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Atlético Ottawa defeats Halifax Wanderers on the road, continues strong start to CPL season

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A comfortable 3-1 away win for Atlético Ottawa over the Halifax Wanderers Saturday saw Ottawa improve to 2-1-0 and maintain their unbeaten record in the 2024 Canadian Premier League season. Ottawa still sits in 2nd place in the CPL, behind undefeated Forge FC.

Ottawa goalkeeper Rayanne Yesli earned his first victory and was minutes away from earning his first clean sheet in his first start for Atlético. Yesli made four huge saves in his Ottawa debut. 

Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez was thrilled with his team’s overall performance and was delighted about his team’s mentality to take advantage of their opponents being shorthanded and securing all three points.

“I’m very satisfied with the players that we have (in this group),” Gonzalez said postgame. “I think that we have a lot of players who are capable of finding that spark in certain important moments of the game.”

Gonzalez explained he started Yesli today over Nathan Ingham because he knew Yesli would play midweek in Ottawa’s Canadian Championship game and he wanted to give Yesli some game time to prepare and feel comfortable.

Halifax looking on the bright side despite loss

Halifax head coach Patrice Gheisar focused on the positives after a disappointing home defeat. 

“I don’t think we’ll give up,” Gheisar said. “We’re very disappointed with the result at home but can look at our stats, you can look at our morale, the kilometres we’re putting in, we’re involved in every game in one way or the other, so we can’t go away from that and change things, we just got to keep going, and we just need to concentrate more.”

This leads to an interesting crossroads for the Wanderers. Ghesiar’s assessment is fair, they are creating big chances offensively and the goals they are conceding come mostly from individual mistakes and formation breaches that can be easily corrected, however, sticking to plan A might not be the best solution. Halifax needs to find ways to win and score more, even if it means switching up tactically.

Callegari receives red card early

The first twenty minutes of the match were highly contested, with each team generating a handful of chances.

However, in the 19th minute, Halifax midfielder Lorenzo Callegari committed a reckless, studs-up tackle on Manny Aparicio, in which he didn’t attempt to play the ball at all, which drew a straight red card from the referee and completely changed the game’s complexion. 

The red card changed the match for both sides and from that point on, it was all Ottawa.

Halifax immediately reverted to a low-block, a defensive 4-4-1-1 formation to absorb pressure.

Atletico Ottawa

Atlético Ottawa beat Vancouver FC in Canadian Premier League action Saturday, April 27, 2024. Photo: Halifax Wanderers

For the first 15 minutes with an extra man, Atlético dominated possession in the middle of the pitch and inside Halifax’s half, moving the ball around effectively, however, they couldn’t break down Halifax’s low block and struggled to get consistent entry into the final third to create quality scoring chances. 

Gonzalez said getting too comfortable with a one-man advantage was why his side lacked the ability to break into the final third to create chances despite controlling possession.

“After the red card, we started to relax a little bit, we were not playing with the rhythm that the game demanded and were not good enough to create chances,” Gonzalez said. 

Gonzalez added his team played with more concentration, passion, and desire as the first half progressed.

“But then in the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, we were better, we played faster, we found the correct spaces, and the team connected again,” Gonzalez continued.

Down a man, Halifax played excellent defensively, which contributed to Ottawa spending little time in the final third and creating few scoring chances. Halifax managed the game well for 15 minutes after the red card and also created a handful of quality chances down both flanks. But eventually, Halifax’s defense collapsed. 

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Moments after a huge missed scoring chance by Ballou Tabla, Matteo de Brienne collected the failed clearance attempt by a Halifax defender, before crossing it to Ruben del Campo who struck it brilliantly with his left foot on the half-volley from 20 yards out into the bottom-left corner of the net. His shot deflected off Halifax goalkeeper Yann Fillion’s hands before crossing the line. Del Campo’s first-ever CPL goal gave Ottawa an important 1-0 lead late in the first half.

At halftime, Halifax outshot Ottawa 6-2, but the shots on target were tied 2-2. Halifax had four shots in the box to Ottawa’s zero and one big chance (Daniel Nimick’s shot off the post in the 42nd minute) to Ottawa’s zero. Halifax also won the first half xG battle, 0.41 to 0.10, despite being 1-0 down. 

Ottawa led the possession battle 58-42 percent, however, Halifax had 30 final third entries, 11 of which led to a scoring chance compared to 25 final third entries for Ottawa, only three of which led to a scoring chance. Ottawa led 121-107 in passes in the opposing half but passes in the final third were 60-40 in Halifax’s favour. 

Halifax defend well, but eventually to Ottawa pressure

The apparent quiet half for Ottawa resulted from Halifax’s well-structured and well-coordinated defensive effort. Halifax sat in a low block, which allowed Ottawa to have plenty of possession, but it congested the midfield, limiting how many chances Ottawa could create down the middle and forcing Ottawa to attack down the flanks. 

As a result, 77 percent of Ottawa’s attacks vs Halifax came down the flanks –39.2 percent down the left flank and 37.8 percent down the right flank– and all three of Ottawa’s goals resulted in carrying the ball up the flanks toward the byline forcing the Wanderers to drop deep defensively before cutting it back toward the middle of the pitch to a late midfield runner for a shot on goal.

Gonzalez said post-game that he noticed a weakness in Halifax’s defense down the flanks and decided to build his game plan around exposing it. Halifax also dropping deep defensively covering their box and central areas of the pitch also opened up spaces for Ottawa to attack down the flanks. 

As a result of the speed of wingers Matteo de Brienne and Ballou Tabla, and the ability of full-backs Kris Twardek and Maxim Tissot to push forward and overlap with the wingers, Ottawa was constantly flooding the wide channels in this game, making sure that they always had a numerical advantage out wide against Halifax’s wing-backs.

That combined with the well-timed late runs of their striker, Rubén del Campo, and the midfielders behind him, Ottawa’s midfielders and strikers did well to find the space that the wide players created for them at the edge of the box with their stellar play on the flanks. The result: three goals, including two in the second half.

Gonzalez hinted that the cut-back strategy could remain in Ottawa’s offensive arsenal in future games, as Halifax isn’t the only team that plays aggressive wide rotations. He added that it could be another way to get more out of this Ottawa attack going forward.

In the 56th minute, Twardek sprinted down the flank with the ball at his feet before sending a brilliant cross toward the edge of the box that landed right on the foot of Aparicio who rifled a diving volley into the back of the net for his second goal of the year and to give Ottawa a 2-0 lead. 

About 15 minutes later, Ottawa sealed the victory with another transition attack, catching Halifax –who had to push forward to find a goal– off-guard and out of their defensive formation.

Under 60 seconds after coming onto the pitch for the first time this season, Gabriel Antinoro      –who scored 30 seconds into a match against Forge in June 2023– made a great run in transition down the flank with the ball on his feet, before crossing it beautifully into the box for Ballou Tabla, who struck it into the bottom right corner from eight yards out for his first goal of the season and to give the visitors a 3-0 lead. Antinoro records an assist early in his first appearance in 2024. Atlético has scored six goals this season, with five different goal scorers. 

The home team would break their long scoreless drought in the 89th minute, with a nice finish by Riley Ferazzo, but it had zero effect on the final score.

Before Halifax’s late consolation goal, their first goal of the 2024 CPL season, Halifax had been shut out for approximately 395 minutes of action. Their last goal (open play or set piece) came in the 54th minute of their 1-0 win over Valour on October 6, 2023.

Ottawa took full advantage of the extra man, dominating the attacking end of the pitch. At full-time, they outshot Halifax 15-11 (8-5 on target), won the possession battle 55-45 percent, and won 60 percent of the total aerial duels.

Halifax had their chances, generating two big chances and hitting the woodwork twice, however, offensively, luck hasn’t been on their side. Defensively, individual mistakes, breakdowns in their structure, and getting caught out of position and in transition are continuing to hurt them. 

Wanderers midfielder Jérémy Gagnon-Laparé said post-game that it’s still too early to press the panic button and is positive they can turn the ship around.

“We have to keep pushing in training and then translate those performances that we’re putting in training to the games,” Gagnon-Laparé said of his team’s winless start to the season. “We’ve got to work extra hard to correct those mistakes that we’re making, and keep believing as it’s still early in the season.”

“We have to remain calm, but still feel that urgency that everyone is feeling right now so that we can believe that we can do this, but still take things one game at a time.”

Up next for Atlético Ottawa is a Canadian Championship preliminary round match against Valour FC on May 1. 

Up next for Halifax is a Canadian Championship preliminary round match against semi-pro side CS Saint Laurent on May 2.


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