MATCH ANALYSIS: Atlético Ottawa, Pacific trade blows as Tissot free kick seals midweek draw

Final Score: Atlético Ottawa 1-1 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: Tissot 65′; Yeates 29′
Game of the 2023 season: 95
CPL match: 462

Match in a minute or less

Pacific FC and Atlético Ottawa wrapped up the CPL’s midweek slate of games on Wednesday evening in the nation’s capital, and the two teams gripped by a playoff race ultimately had to settle for a point each as the game ended 1-1.

The first half-hour saw Pacific in total control of the ball, and eventually they were rewarded as Kekuta Manneh fed Steffen Yeates at the top of the box, before Yeates tapped it into a good spot for himself and he smashed it under the crossbar to make it 1-0.

Ottawa took over the role of protagonists after conceding, though, assailing Pacific’s end with a litany of chances on either side of the halftime break. They won a penalty kick just six minutes into the second half, but Ollie Bassett’s attempt low and to the right was parried excellently by Emil Gazdov.

Not long after, though, Atleti’s equalizer arrived as Maxim Tissot curled a perfect free kick into the top right corner. Pacific’s Ayman Sellouf nearly equalized with a long-distance shot that Nathan Ingham barely got a fingertip too for an outrageous save, and as a result the two sides could not be split and the match finished as a draw.

Three Observations

Ottawa flip a switch, open up after conceding first

Perhaps the most disastrous thing that could have happened to Ottawa’s initial game plan was for Pacific to score in the first half; Atleti were perfectly happy to give Pacific the ball and force them to break down their block, looking to get Jean-Aniel Assi or Ollie Bassett involved in the counter-attack.

Eventually, though, Pacific did find a way through the red-shirted traffic in the middle of the pitch, perhaps earlier than Ottawa expected. So, from there, the hosts pivoted to plan B — almost instantly.

In the 15 minutes between the opening goal and halftime, Atlético Ottawa had 65 per cent possession, winning the ball in the attacking half seven times, winning eight out of 12 duels, and creating four shots. For comparison, the map below is of Ottawa’s passes and actions in the first 30 minutes of the match:

And this is all of Ottawa’s passes and actions in the 15 minutes between Pacific’s goal and halftime:

They connected passes with far greater frequency, and did so further up the pitch, looking particularly to exploit the right side — or Pacific’s defensive left.

“It was emotional; it was a mental state,” Carlos González said postmatch of what drove his team’s dramatic shift after conceding.

“I think we were a bit sleepy in the start of the game, we weren’t doing what we wanted to do to impose our football, to be more aggressive in the duels, to press a little bit more, and I think the goal was what shook us a little bit. We saw that we were losing, so we had to react and to change things in some way. More than tactical changes, more than a plan B or anything we’d spoken before, it was a mental reaction about what we wanted to do from the beginning that we couldn’t — we started to do it after the goal.”

Coming out of halftime, that energy remained. Ottawa were easily the better team in the 15 minutes after halftime, which led not only to the penalty and later the free kick goal, but also two other chances that Pacific cleared away off the goal line.

Atleti had five shots in that space between halftime and Tissot’s goal, and after the furor of that dangerous phase Pacific never really recovered. Certainly, late in the game Ottawa did pull back slightly and ensure they got at least the draw.

However, the most impressive part of this game by far was how quickly and effectively Ottawa responded, proving they do have another gear — which they might need this weekend in Halifax.

PHOTO: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography

Pacific’s patience breaks low block, but composure evaporates with post-goal ‘shift in energy’

On several occasions recently — particularly in some recent meetings with Atlético Ottawa — Pacific have been known to struggle when the opposing side sets up in a low defensive block. In the first half-hour of this game, Ottawa boss Carlos González had his side defending in a 4-5-1 shape (occasionally more like a 4-4-2 when Malcolm Shaw stepped forward from the left to defend alongside Samuel Salter).

Pacific therefore were challenged with turning a 65 per cent possession advantage into actual goalscoring opportunities. Early on, the Tridents were content to probe the edges of that Ottawa block, usually trying to get down the right side and attempting to open up space to pass through by moving the ball around the perimeter. Manny Aparicio often had to drop extremely deep in midfield to get touches on the ball, with Ottawa’s pair of Alberto Zapater and Noah Verhoeven making it difficult for Pacific to find their creative dynamo.

Before they scored, Pacific had made a staggering 73 passes in the attacking third, but just six penalty area entries with only two shots — neither of which on target.

The patience did eventually pay off, though. After a throw-in, Ottawa didn’t quite get back into their full shape and the ball came to Kekuta Manneh with room in the right half-space, and as Atleti stepped forward to try and cut off Manneh’s options, Steffen Yeates slipped between the lines and found a running lane in between Karl Ouimette and Luke Singh. Manneh threaded it to Yeates, and when Singh stepped forward to intercept the pass but couldn’t get a touch, Yeates tapped it behind the backline to where Singh would have been before smashing his shot under the crossbar.

After that moment of elation, though? The air went out of Pacific’s sails. As mentioned, credit is certainly due to Ottawa for their response, but James Merriman was extraordinarily frustrated to see his team lose its composure the way it did after the goal.

“We can’t change so much after we score a goal,” Merriman said. “We need to stay controlled, we need to stay composed. We come in at halftime, we speak, and we start the second half — of course they’re gonna come, and we just played right into that pressure. We need to be better, we need to manage the moments. This is a critical part of the season, we need to understand these moments.”

He added: “That’s us being a bit naïve, not continuing to do what we’re doing and having success at. If they’re going to press and they’re going to come with a little bit more then maybe we need to play quicker in the build-up. We gave the ball away a lot in the build-up at the start of the second half, which invited more pressure and more momentum, and that’s where we need to stay calm and we need to keep doing what we’re having success with.”

Yeates, who had been one of Pacific’s best players in that opening half-hour, echoed his coach’s frustrations, placing the blame on himself and his teammates for dropping their level after scoring.

“There was no tactical change, there was no instruction from the gaffer,” Yeates said. “Everything was meant to stay the same, but there’s been moments in the season where we’ve had success, we really hit teams with it, we stay consistent with it, but then we score a goal or we get a little complacent after that. I think it’s been a problem a couple times throughout the season. I’m not sure if it’s maybe a comfort thing or getting a little bit lackadaisical, but there’s a shift in our energy for some reason and going away from what makes us successful. It’s like laying back, and from that point of view it just gives the opposition an opportunity to attack and open up the game.”

PHOTO: Matt Zambonin/Freestyle Photography

Little ground gained for either side in back-and-forth midweek encounter

Coming into this game, both these teams were tied on points with one other CPL side — Pacific with Forge, and Ottawa with York United — but they also both had a game in hand on that foe. Now, that game in hand has vanished, with neither Forge nor York playing in midweek.

It’s hard to tell if either manager will be particularly thrilled with a draw from this game; Pacific will begin the weekend one point up on Forge and in sole possession of second, and Ottawa will be in fourth, but tied on 33 points with fifth-place Halifax Wanderers. Both sides treated the match as essentially must-win, and they’ll each feel they had opportunities to score again which they didn’t take — but ultimately neither got what they wanted.

“We have to fight to the end, we have to do our job. Today was a must-win game for us, and we didn’t take it. We keep speaking about it, for some time now, and we need to understand it.”

In some ways, part of the story in this match was set-pieces. Obviously, Ottawa, got back into the game thanks to Tissot’s glorious free kick, but they also had a penalty about 10 minutes before that which Ollie Bassett couldn’t score — denied by a very good Emil Gazdov save, but whenever a team misses a penalty they feel like they’ve left a goal on the table, and in this case it would have won the game for Ottawa.

For Pacific, though, they too missed opportunities from dead-ball situations. They had six free kicks in attacking positions in Ottawa’s half, plus a corner, none of which really threatened the goal or created shots. For a team with such aerial threats from set-pieces as Amer Didić and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère — and Djenairo Daniels coming onto the pitch late — not to mention players like Ayman Sellouf and Manny Aparicio whose deliveries are typically excellent, they’ll leave this game wishing they’d made more of those opportunities.

Now, the pressure mounts even more for both teams. Ottawa go to Halifax, where they lost earlier this year, in a game where a loss would be devastating. Pacific, meanwhile, remain on the road for a trip to a York United side fighting for its life and desperate to respond after last week’s loss to Valour. The margins are getting thinner and thinner with four games left on the table for both sides, and the two managers will be eager for their sides to do a better job of seizing the opportunities that arise. Player of the Match

Jean-Aniel Assi, Atlético Ottawa

The CF Montréal loanee was the most dynamic player on the pitch for Ottawa, creating three chances and leading his side with 42 successful passes and 95.5 per cent accuracy. He won possession eight times and had three successful dribbles as well, being a major part of the engine for Atleti’s turnaround after conceding.

What’s next?

Atlético Ottawa head out on the road this weekend, travelling to Halifax for a match against the Wanderers on Saturday, Sept. 16 (3 p.m. AT/2 p.m. ET). The following day, Pacific FC will be in the Greater Toronto Area to take on York United in a Sunday afternoon contest (5 p.m. ET).

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