Poor Starts and Bad Home Form: Have They Been Addressed for 2024?

Poor Starts and Bad Home Form: Have They Been Addressed for 2024?

Over the four-year history of Atlético Ottawa, their various squads have finished in a multitude of positions at the end of the season. They’ve finished at or near the bottom twice (2020 - 7th and 2021 - 8th), mid-table and just outside the playoffs once (2023 - 6th) and of course, they finished 1st in 2022. However, two trends have emerged through the three full seasons the club has played: a bad start to the campaign, and a worse record at TD Place than on the road. The reasons for such are myriad, however this piece will attempt to break both of these down using statistics to prove they do exist, try and find an explanation for each, and reckon if the 2024 squad has what it takes to break the trend.


Let's begin with the bad starts. During the sample size of 2021-2023, only one of the three campaigns started with a win and three points (2022). After the first game, results don’t improve either; by the time every club has played six games, ATO have never found themselves higher than sixth (sixth twice and seventh once - 2021). Even if we extend the sample to Gameweek Seven, only the 2022 squad improved to fifth - both the 2021 and 2023 editions found themselves in eighth. That’s not to say that this run of form always continued. In 2022 they recovered and won the title following a strong run of undefeated games in the middle of the season, but in 2021 they were never able to climb back up even to seventh, and in 2023 while they played well for a stretch, they eventually crumbled nearer the end of the season. 

Alexander Brazier Rymek

The cause of these poor beginnings are easily attributed, and in fact manager Carlos Gonzalez addressed them in his end-of-season press conference for 2023: he cited both a younger-than-average squad that lacked the necessary preparedness and maturity to start a campaign, as well as too much turnover that dealt a blow to team cohesion and chemistry. Both of these were certainly the case, as the average age of the 2023 roster at the start of the season was close to 23.5 (very low for a league of this calibre), and the front office totaled 33 roster moves during the winter months, leaving only 9 players from the 2022 campaign. 

As for if these two issues have been resolved, both have been addressed. This season, the current average age stands at 25.1, which is sure to vary slightly with any new additions, but regardless is older than last campaign’s team. In addition, über veteran Alberto Zapater is sure to prove a calming influence on the team to start the season. In terms of turnover, the front office has made 27 roster moves, and although there are still transactions to be made, that number is a far cry from the 33, 35 and 39 of the three previous offseasons. I believe it’s safe to say that the front office took Gonzalez’s comments to heart and looked to rectify those issues.


Of the two issues highlighted in this article, the poor home form is probably the most visible and troubling for the long term. Fans might forget poor starts to a campaign, but they definitely don’t ignore their favourite team losing or drawing when they pay to watch them in person, and then flying out to Calgary or Halifax and getting an easy win. This isn’t just a misconception either, ATO’s poor track record at TD Place has left an impact on the statistics. To start, Ottawa wins more on the road; from 2021 onwards they have posted a 0.40 Winning% away, and a 0.31 W% at home. Even during their most successful season (2022) this trend remained, and got worse - a 0.6 W% on the road vs another 0.31 W% at TD. 

You might say that even if they aren’t winning, they’re at least getting points right? Wrong. In terms of Points-per-Game (PPG), Ottawa accrues more points on the road as well: 1.44 PPG away vs 1.28 PPG at home. This trend worsened again in 2022, where they accrued 2 PPG away and only 1.5 PPG at home. That away form was good for best in the league by 7pts, while their home form was good for a measly 5th, and 4pts out of a playoff spot. As a final blow, ATO even scores less at TD Place than elsewhere: 1.39 goals-per-game on the road vs 1.32 at home. While this doesn’t sound like a big difference, over an entire season it adds up. The one trend they perform better at home is with conceding goals, as they ship less at TD Place than on the road. 

This issue has much murkier causes than bad starts to a season, and thus it is hard to know whether it has been addressed. One idea, floated half tongue-in-cheek by fans, is that the atmosphere at TD Place created by CCSG and the supporters puts too much pressure on the players to perform. It isn’t a theory without merit, as CCSG is often cited as one of the best supporters groups in the country, and Ottawa averages the second-highest average attendance in the CPL. Perhaps the raucous atmosphere and noise are overwhelming compared to quieter parks like Princess Auto Stadium in Winnipeg or York Lions Stadium in Toronto. Another possibility is that as a subsidiary of Atlético Madrid, a team famous for playing a low-block there is more pressure at home to conform to the type of play that their parent club prefers and what casual fans will believe they will play like, leading to a stifling of offence and poorer results. Such a style leads to low-scoring games, in which one goal (often against) can make all the difference between three points and one or none at all. Perhaps when they play away from home, they can adopt a more free-flowing and loose style of play, which naturally opens up the game to more offence and better results (although with more goals against). 

Andrea Cardin - Freestyle Photography/CPL

Of course, the fans and atmosphere will not change, and as the league grows will only get “worse”. However, there have been promises made regarding the style of play. In an offseason address, CEO Fernando Lopez stated that the goal this season (2024) is to play a more possession-based, offensive game. While that sounds good, manager Carlos Gonzalez promised the exact same thing leading up to 2023, before reverting to the same formula of counter-attacking football that Ottawa had played the three years previous. However, I believe the key difference between the two is the activity in the market. During the 2023 offseason, it was rumoured that ATO took some massive home run swings on big-name players and were overconfident in their signatures. When those fell through, they had to scramble to find replacements - these players fit the mould of a more attacking style of play, although their last-resort nature made them less-than-ideal signatures, and that showed on the pitch.

During the 2024 offseason however, it is clear that none of these additions were second choice. With names such as Ballou Tabla, Matteo de Brienne, Manny Aparicio, and more, it is obvious that the front office is making up for a lacklustre 2023 offseason. These players are certainly more suited to an offensive game plan, and it is unlikely Gonzalez will force all these dynamos (who are more suited to having the ball at their feet to make things happen) to sit back and wait for the counterattack. Another factor is their age, touched upon in the above section. With an older team, they might be better suited to playing in a pressure cooker environment like TD Place, and will hopefully not succumb to the impotence shown in previous editions of the team. 

To conclude, I believe that two massive issues that plagued past Atlético Ottawa rosters have been fixed: poor runs of form to start the season, and an inability to live up to expectations at home. With a revamped roster, an older average age, and generally less turnover than other offseasons, I believe a squad with more cohesion and maturity can overcome these historic trends and lead to a tremendous 2024 campaign. Of course, it is said that football is played on the field and not on paper, so we will have to wait and see if this team can resolve some of these problems. Indeed, CEO Fernando Lopez made a point to mention that fans shouldn't be too hard on the team if they take a few games to gel properly, given the many strong additions needing time to build chemistry. However, I have faith that they will, and results will flow. With an offseason like the one they just had, expectations are astronomical, and it should be an amazing season regardless. Vamos!

About Alexander:

When he isn't busy playing or watching sports (or going to school at uOttawa), Alexander is busy managing his Atlético Ottawa database, which he started in 2020, and tracks everything you can think of about the club and its players. He also runs a Twitter account dedicated to analyzing and rating CPL players using statistics, CPL by the Numbers.

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