It was Cricket’s big night at TD Place on Wednesday, and thanks to some strong performances, it was a big chance at three points wasted for Valour FC.
With their season winding to a close, Ottawa welcomed Valour FC into TD Place on Wednesday evening with an opportunity to play spoiler for a Valour team still desperately clinging to ever-slimmer playoff hopes. Coming off of a tough 2-0 loss to Forge FC on Oct 16, Wednesday represented a chance for Atlético to potentially play spoiler for one of Valour FC, York United FC or Halifax as three teams scramble for one playoff spot. For Valour FC, after falling 3-2 in a tight affair against Pacific FC on Saturday and sitting five points back of the playoffs in the Canadian Premier League table, Wednesday/s matchup offered an opportunity to pick up three massive points before heading into a pair of challenging games against Halifax Wanders on Oct 26 and Cavalry FC on Oct 30.
Pre-game, the star of the show was on the concourse at TD Place. Atletico Ottawa partnered with the Eastern Ontario Potcake Rescue for “Cricket’s Big Night” to find a fur-ever home for Cricket, a 2-year-old potcake dog from Antigua that the rescue was searching for someone to adopt. Throughout the evening, Cricket and a few of his friends got to stroll the south concourse of TD Place, and by post-game, Ottawa announced that the rescue received a large number of applications for Cricket.
Once the ball kicked off and the attention turned to the field, it was a quiet first half, with the best chance coming in the thirty-third minute when Malcolm Shaw split the Valour defence but sent a screamer directly into keeper Jonathan Sirois, who sent it away to keep it tied at zero.
Ten minutes into the second half, former UBC Thunderbird Zach Verhoven led a four-on-three counterattack at Valour before slipping the ball up to Malcolm Shaw. Shaw did what he has done all season for Ottawa and buried his tenth goal of the year to give Atlético the lead.
“I think the first one was of a transition, and when I got past that first guy, I drove at the defender. I wanted to wait a bit to slip it…I slipped it close enough that Malcolm was able to hit it,” Verhoven said.
Along with his two assists, Verhoven’s coach recognized the improvements he has made throughout the season. “We are so happy because he improve a lot; maybe at the beginning of the season, he never play fullback, but he adapt perfectly,” Mista said.
Verhoven’s second assist off a pass into the box that found the boot of Ryan Telfer in the sixty-fourth minute gave Ottawa a 2-0 that they never look very threatened by Valour to concede in the final 25 minutes.
Even though he watched his team control the majority of possession and have the majority of chances, Valour FC head coach Phillip Dos Santos was left unhappy with their inability to finish on the night. “It’s very simple, last time I checked, the game was about scoring goals and not about having territorial control, and I feel that was the game,” Dos Santos said. “I felt that we spent the majority of the game in the opposition’s half, we couldn’t find solutions in front of goal, we couldn’t find ideas, and we knew Ottawa was a team that would set up the way they did and exploit the spaces that we would give them behind.”
Despite the disappointing night, the coach is not giving up on his team’s season and expects that feeling to be reciprocated in the locker room.
“If someone is already thinking about vacations, then he’s going to have to tell me, and I’ll just put someone else on the field who still believes,” Dos Santos said.
“That’s the way I go about it.”
For Ottawa, as they near the end of a long CPL season that will see them miss the 2021 playoffs, it is not much consolation, but a victory tonight can sometimes just make you feel better as Mista acknowledged,
“We are happy with the victory because I think the guys need good news like the victory for today.”
Despite only two U SPORTS representatives in the Atlético lineup on the night, Zach Verhoven made sure to make himself known. The former UBC Thunderbird, who has been a mainstay on the right side for Ottawa since coming over from Pacific FC, picked up a pair of assists on the night, effortlessly feeding the ball through the Valour backline. For Valour FC, former Saskatchewan Huskies mid-fielder Brett Levis was in the lineup along with former Carleton Ravens defender Tony Mikhael. It was a special night for Tony Mikhael as the 21-year-old grew up in Ottawa, allowing him to play in his hometown for the first time.
The Canadian Premier League season is winding down. With Atlético Ottawa eliminated from playoff contention, they play twice more on the year with their next match on Saturday, Oct. 24, against York United FC. For Valour FC, as they fight desperately to get into the playoffs, their next shot at three points comes Tuesday when the Halifax Wanderers take them on at home in a game that could make or break Valour’s season.