Football came second to everyone on Prince Edward Island Thursday, including for Atlético Ottawa.
The first-year club earned its inaugural win in the CPL – via a 2-0 decision over Cavalry FC – yet the result was of secondary importance.
Every CPL player from all eight teams took to the pitch prior to kick-off to show solidarity with people of colour, the Black Lives Matter movement, racial equality and a variety of other social justice issues in the wake of the recent shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The player-led demonstration – and another moment of silence at the eight-minute mark in honour of George Floyd – weighed heavily on Atlético Ottawa coach Mista, who earned his first professional win as a coach.
“We’re not only proud of representing the club in this matter but also the league because we acted extremely quickly and what we did as collectively, as a league, was impactful and unified,” he said after the match.
“It was an extremely emotional day.”
Ottawa went stride-for-stride with Cavalry in the first half, but a breakthrough wouldn’t come until the hour mark when captain Ben Fisk netted his first goal for the red-and-white with a deflected effort. Then, moments later, Malcolm Shaw gave Ottawa a goal of the season contender with a lobbed 35-yard effort that floated into Cavalry’s top left corner past goalkeeper Marco Carducci.
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“I’m happy with the goal of course,” Shaw said, offering a chuckle on a somber day.
“The centre back challenged, I got the ball, saw Carducci was off his line, took a chance and it came off.
“Obviously the past couple results have been challenging for different reasons. It was an important game against a top-seeded team. We fought to the end.”
Ottawa fans who were worried when their side was up 2-0, harkening to their second-half collapse against FC Edmonton, were eventually put at ease. Atlético avoided late drama, something Mista credited to a “growing” side.
“We were able to manage the game a bit better, and we held a bit more of the ball and were in good control defensively and in attack,” Mista said.
“It shows that our team is growing.”
Cavalry’s second half was marred by some poor finishing. Ottawa ‘keeper Nacho Zabal cleaned up the goal-bound opportunities, posting four saves.
Ottawa, who sit sixth in the CPL’s first-round standings, are just the third CPL side to score twice against the Cavs, who have conceded two-or-more goals just five times in club history.
“We wanted to continue to build off our good performance and match that intensity Cavalry brings,” Mista said.
“We wanted to play our game and obviously we were under an enormous pressure to win today, and we got it.”
The win gave Ottawa a path to the top-four, and a spot on the second round, leaving them in a three-way tie for fourth.
But, however impactful or important the win was for Ottawa, it will always come second to the lives of people threatened by racial discrimination and hate.
“It was a very important thing… and a great way for us as players to step up and use our platform,” Shaw said of the opening showing of solidarity.
“Having every player there…. I thought that was the statement that needed to be made and sent a message to everyone watching at home in Ottawa and elsewhere.”