MATCH ANALYSIS: Valour FC held to draw by Atlético Ottawa in 2023 home opener

Final Score: Valour FC 1-1 Atlético Ottawa
Goalscorers: Gutiérrez 3′; dos Santos 32′
Game of the 2023 season: 7
CPL match: 374

Match in a minute or less

Despite getting a perfect start to their home opener, scoring inside the first three minutes, Valour FC were forced to settle for a draw as Atlético Ottawa held on for their second 1-1 result of the 2023 season.

Diego Gutiérrez’s early header was cancelled out by a clever strike from Gianni Dos Santos just past the half-hour mark — as Atlético Ottawa came from behind to earn a result for the third time already in all competitions this year.

The two sides had several quality chances thereafter, but the final pass or final action let both down in the critical moments — leaving both sides to perhaps feel they had moments where they could have had more than a single point. Nonetheless, both sides remain undefeated after the first two weeks of the season, albeit with 2022 regular season champions Atleti still looking for their first CPL win of 2023.

Three Observations

Added depth in midfield unlocks Diego Gutiérrez to create more in attack

Gutiérrez led his Valour teammates out onto the pitch on Saturday night as the club’s captain and quickly established himself as a leader in performance for them as well — scoring the first Valour home goal of the season less than three minutes into the match.

The goal comes from a new position for Gutiérrez, who with the acquisition of Dante Campbell has been allowed to move further forward into more of a number eight role. Valour coach Phil Dos Santos said that part of adopting a three-man midfield this season was to bring out the best in players like Raphael Ohin (who missed this match through injury) and Gutiérrez, allowing them to have more freedom to create in attack.

“I feel good, last year it was more near the centre-backs, but now I can go more forward,” Gutiérrez told media after the match. “Today we see the result. Because I can score more, I can [get into] the danger area more. So it’s good.”

Aside from the goal, Gutiérrez had two shot attempts, five touches inside the box, created three chances and had 90.9 per cent pass accuracy — with 23 passes coming in the final third. He also had a team-leading four shot attempts in the first match of the season against York, showing an increased willingness to be brave offensively.

“I always told him that sometimes players like him, they are invisible,” said Phil Dos Santos. “Everyone knows that he is good, but nobody really praises him. Because a lot of what he does is invisible. I told him in the offseason ‘for you now it’s about getting a goal, an assist, once in a while because that is going to be the next level for you’. I’m happy that it is going well for him. He is a very good player.”

If Gutiérrez can keep up this level and production over the course of the 2023 season, he is about to become a lot more visible across the league.

Gutiérrez’s passing chart against Ottawa (Opta)

Valour uses width to attack

Last season, Atlético Ottawa allowed just ten goals away from home — the fewest in league history.

Knowing that they had largely the same team and identity this season, Valour recognized that they were going to have to be strategic in how they attacked Ottawa if they were going to have any joy going forward. On a large IG Field pitch, the Winnipegers chose to try to exploit the wide areas — a good bet considering both of their goals against York United materialized from the flanks.

That strategy paid off almost immediately, as Kian Williams was able to get isolated on the left wing and whip in a cross that Gutiérrez headed past Ingham. Thereafter, Valour consistently looked to try to get Williams and Pacifique Niyongabire on the ball out wide.

Once those players were in an established position, offensive-minded fullbacks Matteo de Brienne and Andy Baquero were able to push forward down the flanks and get involved in the attack. Both fullbacks had solid chances to score, while Baquero and Niyongabire continue to link up well, as the former had 35 passes into the final third.

Valour’s passing matrix below shows just how often they looked to move the ball to their wide players, in particular Baquero (2), and Niyongabire (24).

Valour’s passing matrix against Atleti – Baquero (2), Niyongabire (24), de Brienne (22), Williams (7) (Opta)

“It’s very hard to beat a team like Ottawa centrally,” said Dos Santos. “Their lines are very tight together. They take away a lot of the space in their defensive half. So we knew we had to stretch them, we knew we had to horizontally move the ball fast so we could isolate our wingers, and create these overloads out wide. I think we succeeded, until the final ball.”

As Dos Santos touched on, Valour was perhaps missing a bit of quality and composure in their final action on the night. But they seem to have a real plan of attack in 2023 — and so far it has proven an absolute handful for opposing defenders.

Decision-making in the final third costs Ottawa in attack

It was another plucky road result for Atlético Ottawa in the end — but it could have been even better had they been a little more decisive and clinical in the attacking third.

In a vintage Atleti road performance, they mostly ceded the ball and territorial advantage to Valour over the course of 90 minutes. But with Ottawa’s fullbacks often finding themselves high up the pitch in attack, Atleti picked their moments to get in behind down the flanks. With Baquero caught high up the pitch, Dos Santos’ goal demonstrated this perfectly.

Unfortunately for Ottawa, there were several imperfect examples over the course of 90 minutes as well. Jean-Aniel Assi somehow managed to sky a ball over the net from just a few meters over, while Zach Verhoven also had a very good chance to score in the second half and miss-hit the ball.

Too often, when Ottawa’s attackers found themselves in good positions they under-hit passes, chose the wrong option or just simply scuffed their attempt. For a team like Atleti that has traditionally only created limited opportunities, their new attackers quickly becoming more decisive in the final third will be critical.

The good news, however, is that their attacking unit has already shown an ability to get them back into games in which they trail, something which wasn’t the case last season  They also have plenty of time to get on the same page in the final third.

“I have no doubt that along the season, we are going to be good in the box and finish [our] chances because we are getting there, that is the most important thing,” said Atleti goalscorer Gianni Dos Santos after the match. “Now the only thing is to finish it.” Player of the Match

Diego Gutiérrez, Valour FC

It has been an excellent start to the season for the Valour midfielder. In a more advanced midfield position, he has shown a willingness to take risks with his play and positioning and it is paying off in a big way. Meanwhile, the staples of his game, particularly his ability to play and pass out of pressure, remain as good as ever.

What’s next?

Valour is back on the road next Sunday, April 30, as they visit ATCO Field to take on Cavalry FC at 4:00 p.m. CT / 5:00 p.m. ET. Atleti, meanwhile, host York United in an Ontario derby match on Saturday, April 29 at 5:00 p.m. ET.

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