CPL officially unveils Atlético Ottawa, as pro soccer returns to nation’s capital

Welcome to the Canadian Premier League, Ottawa.

The CPL formally brought the city of Ottawa into the fold on Tuesday, announcing the team name of the league’s first expansion franchise as Atlético Ottawa, while also unveiling former Spanish league star Mista as the club’s first head coach.

Owned by La Liga outfit Club Atlético de Madrid, the new Ottawa team’s official colours are red and white and blue, and its crest is also similar to Club Atlético de Madrid’s, featuring red and white stripes, a silhouette of Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, and the Canadian Maple Leaf.

Tuesday afternoon’s unveiling took place during a special event at TD Place Stadium (where Atlético Ottawa will play its home games) with CPL commissioner David Clanachan making the announcement before a large gathering of local soccer fans.

“This for me is a momentous day, one that I’ll never forget,” Clanachan told the crowd. “We wouldn’t be a truly Canadian league unless we had a team here in Ottawa… I can’t think of anything else to say but thank you to Atletico Madrid. Ottawa has won the lottery today.”

Atlético Ottawa's crest.
Atlético Ottawa’s crest.

Mista, a former Spanish national team member who once played for Toronto FC in Major League Soccer, said he was excited about returning to Ontario.

“For me, it’s a very important opportunity because it’s a big step for my career to be (coaching) in the first division,” Mista told reporters in Ottawa, in Spanish, as translated by staff. “I know this country, from previously being here and I loved the way people treated me. I’m extremely happy to be here and to help, somehow, in being a part of this football team with Atletico.”

Club Atlético de Madrid’s Fernando López will oversee operations for Atlético Ottawa, with local business leader Jeff Hunt serving as a strategic partner.

Also in attendance for Tuesday’s festivities in Ottawa were Atlético de Madrid CEO Miguel Ángel Gil Marín, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, and Enrique Ruiz Molero, Ambassador of Spain to Canada.

Asked why Atlético Madrid decided to invest in a club in Canada, Gil Marin simply answered: “Because your country is amazing.”

Earlier in the day, Mayor Watson officially declared Tuesday as Atlético Ottawa Day during a ceremony at Ottawa City Hall.

Still to be determined is whether or not Ottawa will participate in the 2020 Canadian Championship, and if so, how the tournament will be restructured to accommodate the new CPL side.

“So, the Canadian Championship, this is certainly something that, although we have the rights to broadcasting and sponsorship and all that as part of our deal with Canada Soccer, it’s a Canada Soccer property. They make the rules. We’ve formally asked for a meeting on how we can get Ottawa into the Canadian Championship, and it’s in process. But, certainly, Peter Montopoli and Joe Guest have been very receptive to including them in the Canadian Championship,” Clanachan said.

The CPL’s arrival in Ottawa has been a long time coming, with Clanachan telling in a 2018 interview that “in order for us to be a truly successful Canadian league, we need to be in our nation’s capital.”

Ottawa entering the league as the CPL’s eighth team means the league will have a balanced schedule during the 2020 season, which in turn means less arduous travel for the clubs, thus improving the product on the pitch.

But beyond that, going to the nation’s capital means the CPL will be in one of Canada’s biggest and most important media markets, not to mention the league will be bringing the sport back from the dead in the city after the Ottawa Fury ceased operations last November.

Conquering the Ottawa professional sports marketplace is something Hunt has done before with the Fury, the Redblacks of the CFL, and the CHL’s 67’s,  previous to that.

There’s something different, though, about this new upstart club, which rapidly heads towards an April 2020 launch.

“There’s instant credibility,” Hunt said. “When you start a new expansion franchise in any league you’re trying to create a brand from scratch. I could think about the Redblacks or the Fury, you’re really starting from ground zero. To be catapulted immediately to the top of soccer brands in the world, it took them a hundred-and-something years to get to that point.

“I’m not saying that that instantaneously makes people in Ottawa feel the same way about Atlético Madrid as people in Madrid do, but I think we’re leveraging that enormous credibility that they have. Yes, soccer’s growing in Canada but it’s still considered a non-traditional market for soccer.”

Bringing on Club Atlético de Madrid as an owner is a major coup for the CPL, considering the Spanish club’s rich history and its standing in the sport. To have one of the world’s most prestigious soccer brands involved raises the profile of the CPL and could help the league attract more high-profile owners in the future.

Founded in 1903 as Athletic Club Sucursal de Madrid, the club merged with Aviación Nacional to become Athletic Aviación de Madrid in 1939, before eventually adopting its current name, Club Atlético de Madrid, in 1947.

This marked the beginning of the modern era of the club, as it became a dominant force in Spanish soccer over the ensuing decades, winning a host of domestic, European and international honours. Among the silverware won by Club Atlético de Madrid: 10 La Liga championships, 10 Copa del Rey titles, three UEFA Europa League titles, three UEFA Super Cups, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, and an Intercontinental Cup.

Club Atlético de Madrid was also a three-time finalist in the European Cup/UEFA Champions League, losing to Bayern Munich in 1974, and twice to bitter cross-town rivals Real Madrid in 2014 and 2016.

Currently coached by former Argentina international Diego Simeone, Club Atlético de Madrid has seen some of the game’s biggest stars in recent times don its iconic red-and-white, vertical striped jersey (the club is nicknamed Los Rojiblancos, The Red and Whites), including Fernando Torres, Sergio Agüero, Antoine Griezmann, Diego Forlán, Thibaut Courtois, Radamel Falcao, and David Villa.

This isn’t the first time Club Atlético de Madrid has invested in a foreign soccer club. It previously co-owned the Indian Super League franchise Atlético de Kolkata, before ending its partnership with the ISL club in 2017.

Also in 2017, Club Atlético de Madrid bought a major ownership stake in Mexican team San Luis Futbol Club and renamed it Atlético San Luis. The team went on to win promotion to the Mexican topflight from the second division last year.

Looking ahead, the first order of business for Atlético Ottawa will be assembling a team of players to don the red-and-white stripes of the CPL’s newest outfit.

But, those pieces aren’t quite in play just yet.

“At the moment, we still don’t know (what the team will look like),” Mista answered, when asked about how he’d be putting together his first-team roster. “We’re still building the team and getting to know the players who will make the team, or not. But, we have to field a very competitive team to make Atlético Ottawa sit in the highest position in the league.”