PREVIEW: Atlético Ottawa vs. HFX Wanderers FC — Match #67

CPL regular season — Match #67
Atlético Ottawa vs. HFX Wanderers FC

September 11, 2021 at 1:30 pm ET
TD Place, Ottawa, Ontario
Watch Live: // Tickets available here

The battle for positioning continues in the nation’s capital this weekend as two familiar foes meet again at TD Place. Atlético Ottawa, for the third time this season, will host HFX Wanderers FC on Saturday as both sides try to get back into the playoff hunt with 12 CPL games remaining.

Ottawa sit at the bottom of the league table as it stands, with a 3-4-9 record and 13 points. They haven’t won in five consecutive matches — although they’ve taken a point from three of those games, and the only team they’ve lost to in that stretch has been Forge FC (who became the first side to beat Ottawa at TD Place on Wednesday night with a 1-0 result). In general, Atlético have been quite solid since beginning to play at home for the first time in club history, but Mista’s side would definitely like to start turning some of these draws into victories.

Mista, Ottawa’s head coach, revealed in his prematch press conference that his side is drawing closer to full health, mentioning that Tevin Shaw, Ben McKendry, and Viti Martínez are all very close to being completely fit.

“(The players) understand perfectly our system, our philosophy,” Mista said. “We need to continue in the same way because I think we’re going the right way. With the results sometimes it’s a little bit frustrating when you create enough chances to win but the victory is not for you, but you need to win and continue working in the same way.”

Five points back of Atleti are the Wanderers, who have their eyes on the playoffs after stringing some good results together. With 18 points, the sixth-place Haligonians are just four behind Valour FC for that coveted fourth spot — plus they have a game in hand. They’ll come into this game well-rested, having not played a midweek fixture, and riding a little bit of confidence after two strong outings at home. Last week, they beat Forge FC with a convincing 2-0 result at Wanderers Grounds, which they followed up on Labour Day Monday with perhaps the most entertaining game of the season so far — a 3-3 draw with York United which saw them come back from 2-0 down, then score another equalizer deep in stoppage time to salvage a point.

These two sides have already met three times in 2021, twice in Ottawa and once in Halifax. All three have been close-fought affairs; in the Wanderers’ home opener on August 2, the hosts came back from 1-0 down to pull out a 2-1 win in the pouring rain. Two weeks later, Atlético returned the favour, erasing an early deficit and scoring an 87th-minute winner in their own home opener. Most recently, the two foes played to a thrilling 2-2 draw at TD Place, where Ottawa’s Malcolm Shaw scored from the penalty spot to grab a point for the hosts.

“You’ve played each other so much, you sort of know what to expect,” Wanderers gaffer Stephen Hart said of his opponent. “No real surprises being thrown at you. It becomes a little bit difficult to come up with something a little bit different, maybe a different look or a different shape. There’s certainly a lot of familiarity.”

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  • Don’t count out late theatrics: Neither of these sides seems to have the word “quit” in their vocabulary. Look no further than the Wanderers’ late comeback against York on Monday, or Ottawa’s 82nd-minute equalizer last Wednesday. Two of the meetings between Ottawa and HFX have featured goals in the final 15 minutes. In fact, Atlético Ottawa have scored in the final 10 minutes six times already this season, as they become one of the hardest teams to keep down in the league. It’s never a dull affair between these two teams, and it’s unlikely Saturday’s clash will be any different as both look to put another win on the board. Ottawa, in particular, have done well in recent matches to bring on extra firepower in the dying stages — often Malcolm Shaw or Brian Wright, if only one of the two strikers started — to try and find that late goal to change the result. “We all know that we have to turn some of these draws into wins,” said Wanderers coach Hart, whose side is undefeated in five — but four of them are draws.
  • Ottawa always stronger at home: Since playing at TD Place for the first time, Ottawa have begun the process of establishing a real home advantage in the nation’s capital. Their defeat at the hands of Forge on Wednesday was their first loss at home in league play, having won one and drawn three contests in Ottawa. There’s a lot of work left to be done for Ottawa, who would definitely like to start turning a lot of those stalemates into home victories, but there’s definitely a different energy in the way they’ve been playing at their own stadium. With strong support from the local fans, Atleti have looked strong every time they’ve come onto the pitch at TD Place, with four of those six aforementioned late-game result-saving goals coming on home turf. They have so far succeeded in making their building a tough place for CPL opposition to play, which is about as much as you can hope for with your home games; it’s always been tough to play on the road in the CPL (the Wanderers know that very well), so having the luxury of home fixtures is something on which Ottawa will be keen to capitalize.
  • Bad blood carrying over? The last game Ottawa and HFX played was a very feisty affair, which saw five yellow cards dished out, plus a straight red to Atleti’s Ryan Telfer (who remains suspended for this game). Tempers boiled over on several occasions on that Sunday afternoon, with a few crunching tackles leading to confrontations after the whistle. Familiarity often breeds hostility in soccer, and with these teams seeing each other so often, they’re not likely to forget the events of previous meetings. Both squads are full of characters with a knack for getting under the opposition’s skin — look no further than Wanderers forward Joao Morelli, who’s not only the CPL’s leading scorer (four goals coming against Ottawa), but also a frustrating player to come up against both before and after the whistle. There’s perhaps a bit of a budding rivalry between these teams, with Ottawa being the closest geographic opponent to Halifax, and with all of their games seemingly heated affairs, there’s sure to be a strong level of intensity every time they play each other. Ottawa coach Mista mentioned in his pregame availability he’d like his side to keep their emotions in check: “We need to be more intelligent; sometimes when you’re inside you have a lot of feelings, but maybe you need your brain and your feet on the field because we are professional and we need to give everything for the team, but we are people and sometimes we’re nervous and we have the feeling we want to try, but we need to have control.”


Atlético Ottawa wins: 1 || HFX Wanderers wins: 2 || Draws: 1

Previous match:

August 29, 2021 — Atlético Ottawa 2-2 HFX Wanderers FC


“This is professional sport, and in professional sport every single detail counts and we need to adapt.” — Atlético Ottawa coach Mista

“Football’s a strange game. It’s a lie, really. You can play well and lose, and you can play poorly and win.” — HFX Wanderers coach Stephen Hart