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Atlético Ottawa beats Pacific FC, moves clear atop the Canadian Premier League table

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Ruben del Campo’s first-half goal – his CPL-leading fourth of the season – proved to be the game-winner as Atlético Ottawa held on defensively to secure a dramatic 1-0 win against Pacific FC in Canadian Premier League action in Victoria Friday night.

With the win, Ottawa remains undefeated in all competitions this season and claims sole possession of first place in the Canadian Premier League with a record of 4-2-0 (14 points). There have only been three away victories in the entire CPL this season, with this victory, Ottawa has two of them, which is another testament to Ottawa’s positive mentality.

Meanwhile, Pacific, who hadn’t conceded a goal in league play and were yet to lose a match in all competitions this season had both records broken against a red-hot Ottawa side.

Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez was very satisfied with the result and more importantly how all his players performed.

“I’m very proud of the effort that the players have been making over the last month, only people who have been here every single day know about their work and the effort they’ve made because it’s been tough in certain moments, they’ve been playing a lot of games in a short amount of time,” Gonzalez said postgame. 

“And today, in the second half, they did a game which wasn’t as easy, but if you want to be a winning team, you have to get results and points in different ways, so I’m very satisfied and happy that they were able to defend so well to get the job done,” Gonzalez continued.

Pacific FC forced into early substitutions

Unfortunately for Pacific, they were forced to use all three of their substitution windows inside the first 35 minutes as defender Aly Ndom, striker Adonijah Reid, and midfielder Sean Young exited the game with injuries in the fifth, 14th, and 36th minute respectively. Ndom suffered his injury in the first minute of action. Hopefully, all three players are okay.

Losing three quality players in the first 35 minutes hurt Pacific as they weren’t able to execute the game plan they practiced at full strength. It also impacted how head coach James Merriman called the rest of the game as they couldn’t make any more changes except at halftime and the team showed signs of fatigue toward the end of the match.

Ottawa dominated possession and controlled the game’s pace from the opening kickoff. They defended well and limited the chances Pacific’s attack could create. Ottawa spent the majority of the first 45 minutes in the attacking half, creating numerous quality scoring chances. 

Just after the half-hour mark, Ottawa was rewarded for their efforts. Maxim Tissot crossed the ball into Pacific’s 18-yard box, del Campo controlled it well off his chest in full stride, turned a corner, beat his defender to the outside, and showed excellent composure with a brilliant left-footed strike across the face of goal that went in off the post. 

That was the first goal Pacific conceded in 482 minutes of league play. It was the first time Pacific goalkeeper Emil Gazdov —who has a league-leading four clean sheets  was beaten. Unfortunately for Pacific, del Campo’s goal came while they were temporarily down to 10 men while Young’s injury was getting treated on the sideline. 

Atlético Ottawa continue scoring streak

Atlético are the only team to have scored at least once in each of their first six league matches and are tied with Vancouver FC for the most goals scored at 10.

Ottawa are scoring so frequently because they have in-form players like del Campo who leads the league in scoring this season after not scoring a single goal last season, but also because Atlético can attack opponents and score in many different ways, whether it be from set-pieces, long balls, crosses into the box, transition moments, or quick intricate passing and excellent combination play.

“We work every day in training to try to find different ways to put the ball in the back of the net and use all the qualities that we have on the ball and on set pieces,” Yesli said postmatch. “It’s beautiful to see a team being able to score from different kinds of actions.”

It’s very useful to find different ways to score goals, to give us an advantage, and this is what we’re working on,” González said, agreeing with Yesli. “There are moments in which other teams defend us well, so we have to try to find situations to score, be it in transition or other ways, and that’s been a key point to help us become a more complete team.”

Pacific FC, Canadian PRemier League

Pacific FC (purple) were beaten by Atlético Ottawa 1-0 in Canadian Premier League action at Starlight Stadium in Victoria, BC Friday, May 17, 2023. Photo: Kelly Wallace/Total Soccer News

Against a team with five clean sheets in five games, Ottawa knew Pacific’s defense wasn’t going to be easy to break down. Ottawa didn’t let that bother them and instead focused on putting frequent pressure on Pacific’s defense early and often by creating many quality scoring chances. Eventually, Ottawa was able to wear down Pacific’s defense and when a chance to take the lead presented itself, del Campo took it with aplomb. 

From then on, Ottawa defended extremely well, focused on all the little details, pressed Pacific high up the pitch to slow down their attack and force turnovers, and remained concentrated enough to see the game out. A strong defense is always guaranteed in a Carlos Gonzalez-coached side, but now that Ottawa can hurt teams in many ways offensively, it is a dangerous combination that will be tough to stop.

Ottawa’s back four of Tissot, Luke Singh, Amer Didić, and Kris Twardek didn’t have a lot of playing time together before this match, however, they all took Ottawa’s defensive philosophy to heart and did everything they could, whether it was entering into and winning a duel, tracking back after losing possession, creating a turnover or simply making a tackle to preserve the win and the clean sheet.

Ottawa goalkeeper Rayane Yesli also played well, he made two huge saves –including a crucial stop near the end when Pacific pressed for the equalizer to preserve the lead–  en route to recording his first clean sheet in the CPL. Yesli has two clean sheets in the Canadian Championship.

It was a big effort from the whole backline, these types of games are difficult to manage, especially playing here, with the quality that they have,” Yesli said. “But our whole backline consists of very experienced players who know how to deal with these kinds of moments, and I felt we were able to stay strong together and manage the highs and the lows to get the victory.”

Despite Ottawa’s strong defensive showing in the second half and Pacific’s inability to make subs in the latter half, Pacific pressed hard for the equalizer and came close to getting a late draw. They spent most of the second half in Ottawa’s end of the pitch and created numerous quality scoring chances including a shot off the post by Dario Zanatta and a few other high xG chances that forced Yesli to make athletic saves to turn aside. They might not have found the equalizer, but they sure didn’t give up in the face of adversity, a sign of a true winner. 

Merriman still impressed with Pacific FC’s mentality

Merriman was pleased with the fight his group showed despite the challenges presented. 

“I think that’s the first real bit of adversity that we’ve faced as a team and as a group,” Pacific head coach James Merriman said. “And if we look at the character and the way we responded, the conversations that we had at halftime, it was really impressive in terms of our mentality, which is very strong.”

“The biggest challenge for us is to be more aggressive and reward ourselves for what we’re doing. In the second half, (the game) was there for us to take with (Ottawa dropping lower defensively), we were on the ball more, we were more attacking-minded, and we just needed to get more out of our positive attacking situations. We needed to be stronger towards goal. We’ll take the good from the way we responded to the injuries and we’ll move forward to the next game,” Merriman continued. 

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