‘Offense wins games, defense wins championships,’ or so goes the old sporting adage.
And with the likely intent of winning trophies sooner rather than later, Atlético Ottawa has begun to acquire an interesting group to patrol the first third during its maiden Canadian Premier League season, with a mix of Canadian and international talent.
So far Ottawa has primarily announced defenders who play in wide positions, so there are sure to be more central defenders announced soon. However, it would seem by the signings, and comments from the club, some of the players were brought in for their versatility and may see playing time in various positions.
Let’s have a closer look at how Atlético Ottawa is shaping up at the back:
Canadian GK with European experience looking for playing time
The 26-year-old Kitchener native moved to Portugal as a teenager to pursue his professional career and has played in the Portuguese third-tier and Spanish fourth-tier leagues. He also gained experience playing in the Scottish League 1 and Scottish League 2 with Arbroath FC which provided additional experience playing abroad.
This was a great signing as I see him as a player that is ready for a starting role. It’s an opportunity I don’t believe he has really been given up to this point in his career.
Ignacio ‘Nacho’ Zabal
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The 33-year-old will provide a veteran presence in net and has spent his career plying his trade in the Spanish lower leagues with teams like CD Calahorra, SD Amorebieta and Arandina CF.
“I am sure Nacho will become one of the stronger keepers in the league because of his experience and talent,” said Atlético Ottawa’s CEO Fernando López in the signing announcement at the beginning of April.
I have to say this comment was a bit of a surprise for me. It gives the impression the starting job is his to lose. That being said, competition in goal bodes well for a team and I would expect that both keepers will get an opportunity.
Canadian central defender
John is the only true centre-back signed so far. The 25-year-old has experience playing in Germany’s fifth-tier with FC Erzgebirge Aue. He also has experience playing in League1 Ontario, USL, USL League One and the PDL.
He brings international experience playing with Canada’s U-23 and U-20 teams, but I believe his time training in the German style could add an additional element to the team.
Exciting English left-back with promising pedigree
Neufville is an exciting signing. The left-back started his youth career with Chelsea and then spent years in the West Ham United youth program. He made his debut professionally playing 90 minutes with League 2 Newport County while on loan in 2019. At only 20-years-old, he has much potential and even comes with experience playing for England internationally at the under-17 and under-16 level.
His pedigree with such high-profile youth programs, international experience, and playing in 38 games in the Premier league 2 (Youth league) against such talented young players makes him arguably Ottawa’s most exciting signing so far. CEO Fernando López also alluded to the offensive aspect of his game as well.
“He is talented at crossing balls, beating other players 1 vs 1, playing defense and I’m sure it won’t be strange for us seeing him supporting the attack and scoring goals,” said López via a club statement in March.
Young Canadian brings CPL experience to Atlético Ottawa
Included in the defender category as a right-back, this young Calgary native can also play right wing and midfield. Hamilton also comes with a youth pedigree spent with West Ham’s youth program playing 25 times in England’s U18 Premier league. Returning to Canada in 2018, he signed with Toronto FC II and spent last year playing in the CPL with Calgary’s Cavalry FC, featuring in 18 games.
He has CPL experience, EPL level youth training, and is versatile in his positioning. The 20-year-old should add much to the roster.
Young Canadian full-back
Djaozandry can play either side as a right-back or left-back and could possibly slot in at midfield. The Trois-Rivières native won an Elite Academic and Athletic Support scholarship as a 17-year-old student at Collège Montmorency – an award given to some of Quebec’s top young athletes.
Though he has no professional experience, the 22-year-old spent time with the Canadian youth program identification camp in 2015. This should be a big opportunity for him to try to stake a claim in the pro game.
Canadian winger could slot in at right-back for Atlético Ottawa
Although Dada-Luke is a mainly a right winger mostly who could also play right-back, I am including him here as I am assuming based on Atlético Ottawa CEO Fernando López’s comments that he will likely feature on the defence.
The CEO describes him bringing “speed, control and balance to our defense and is an enormous talent that will grow in the CPL.”
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The Mississauga native began his youth career at West Toronto SC before joining Toronto FC’s youth program. In 2016 he made his senior debut with Toronto FC III in League1 Ontario. In 2018 he was promoted to Toronto FC II playing in five games that year in the USL. He had signed with Danish club FC Helsingør last July after a successful trial before signing with Ottawa in March.
The right back position is shaping up to be quite the competition.
Atlético Ottawa needs a veteran centre-back
I believe Vashon Neufville is the standout in the group as a big signing for the club. I also hope Ricky Gomes will get a shot at the starting job between the posts as I think he is ready for that opportunity.
Centre-back is a position in need and Ottawa would do well to look for someone who could really compete in the air by adding a tall, tough defender to direct the young core. I believe a veteran with good vision would add a lot to this group.
This is an impressive group of young signings with more to come. With the right additions to this group this could be the start of a formidable defence. Not yet reminiscent of the old CFL Ottawa Rough Rider “Capital Punishment” days, but hopefully this young group will be the beginning of an Atlético Ottawa identity, an identity not built on winning games but winning championships.