Atlético Ottawa don’t lose often, but when they do, the implosion often burns hot and bright.
Sunday’s emphatic 0-4 defeat to Forge was reminiscent of the 1-6 reverse against Valour earlier in the season, when it felt as though every attack resulted in a goal and nothing went right at the other end.
The warning signs were there from the start. There were only three minutes on the clock when Woobens Pacius, on a red-hot scoring streak of six goals in four games, headed inexplicably wide from a whipped Kyle Bekker cross. Bekker’s overlap got around the usually reliable Miguel Acosta all too easily, Pacius had no Ottawa defender anywhere near him. It did not bode well for the hosts.
The opening goal came after 27 minutes when Aboubacar Sissoko slotted home a Terran Campbell through ball from a tight angle. With Ottawa’s Abdoul Sissoko deployed higher up the pitch than usual, Campbell had acres of space to consider his options. Ottawa’s Sissoko failed to track the run from Forge’s Sissoko, leaving the former Mali youth international an uncontested shot at goal. He found the far corner of the net with precise shot, with Atleti’s Nate Ingham perhaps a little too concerned with covering his near post.
The Ottawa response was immediate. Maxim Tissot played a clever one-two with Sissoko, cut in from the left and unleashed a right-footed shot that Triston Henry parried away. Tissot was the first to the rebound and was hacked down in the box by Kwasi Poku. It was a clear penalty, but referee Carly Shaw-Maclaren waved play on despite vociferous protests from the home side.
Forge capitalised as Ottawa emotions ran high. Once more a run in behind threw the home defence into chaos, with Campbell and Sissoko once again linking up to devastating effect. Campbell brilliantly tricked his way past Drew Beckie before smashing home a superb finish high at the near post – with Ingham this time perhaps too preoccupied with covering his far post. Ottawa were in danger of descending into complete indiscipline at this point, with Espejo, Tissot and Sissoko all booked for avoidable transgressions. “We let emotions get the best of us today… that can’t happen,” Carl Haworth said after the match, and half time couldn’t come soon enough for an Atlético Ottawa side teetering on the edge.
At half time, Zak Bahous and Vladimir Moragrega were introduced for Atlético. Bahous’ omission from the starting line-up was particularly surprising, both because Ottawa desperately needs U21 minutes and because he is often the most direct and dynamic attacking presence in a team that always seems to need one touch too many before getting a shot or final ball away. But the game was essentially over just six minutes into the second half. Tristan Borges got in behind the defence and chipped a perfect cross from the byline right onto Terran Campbell’s head for an easy finish.
Forge’s high-tempo attack was impressive to watch, especially for a home crowd all too used to the rather slower-paced attack of Atlético Ottawa. For all their successes this season, only HFX Wanderers and York have scored fewer goals than Ottawa – and five of Ottawa’s 19 goals have been from the penalty spot, with another couple from direct set pieces. When Atleti’s attack clicks, it really clicks – Ballou Tabla’s recent goal against Cavalry springs to mind, as does Malcolm Shaw’s opener against Pacific in June – but these occurrences are all too rare for a side hoping to challenge for the title. Carlos Gonzalez attempted to put a positive spin on things after the match – “I think that the result is not the real difference between the teams today” – but even the most diehard Ottawa fan would admit that Forge were simply a class apart in every department in this game.
The visitors rounded off an outstanding performance with a well-worked fourth. Again it was a run from deep that undid the home defence, this time from Noah Jensen. He finished well after excellent passing from Bekker and David Chonière, and now Forge sit atop the CPL table with a vastly superior goal difference and a game in hand. After a few weeks of top spot changing after almost every game, it now feels like it is Forge’s to lose.
What now for Ottawa? After the heavy defeat against Valour in April, Ottawa went four games without winning, but for now Carlos Gonzalez is focusing on the positives. “I don’t think that this is going to penalise us a lot. Our mentality is healthy, there is good weather in the locker room,” he said. Next weekend Edmonton are coming to town and it will be a tricky fixture against the league’s bottom club.