Ottawa, ON – “Almost everyone will make a good first impression, but only a few will make a good lasting impression. (Sonya Parker)
After a last-place finish in the 2021 Canadian Premier League season, Atlético Ottawa’s first impression of a 1-0 win over Cavalry FC in their 2022 home opening game a week ago rightfully raised the question, could this Atléti team be different?
After taking down Halifax Wanderers FC for a second straight 1-0 win on Saturday afternoon, the impression of the 2022 Atlético Ottawa so far, as they sit at the top of the Canadian Premier League table, is a team ready to make some noise in the CPL this season.
Under sunny skies at TD Place, Ottawa and Halifax each entered the afternoon on a high following opening game 1-0 wins. Halifax took the win in their home opener on April 7, thanks to, in an unsurprising fashion, a 53rd-minute penalty kick goal from João Morelli. While Ottawa’s 1-0 win on April 9 came thanks to a handball in the Cavalry box that offered Brian Wright an 82nd-minute penalty kick that he made no mistake on.
It was a much deeper U SPORTS contingent on the field on Saturday as Halifax entered the afternoon with U SPORTS athletes up and down their lineup. Former Saint Mary’s Husky Christian Oxner started in the net with Montreal Carabins midfielder Pierre Lamothe and Cape Breton Capers forward Corey Bent joining him in the starting 11. On the bench, another Cape Breton Capers center-back in Peter Schaale and Guelph Gryphons defender in Colin Gander gave Halifax a league-high five U SPORTS athletes in their 18.
For Atlético, only one U SPORTS athlete was in their 18, but he made his first start of the season as former UBC Thunderbird Zach Verhoeven took back his spot in the starting 11.
Early on, the same as it was a week ago, the first half started with both sides sizing each other up and some strong chances on each side.
“I thought we were in good control in the opening 30 minutes of the game, and then they had some really good moments in the closing part of the first half,” Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart said.
The best chance of the first half came in the 35th minute when Ballou Tabla cut in from the right side and sent a drive past Christian Oxner, but also just past the far post. Once again, when the halftime whistle blew for each team, it remained 0-0.
In the second half, it was Nathan Ingham, who had a quiet debut for Ottawa a week ago, making multiple ten-bell saves, including back to back in the 52nd minute, to keep the game tied at 0-0.
“I’m happy for Nate”, Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez said “Everyone with this team came with something to give, and I’m happy that there’s someone in every position to win us points.”
Finally, once again in the final ten minutes of the match, Ottawa found the shot they needed.
Miguel Acosta, who joined the starting eleven following the three-game suspension of Drew Beckie last week, crossed into the box and found the head of Malcolm Shaw, who made no mistake, burying it past Christian Oxner to give Ottawa the 1-0 lead.
“They basically played for that chance that Shaw scored and I thought he took it well,” Stephen Hart said.
Newly inserted into the starting lineup for the first time this year, Coach Gonzalez was impressed with the effort level of the 24-year-old Acosta.
“I think Miguel (Acosta) gives us a lot of good attitude,” Gonzalez said. “He is an aggressive player, a player that makes the atmosphere of competitiveness grow.”
When the whistle blew, Ottawa had back-to-back wins for the first time in club history.
“I think Ottawa was not as bad as the table showed at the end of the season,” Halifax captain Andre Rampersad said. “I think they did create a lot; they just weren’t scoring; they weren’t as ruthless in front of the goal.”
“You see it from Malcolm Shaw today; he probably gets one chance today for himself, and he scores it, and that’s the difference from Ottawa last year and this year.”
For the Wanderers, they take the loss on the standings and took a serious loss on the field as in stoppage-time João Morelli had to be stretchered off of the field with a knee injury.
With the win, Atlético Ottawa moves on to face Valour FC on April 24 to close out their three-game homestand to open the 2022 Canadian Premier League season and go for the first three-game win streak in club history.
It might be early, but the impression that Atlético has given off to start the new season is resonating, and it was Maxime Tissot, who joined Atlético Ottawa over the winter from Forge FC who put it best,
“The players who were here last year say that it’s very different this season.”
At least through two games so far, it looks like he’s right.