Atlético Ottawa introduced itself to the Canadian Premier League on Saturday afternoon with gusto, stunning York9 FC by going ahead 2-0 before ending up with a point from their 2-2 drawat The Island Games.
York9, of course, will know all about leaving an inaugural match with a draw after taking the lead. Still, looking to play spoiler against an anointed championship contender, Ottawa can’t be anything but pleased with the way they showed on their maiden voyage, particularly before a 50th-minute red card to Vashon Neufville turned the game on its head.
“We’re extremely happy with our lads and how they performed,” Atleti coach Mista told reporters through a translator. “Obviously the red card conditioned our game pretty early into the second half, but we’re extremely proud of our guys, the effort they did.”
Mista lamented the call that saw Neufville, who had been excellent at left fullback and provided a spectacular assist for the club’s first goal, ejected for a second yellow card. The English fullback collided with York9’s Joe Di Chiara not long after Ottawa made it 2-0.
“The red card conditioned the game, especially our game plan. I think if we would’ve stayed 11 against 11 throughout the whole match, things would’ve been much different right now,” Mista said.
Asked if he has any intention of appealing the decision by referee Mathieu Souaré, Mista broke in with an emphatic “Yes” before even hearing the question in Spanish.
“Yeah, a hundred per cent,” he proclaimed. “We’re gonna go through all the processes to appeal, because I think in that mix-up there was a bit of confusion. It wasn’t that clear, so we’re definitely going to appeal, so we can count on Vashon next match.”
The coach himself earned plenty of credit as well, as he re-introduced himself to Canada with his first game as coach of a senior professional team. He set up his squad in a well-organized 4-2-3-1, coming out of it with 50 per cent possession against one of the league’s top ball-controlling teams from 2019.
Already, the Spanish gaffer has begun to recondition his image in Canadian soccer after he ended his playing days with Toronto FC.
“In training, the coaching staff did a fantastic job with us,” said Mohamed Kourouma, himself earning the laurels as Ottawa’s first-ever goalscorer. “We have good players in this team, and guys with a lot of experience like (Francisco) Acuña and (Ben Fisk) and Nacho (Zabal), but we can improve more.”
Acuña, the 32-year-old veteran of Liga MX, was pretty much as advertised in his 54 minutes of work, covering an extraordinary amount of ground. He provided the assist for Malcolm Shaw’s goal just minutes after halftime, but even before then his quality as an attacking midfielder was obvious. His 29 passes in the attacking end dictated Ottawa’s pace in the first half.
“Francisco Acuña’s a different player, definitely a player with experience and very good technically,” Mista said.
Explaining why the Mexican midfielder came off in the 54th minute, Mista said: “All the lads are going to need some changes and we’re gonna have to manage their workloads, especially because we have a game in a few days.”
Indeed, now that game one is in the books, Atlético Ottawa has no time to bask in it. Having shown that they can tango with a top team in the league (on paper, at least), the attention now turns to Wednesday, when they’ll try for a first win against Valour FC.