Atlético Ottawa Head Coach, Mista, called it a “must-win” game, and his players delivered with a 1-0 victory over Pacific FC, scoring deep into stoppage time to keep their hopes of a second round spot alive.
Here are some of the key points for Atlético from the game:
1. McKendry repays the boss’s faith in full
Just 24-hours after Mista singled out of the 27-year-old Canadian in his press conferences, Ben McKendry’s name was on the team-sheet as the former Vancouver player was handed his first start in Atleti colours.
McKendry, who was plying his trade in Sweden last year, had previously made appearances from the bench but, given his chance from the start against Pacific, he looked a far better player.
The midfielder showed a range of passing, happy to link play with short balls in midfield or to spread his passes out wide. A composed figure in the middle of the park, transitioning the play between defence and attack, he wasn’t afraid to get forward either shown in the 23rd-minute when he rolled a defender before firing a 20-yard shot into the gloves of Callum Irving.
Held his shape well in the second half as Atlético had to endure long spells without the ball and it was his free-kick delivery that led to Kourouma’s chance before they finally found the breakthrough.
2. Ottawa’s lack of pace and trickery exposed
Although both captain Ben Fisk and Mohamed Kourouma had good performances last night, their lack of pace hindered Atlético when they were in the final third.
This was particularly apparent when Pacific FC broke the other way, the speed and trickery of both Victor Blasco and Micheal Bustos a constant threat to the Ottawa backline. Jared Phillips, filling in for the injured Vashon Neufville, was outmatched by Jamar Dixon and Bustos as both Pacific players should’ve found the back of the net in the first half.
As the side from Victoria pushed forward and took a monopoly on possession, Ottawa was offered more chances on the break. Though they fashioned some opportunities through Malcolm Shaw and Fisk, you can’t help but wonder what the scoreline would be if they had the speed to get in behind their opposition.
3. Atlético makes the last 30-minutes count
Before kick-off much was made about Ottawa’s defensive record, having conceded nine of their ten goals in the last 30-minutes. Dramatic finishes have been a common theme throughout this preliminary round and, with the stakes at their highest for Atlético, last night was no different.
Viti Martinez’s 92nd-minute strike was the 16th goal to be scored after +85-minutes (out of a total of 63 goals). Arguably, this was against the run of play. Pacific FC had spent the second-half knocking on the Atlético door, dominating possession (61% total) but, despite having a staggering 17 efforts only 4 of them were on target.
On another day, Pacific would’ve netted 2 or 3 by the 80th-minute. As the intensity of the Ontarian outlet dipped again due to fatigue after the hour mark, Mista continued with his trend of sparingly utilising his substitutes – the returning Neufville the only player to enter the field before the goal.
A lot of luck and a better structure is what saw this game out for Atlético and, with the knowledge that a draw wasn’t enough, they dug deep to find the winner at the death.
4. Grit, determination and belief. Don’t count them out
Coming into this tournament, it would’ve been elementary to write off the expansion team before anyone had seen them play. A squad put together very late in the day, having never played a competitive game together no-one, not even the Ottawa fans would’ve expected their side to be challenging for the playoffs on the last day.
Credit has to go where it’s due and Mista, with the rest of his coaching staff, is instilling a belief within this side. Lacking flair and quality in certain areas, this side is still searching for harmony are structure on the field. However, what they do have in abundance is belief and unity as a squad, the celebrations after Martinez’s goal, a perfect example of the collective Mista is building.
Atlético isn’t “wowing” anyone with their performances just yet. But, grit and determination are keeping them alive when, like last night, they should’ve been down and out. If you can hang in there until the end, upsets are never off the table.
5. Martinez’s goal blows top-four race wide open
Ottawa’s dramatic win against fellow playoff contenders Pacific FC, the race for the top four is now wide open with 81 potential outcomes for those coveted spaces in the table as only four points separate Valour in 7th and Forge FC in 1st.
With three points left to play for, top two sides Forge and Cavalry will have an opportunity to settle their fates on Saturday as they face Valour and York 9 respectively. A dangerous position to be in as, whoever loses on Saturday will open up the door for Atlético, Halifax and Pacific.
Either way, with Ottawa facing the Wanderers their fate, is in their hands and Mista’s team talk will surely resemble the instructions he gave this week. We. Must. Win.