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Atlético Ottawa and Pacific FC play out scoreless draw in Canadian Championship

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Atlético Ottawa remained undefeated in 2024 after a tightly contested 0-0 draw in the first leg of the 2024 Canadian Championship quarterfinals against Pacific FC, who is also undefeated this year, at TD Place. 

“I think that we can be satisfied, not because of the result, but because we always want to win.” Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez said post-game. “And I think today, we did enough things to win the game,” 

Pacific FC head coach James Merriman was happy with the result and is confident about his team’s chances in the return leg at home.

“I think we feel strong at home,” Merriman said post-game. “Could we have taken a chance in the second half? Maybe. But overall, I think in terms of what we came here to do, and what our gameplan was –without the ball, we were very solid– it’s a good result. It’s another clean sheet and we’ll go home feeling good and bring another big game for our fans and attack that game with everything we have.”

It was a strong performance by Ottawa, who did everything right but score. Following their fourth match in 12 games, a fatigued and heavily rotated Atlético Ottawa side lacked decisiveness and composure in the final third. 

“But it’s true that we lacked a little bit of spark and dynamism in the final third… provoked by the condensed weeks that we have had… at the end of the day, we played 72 hours ago, and every time you play in these conditions, it’s easier for the team that wants to defend,” Gonzalez said. “If you want to have the initiative (to score), you need a little bit more rhythm in certain moments that today we lacked.”

Meanwhile, Pacific was content to defend well to keep the match tied at 0-0 heading back to Victoria BC for a winner-take-all second leg.

Atlético Ottawa was the better team on both sides of the ball, especially in the first half.

At halftime, Ottawa had 65 percent possession and outshot Pacific 7-0 (2-0 on target). Ottawa played on the front foot for the entire first half and created numerous chances, consistently pressing hard for their first goal.

Gonzalez noticed his side’s dominance and believes the result is positive.

“I think in a 180-minute game, it’s not a negative result, because we maintained a clean sheet and the team showed a lot of good things today, we were very dominant and I really liked the first half that we played, creating many chances,” Gonzalez said.

Defensively, Ottawa held an electric Pacific FC attack to zero chances, zero shots on target, and an expected goals (xG) tally of 0.00 in the first half. The home side pressed high up the pitch, forced numerous turnovers in the midfield, intercepted key breakout passes by Pacific, clogged the middle of the pitch (where Pacific likes to generate most of its attacks), and did not allow Pacific to maintain possession in the attacking half and final third. Ottawa’s defense completely nullified Pacific’s attack in the opening 45 minutes, showing how stout they are defensively. Goalkeeper Rayane Yesli stopped the only shot he faced, picking up his second clean sheet of the season and Atlético recorded its third clean sheet of the campaign.

Despite generating seven shots and two on target, Ottawa only accumulated an xG of 0.43. The majority of Atlético’s chances weren’t extremely dangerous scoring opportunities because Pacific sat back in a lower defensive block, absorbed pressure, forced Ottawa out to the flanks, and defended well. Goalkeeper Sean Melvin also played well, making three key saves.

ottawa, Pacific

Atlético Ottawa drew 0-0 with Pacific FC in their 2024 Canadian Championship match in Ottawa Sunday, May 8, 2024. Photo: Tim Austen/Freestyle Photography

“We knew that they were a very compact team, a team that protects the inside channel a lot, and that’s why we wanted to have like wide players who were capable of creating advantages in the flanks,” Gonzalez said. “At the end of the day, we tried to break them down through the outside because we thought the spaces were there. But we couldn’t.”

Pacific has been excellent defensively all season, recording five clean sheets and only conceding one goal in six games in all competitions. Their defensive performance tonight is no surprise: their compact shape and ability to compress the midfield and force Ottawa to the flanks enabled them to minimize the danger of Ottawa’s attacks. Pacific had 24 clearances to Ottawa’s 17.

Pacific FC midfielder Cédric Toussaint said another clean sheet proves that his team is working very hard defensively.

“Honestly, we’re putting the work in, day in and day out, and it’s showing in games. We’re all proud of our effort,” Toussaint said.

Ottawa’s biggest chance was an Ollie Bassett free-kick in scoring position, near the end of the first half that took a deflection off a Pacific defender before hitting the crossbar.

Gonzalez believes that chance would’ve completely changed the match’s complexion and forced Pacific to abandon their tactics.

“I felt they came here to defend and grab a positive result, a tie. Probably if we score in that moment, the strategy and plan they had will start to be a little bit different,” Gonzalez said, adding that sometimes the difference between scoring and missing is a bit of luck and a few centimeters.

In the second half, Pacific opened up a bit offensively, generating a few scoring chances, however, Ottawa’s defense turned them aside. Possession was fairly even and Pacific outshot Ottawa 4-2 in the latter half, but each team recorded one shot on target.

“In the first half, we dropped maybe a little bit lower than we wanted, we gave them a lot of the ball,” Merriman said. “But I felt the game opened up more in the second half. However, neither team was willing to really go out and attack that space,” Merriman continued. 

“It was a chess match, no one wanted to make a mistake and concede the first goal easily which explains why the game wasn’t very free-flowing,” Toussiant said. 

At full-time, Ottawa won the possession battle 57-43 percent, outshot Pacific 9-4 (3-1 on target), and won the xG battle 0.46 to 0.25.

Both sides played tremendously defensively, forcing their opponent to move the ball around in the midfield and their own defensive half frequently while waiting for gaps to open up, which they seldom did. Ottawa completed 513 of its 582 passes (88 percent) and Pacific completed 382 of its 449 passes (85 percent).

The two standout players for Ottawa were new signing Dani Morer –on loan from Portuguese side Famalicão– who created three scoring chances, more than anyone else on the pitch and won all of his tackles, and defender Matteo DeBrienne who in his 50th professional match won all of his aerial duels, eight of 10 ground duels and had more tackles (five) than any other player.

The second leg of this tie takes place at Starlight Stadium on May 29. Pacific FC goes back home tied 0-0 with the chance to win in front of their fans. Meanwhile,  a goal for Ottawa could see them advance as away goals are counted as a tiebreaker should the match end in a tie.

Gonzalez said postgame that he is more focused on the upcoming league games than leg two.

“The second leg will be in about 20 days. I think that now we have to put the focus on Vancouver, our next regular season game. We will see, in 20 days, so many things can change, our dynamic we can start to grow in many different ways, anything can happen,” Gonzalez said. “So, I don’t stop now to think about that second leg because it’s very far away.

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