‘I bring years of experience’: Atlético Ottawa announce signing of fullback Jonathan Grant

TD Place, home of Atlético Ottawa, holds a special place in Jonathan Grant’s heart.

It was at that venue, in front of 14,992 boisterous fans at the 2022 Final between Atleti and Forge FC, that Grant won his third Canadian Premier League title. Grant, a Forge player at the time, was not in the squad during the 2-0 victory for the Hamilton club. But that didn’t sour what was a spectacular night for himself and his teammates in the nation’s capital.

“Typically you would think if you were not playing in a final you would be upset, but I remember being in that suite in the stadium here, at the very top of the stadium with [Kyle Bekker], Chris Nanco, Emery Welshman, Sebastian Castello, and honestly it was one of the best moments of my life,” Grant said in his introductory press conference on Friday. “Just watching Forge win in that suite, we were just confined in this little box going crazy, up at the top of the stadium, so it was definitely a very special moment. It was different from our previous championships but taking nothing away from it, not being on the field, it was one of the best moments I’ve experienced.”

On Friday, Atlético Ottawa announced their intentions for Grant to make a different kind of memory at the stadium, as they signed the fullback to a two-year deal ahead of the 2024 season.

Jonathan Grant celebrates winning the 2022 CPL Finals with Forge (Photo: Audrey Magny / CPL)

Grant, who spent this past season with York United FC after leaving Forge following that 2022 championship, was a target for the capital club from the very start of the off-season. Just how enthusiastic the club was about securing his services quickly made the Pickering, Ont. native confident that playing for Atlético Ottawa is the right next step for his career.

“I met with both Fernando [López] and coach [Carlos González] here and they were very adamant from basically the start of the off-season on their plans for next year, and who they wanted to execute those plans, and they made it very clear that they wanted me to be part of this team,” said Grant. “I think that’s very important going into this season, how much they made sure that I was a part of this team.”

Grant becomes the first player to have signed for all three Ontario-based CPL clubs, having spent 2023 with York United after the previous four were with Forge.

“I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet,” Grant said with a smile. “But I think the league is growing very quickly. … The league is changing every single season and to me it feels like there are rivalries between every club, every game you go into it’s very intense.”

The 30-year-old fullback brings a wealth of CPL experience to the nation’s capital. He has appeared in 54 regular season matches between Forge and York United, five playoff matches, and a further 11 in the Concacaf League with Forge. With the Hamilton side, he also won three CPL playoff championships, in 2019, 2020 and 2022.

“I think I bring years of experience in this league,” said Grant. “I’ve been in this league for five years now and I’m very familiar with the teams. As I said, the teams are changing a lot, the teams are growing, every team is getting better every year. So I think I’ll be bringing that experience within this team, and even winning games with Forge, winning championships, I think I bring that to the table as well, along with my abilities on the pitch.”

Grant for York United against Atlético Ottawa this past season. (Photo: Tim Austen/Freestyle Photography)

Although primarily a right fullback, Grant played as a central defender for York at times this season and earlier in his career. He will bring that versatility to an Ottawa backline that lost Luke Singh, Diego Espejo and Miguel Acosta this off-season.

“I’m a very athletic player, I like to get up and down the pitch,” he said of his abilities. “I’m a defender, so that comes first, but I’m a very attacking-minded defender.”

Those attributes could prove to be integral to an Atlético Ottawa side who are looking to adopt a more proactive approach this year in terms of defensive strategy. The club, who have developed a well-earned reputation for cagey defensive football in recent campaigns, are not shy about the fact that they would like to get on the ball a little bit more in 2024.

“Looking at previous seasons with Atlético Ottawa, defence is one of the important principles in their structure. I think they’ve brought in players to strengthen that, but also brought in players this year that will help relieve some of that pressure off the defence,” said Grant.

This past year also saw Grant step onto the senior international stage for the first time with Guyana. With this, too, there were some highs and lows in his six caps, as Guyana were eliminated by Guadeloupe in the final round of Gold Cup qualifying. However, they quickly rebounded as Grant helped the Golden Jaguars win their Concacaf Nations League B group, which will see them promoted into League A this coming year.

“I think going and making the decision to play for Guyana has been a game changer for me so far, I think it has impacted me a lot for these past couple of years, and it has changed my mentality on a lot of things,” said Grant. “It’s something that’s very special to me, that decision, and the squad we have is also very special. I think we have a bright future, and going into Concacaf A this year is going to be something that’s very important for us as well.”

With the 2024 CPL season fast approaching, Grant won’t have to wait long to face his former side, as Atlético Ottawa host York United in the opening match of the campaign on Saturday, April 13 (1 p.m. ET). That will begin a year where Atlético Ottawa will be intent on reversing their fortunes after a disappointing 2023 that saw them finish sixth place and miss the playoffs.

The ambition for club and player, however, is not just to return to the postseason. Atlético Ottawa are desperate to return to the league’s summit in 2024, and Grant is the type of signing that fits into that budding culture perfectly.

“For me, going into a season to not come out of it as a champion now doesn’t feel as successful, because that’s where the standard has been set for me, playing with Forge in the first three years,” said Grant. “I think anything short of that is an unsuccessful year for myself.”