the 44th minute to Luke Singh for dissent after de Brienne was called for a foul on Wright. Referee Yusri Rudolf shrugged his shoulders towards the booing fans as he penned Singh’s name into his book.

A minute later, Abatneh, last man at the back, was booked for a foul on Tabla outside of the 18-yard, denying him what could have been an opportunity at goal - heated, a fight ensued between the Ontario rivals. Players pushed and shoved as they pleaded their case with the referee Rudolf. Despite the commotion, only Abatneh walked away with a card for his foul on Tabla, and Bassett skyed his second free kick of the match, which he ended up doing once more in the 85th minute.

Despite no score for either team by half-time, both had ample opportunities to change the trajectory of the game, which at least led to an exciting first 45 minutes.

Ottawa kicked off the second half, which saw both teams playing with increased vigor. Within minutes, York’s Babouli sent a shot towards Ottawa’s net, which was punched away by Ingham right to opposing player Ricci, who scored the first goal for the visiting side.

Shortly after, York intercepted an Ottawa back-pass, leading to another shot on target in the 50th minute by Voytsekhovskyy; again it was saved by a diving Ingham. Not thirty seconds later Singh fumbled the ball at his feet, which got picked up by Ricci whose shot on target was saved once again. Right off this parry, at the other end of the pitch, de Brienne sent the ball forward to Tabla. With York’s goalkeeper out of his net, Tabla rounded him easily and attempted a shot, which was unfortunately sent high. Atlético quickly got a second chance when Bassett shot from outside the 18 and, as has been the theme, sent it over the bar once more.

It wasn’t until the 64th minute when Bassett sent a corner kick into the box that the game turned around: the corner was headed away by York to be picked up by Tabla, who subsequently sent it into the box once again. York attempted to clear it and instead passed right to Aboubacar Sissoko who took a shot. Vincensini pushed the ball away at the perfect height for Ottawa’s Manny Aparicio to head it into the back of the net, equalizing the score at 1-1.

Manny Aparicio scores against York United credit: Phil Larivière

With a fire now lit under Ottawa, the home side got several more chances before a second fight ensued when Ricci was carded for a foul on Kris Twardek in the 76th minute. York, upset with Rudolf’s decision, pleaded with the referee and began arguing with the Ottawa players - Twardek ended up picking up a card as well.

Only three minutes later, Aparicio advanced the ball into York’s box, managing to keep it in at the by-line with a chip that found Twardek who put the ball into the corner of the net for a 2-1 lead for Ottawa.

The last ten minutes of the match were watched with anxious eyes, as York had several chances in Ottawa’s end, bringing back memories of last season’s last-minute collapses and subsequent dropped points. Luckily, Ottawa was able to hold off their opponents and keep the lead, to the excitement of the crowd.

Atlético Ottawa’s first game left me excited to see how the team will progress throughout the season. They had moments of beautiful passing, weaving in and out of York players to advance the ball and great opportunities in the box. Multiple players stood out, such as de Brienne who was a powerhouse on the left side, providing important crosses into the opposing box, while also demonstrating fantastic defending. His counterpart on the right, Twardek, was equally great, making quick runs and important passes, not to mention sinking his strike for the game winning goal. For myself, Alberto Zapater was the unsung hero of the match - he was calm and confident on the ball, while being threatening in both his defending and attacks.

On the other hand, there were some disappointments in the match, such as Bassett skying the ball on his free kicks, Tabla’s poor passes and finishes and, most discouragingly, Singh’s fumbles in the back-line. I’m going to give the players the benefit of the doubt for this match and attribute it to first-game nerves, but improvement should happen.

That being said, Atlético Ottawa fought hard to come out ahead and celebrated appropriately with the Dub after the final whistle.

Atlético Ottawa plays their next game at home against 2023 regular season champions Cavalry FC, on Saturday April 20th at 2 pm. Cavalry lost 1-2 to Forge in their opening match, in a game that also saw three goals in the second half. With this in mind, the question at hand for Atlético Ottawa is this: was the win against York United a fluke, or has CarGo figured out the formula necessary to lead Ottawa to the double this season?

About C.D.

C.D. Girard (she/her/elle) discovered Atlético Ottawa during their 2023 season and has been a loyal fan ever since. A long-time admirer of the sport, she first began playing football at the age of seven and most looks forward to international competitions where she supports both Canada and the Netherlands.

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