‘The place to be right now’: Manny Aparicio set to bring his passion to Atlético Ottawa’s midfield

The 2024 Canadian Premier League season is just three weeks away, but there was still one major domino left to fall.

On Friday, Atlético Ottawa finally answered the question of where Manny Aparicio will be plying his trade this year, announcing that the 28-year-old midfielder has signed a two-year contract with an option for 2026 to play his football in the nation’s capital.

Aparicio had previously announced that he would be leaving Pacific FC this winter, having spent the last three seasons on Vancouver Island, where he won a CPL championship in 2021, competed internationally in the Concacaf League, and ultimately finished with 78 appearances for the Tridents. He was a nominee for Player of the Year each of the last two seasons, and finished fifth and seventh in Players’ Player of the Year voting in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

Now, he begins a new chapter in his Canadian soccer story, as Atlético Ottawa become Aparicio’s third CPL team after he also captained York United (then York9 FC) through their first two seasons in 2019 and 2020.

“It’s an exciting change for me right now,” Aparicio told this week from Ottawa’s preseason camp in Mexico.

The Buenos Aires-born, Toronto-raised midfielder explained that a major factor in his move was a desire for he and his wife (with whom he tied the knot in December) to be closer to their families in Ontario.

“On top of that,” he added, “just being able to be part of the Atlético family and what it means to represent that jersey and the crest, and we’ve seen how crazy fast it’s grown the football culture in Ottawa so far, and it just feels like the place to be right now for me.”

Of course, as fans in Ottawa can begin anticipating Aparicio in red and white stripes, the Pacific faithful will be sad to see one of their best players suit up for a different CPL side in 2024.

“It just felt like it was the right time to move on from Pacific,” Aparicio explained. I leave with amazing memories, amazing friendships and relationships that I’ve built out there. Nothing left on bad terms out there, for us it was just the next chapter in our lives.”

Aparicio playing for Pacific FC against the Vancouver Whitecaps. (Photo: Pacific FC/CPL)

Aparicio is not the only high-profile CPL star to make a move to Ottawa this year, as the club overhauls its squad in hopes of improving on last year’s disappointing sixth-place finish. Club CEO Fernando López expressed a desire earlier in the off-season to build a more attack-minded, entertaining team, and that’s a change Aparicio says is manifesting itself now that they’re on the pitch in training camp.

With fellow newcomers like Matteo de Brienne, Kris Twardek and Kevin Dos Santos, plus the much-heralded return of Ballou Tabla, Aparicio sees a fascinating complement of players coming together to add to a group that already boasted former CPL Player of the Year and Golden Boot winner Ollie Bassett — himself a former teammate of Aparicio’s at Pacific.

“I see a lot of big names, a lot of big characters here, so it’s definitely going to be a fun year,” Aparicio said.

“Even against some of the great opposition we’ve played so far here in Mexico, I think we’re able to show that side of ourselves, which is great to see. I think maybe last year got away from them a bit, but definitely bringing a little bit more of a possession-based, attacking team to Ottawa will be the goal.”

Already, Aparicio has been impressed with the vision of Carlos González and his coaching staff, whom he says preach a much more Spanish-influenced version of the game. Aparicio, having grown up in an Argentine household and played three years in Spain earlier in his career, feels right at home with that, sharing a similar footballing philosophy.

With so many new faces in the Ottawa squad this year, it’s hard to tell how exactly they’ll line up in 2024, but there’s no doubt Aparicio will be a major part of their midfield. The fiery playmaker is one of the most energetic and creative players in the league, covering acres of ground on and off the ball. He had four goals and five assists last year, and also finished fourth in the CPL in recoveries.

Aparicio has often been a Player of the Year candidate in the CPL, and it’s not hard to imagine him back in that conversation next autumn.

The main priority, though, will be pushing this new-look Atleti back into the playoffs — and maybe beyond.