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Atlético Ottawa fights back to beat York United in 2024 CPL opener

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A goal and an assist from Man of the Match Manny Aparicio and a stunning volley by Kris Twardek powered Atlético Ottawa to a 2-1 home win over York United to open the 2024 Canadian Premier League season after falling behind 1-0 early in the second half. 

It’s the first time that Atlético Ottawa has come from behind to win a match in the Carlos Gonzalez era. And Ottawa’s coach was thrilled with the result, even though he thought they didn’t play at their best. 

“None of the players were in their best version today. But (despite this) we were able to win the game, so that’s the most important thing,” Gonzalez said. “The more we can win early in the season, the less we’ll have to push to chase the season later on.”

Atlético’s poor start to last season left them in the lower half of the table. To try to secure a playoff spot, Atlético had to attempt to win as many games as possible in the latter half of the season. Draws weren’t enough to climb the table, so Ottawa had to push far up the field in search of a late winner in several games. This left Atlético susceptible defensively in transition, which resulted in them conceding the match-winner after the 80th minute in eight matches in 2023. 

“Wins give you air to breathe,” Gonzalez said. “It’s important to start winning, to be calm, and to acknowledge that we are still building a team and that we still have to work on so many things. At the same time, it’s good to see that in a tough game like today, we were able to bounce back and grab all three points. I’m very happy.”

Atlético struggle early

The game didn’t start well for Atlético, however. Atlético struggled to string passes together in the midfield, turned the ball over a lot, and struggled to get the ball out of their defensive half as a result of York’s high and intense defensive press.

In the first half, York dominated possession, moved the ball well, and exploited gaps in Ottawa’s midfield with intricate passing to create numerous high-quality scoring chances.

Arguably, York should’ve been leading by one or two goals at halftime, but a handful of missed chances kept it 0-0. York’s biggest chance to take a first-half lead came in the 22nd minute when a misplaced pass in his defensive half by Ottawa midfielder Alberto Zapater resulted in a York transition attack that ended with in Ricci missing a wide open net.

Atlético Ottawa, Canadian Premier League, York United

Atlético Ottawa win 2-1 against York United in their 2024 Canadian Premier League match in Ottawa Saturday, April 13, 2024. Photo: Tim Austen/Freestyle Photography

Gonzalez was blunt about his team’s shortcomings in the first half.

“We weren’t good enough in the first half. York was better because they did what they wanted to in the first half, and we weren’t able to do what we wanted to in the first half,” Gonzalez said. 

“I think in the first half, we were having certain individual mistakes and unforced errors that I haven’t seen him much of in the preseason,” Gonzalez continued. “But it’s normal, today was a difficult game to play. The context of the game is a home opener with a lot of emotions and nerves and it’s normal that nerves can affect the players.” 

Ottawa wasn’t able to generate many scoring chances, struggled with their linkup play and when they did get to the final third, they were wasteful with their limited chances, overhitting a handful of passes which ended Ottawa’s attacks before they could generate a goal-scoring opportunity. The overlapping between Ballou Tabla and Matteo DeBrienne was effective, resulting in a handful of chances.

At halftime, possession favoured Ottawa 55-45 percent, yet Ottawa couldn’t capitalize. York outshot Atlético 6-2 (2-1 on target) and created an expected goals (xG) of 1.62 to Ottawa’s 0.06. 

Atlético eventually find advantage in second half

Early in the second half, Ricci made up for his miss in the first half by chesting down a poor punch clearance attempt by Ingham before tucking a low, powerful shot into the bottom left corner of the net from 15 yards out to give York a deserved 1-0 lead and score the first goal of the 2024 CPL season. Ricci said scoring was a “relief” after his earlier miss. 

Gonzalez said his team played much better in the second half, even despite conceding early.

“I think overall we played well, with more composure, and had a better idea of what we wanted to do offensively,” Gonzalez said. “Then after conceding, the team had the personality and character to bounce back and get back in the game. Little by little, the players started to mesh better with each other. We stepped up and reacted well to get a result.”

After conceding, a switch clicked for Ottawa. Immediately after going down 1-0, Ottawa started playing more fluid football, played more on the front foot, spent a lot of time in the final third, and created numerous scoring chances with their intricate ball movement. Their never-give-up mentality instilled by Gonzalez was shining brilliantly. After pressing for almost 20 minutes, Ottawa found the equalizer.

Atlético Ottawa, Canadian Premier League, York United

Atletico right back Kris Twardek celebrates his match winning goal in his side’s 2024 Canadian Premier League match against York United in Ottawa Saturday, April 13, 2024. Photo: Tim Austen/Freestyle Photography

Tabla controlled a Bassett corner before getting passing a defender and crossing it into the box toward Aboubacar Sissoko. Sissoko’s shot was saved by York goalkeeper Thomas Vincensini, but York failed to clear the rebound which landed right in front of Manny Aparicio who headed home his first Ottawa goal at the far post to tie the game 1-1. Ottawa now had all the momentum.

Nash believed after York took the lead, they took their foot off the gas and sat further back defensively which invited Ottawa’s relentless attack to build up momentum and confidence.

“I think there’s that moment in games, especially after you get a lead where you ask yourself can you build on that lead and keep going? … I felt instead of building on our lead, we said ‘Okay, we have a lead, can we protect it?’ If you do that too much, you just invite pressure and allow the other team to attack freely,” Nash said. “Atlético got their goal and they built on it, they kept attacking, so it was tough for us to get the momentum back. They took their chances well; we weren’t as effective in front of goal, it was our downfall today.”

After another 15 minutes later of continued attacks, Atlético found the winner.

Aparicio’s effective press created a turnover in the York penalty area. He carried the ball toward the byline before executing a ‘trivela’ and expertly flicking the ball back in front of goal with the outside of his foot. His cross found right-back Kris Twardek who struck a brilliant volley across the face of goal beating Vincensini to give Ottawa a 2-1 lead. 

Twardek celebrated in style, running toward his family in the South stands before performing a stunning knee slide. Twardek was thrilled to score his first goal for Atlético in his first professional came in his hometown, which ended up being the match winner.

“All my friends and family were right in that section, probably about 100 of them, and as soon as I scored, I just went blind and ran right towards towards them. It was really special,” Twardek said. “To have those 100 people there watching me, I can’t even put into words how special that is. It was great to see fans come out on a rainy day. It was an amazing atmosphere,” he added.

York had a few more chances to equalize in the final 10 minutes, including some nervy set pieces, but Atlético’s defense remained compact and Ingham made a handful of huge saves to secure an important win to begin their campaign on a positive note.

At full time, possession was 52-48 percent in York’s favour. York outshot Ottawa 14-10, both teams finished with five shots on target. Both teams recorded 8 shots in the second half, but Ottawa created the higher-quality chances creating a second half xG of 1.44 to York’s 0.58.

Atlético Ottawa were also awarded their CPL Shield for finishing first in the 2022 regular season. 

Disappointment for York United

York striker Austin Ricci said it was disappointing to lose, despite having such a strong first half.

“I think we had them pinned the whole first half. We could have even been up 3-0 at halftime, so it sucks the game swung the way it did, but if you don’t finish your chances you get punished,” Ricci said, referring to his team’s struggles in front of goal all game, despite playing well otherwise.

York United Head Coach Martin Nash thought there were some positives to take away. 

“Overall, a pleasing performance, but I thought we let ourselves down to the big moments,” Nash said. “We knew they were going to be dangerous on set pieces, we didn’t clear the corner on their first goal and we had a chance to clear the cross on the second goal but couldn’t. You’ve got to deal with those moments, if you can’t it’s going to be a long season.”

“In regards to our effort, I thought we played well and controlled the game especially in the first half. We created several clear scoring chances, obviously Ricci should’ve scored his in the first half,” Nash added. “I think we were unlucky not to come away with at least a point.”

Atlético Ottawa next host Cavalry FC April 20 while York United host defending CPL champions Forge FC the following day.

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