Bearing the iconic red and white stripes of Club Atlético de Madrid, Atlético Ottawa introduced the nation’s capital to the Canadian Premier League in 2020 (albeit from a distance).
The league’s eighth club and first expansion side has come a long way since its birth in early 2020, having filled out the squad at the last minute before The Island Games before making fans back in Ottawa extremely proud of a respectable first campaign, which saw them remain alive in the top-four race until their final matchday.
Although Atlético landed in seventh place after recording two wins in the first round, they left PEI with some excellent memories and a real hunger to continue climbing (and, hopefully, play in front of supporters at home) in 2021.
The next few months were turbulent; Ottawa built its roster (including Ben Fisk as the club’s first player), and they embarked in mid-March on a much-anticipated trip to Spain for a pre-season training camp at world-class Atlético Madrid facilities. Just a few days later, though, the whole world had turned upside-down as the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. The Atlético Ottawa squad, becoming closer-knit by the day due to the circumstances, hurried back to Canada, where they — like their CPL counterparts — settled in for a long quarantine.
When The Island Games were finally announced in July, Ottawa had just 16 players signed — a few of whom (like Jamaican defender Tevin Shaw and Ghanaian midfielder Bernardinho) wouldn’t be able to participate due to international travel restrictions. They quickly filled out the roster with names such as Ben McKendry, Mohamed Kourouma, and Maksym Kowal, adding seven players in total, and they jetted off for Charlottetown.
The season kicked off for Ottawa against York9 FC. The expansion side bagged the first goal in club history before halftime courtesy of Kourouma, and Malcolm Shaw made it 2-0 a couple minutes after the interval. Unfortunately, the second-half lead was a little too good to be true, as a red card to Vashon Neufville and York’s young talent off the bench helped steal a point. Still, a 2-2 draw in the first Atlético Ottawa game ever ain’t bad.
Atlético would go on to lose two of their last three contests, both of them by 2-0 scores to the eventual Island Games finalists Forge and HFX Wanderers. They kept their season alive right to the end, though, thanks to a dramatic midweek win over Pacific FC, which saw Viti Martínez steal all three points with almost the last kick of the game after Ottawa shut down one of the CPL’s best attacks for 90 minutes.
So, the CPL’s fresh face bowed out of its inaugural campaign with just the two wins, although they’d come a lot closer to advancing to the second round than most people might’ve expected heading into The Island Games.
Overall, a pretty solid first impression for the expansion side, we’d say.
Atlético Ottawa finished seventh in the table from the first round of The Island Games, but tied on eight points with sixth-place Valour and just three back of the top four.
Record (W-D-L): 2-2-3
Goals scored: 7
Goals against: 12
Goal Difference: -5
Top scorer: Francisco Acuña, Malcolm Shaw (2)
Assist leader: Francisco Acuña (2)
“Coming into the season we were a question mark, both internally and externally. I think we showed we’re a team. We leave as a team and they should be proud, and on our end, we’re proud of their development. The main thing is they leave better than they came and that’s all we can ask for.” – Mista, Sept. 6 after Ottawa’s final game of 2020.
“Getting on the bus after the game, I got sent a photo of a person in a Fisk jersey at TD Place. As a player, you come back from 90 minutes of serious hard work being down a man for 40 minutes and all that… seeing everyone there was unbelievable, as a player, there’s nothing like it.” – Ben Fisk, on seeing Ottawa fans gathered for a watch party.
“We built a team in 15 days. We didn’t have time to think – we just executed.” – Club president Fernando López on roster construction pre-Island Games.
Most memorable moment
The most exciting finish of the first round? Quite possibly. About as frantic as a 0-0 game can be, this one saw Ottawa and Pacific throwing chance after chance at each other. On the verge of the final whistle, Atlético’s Viti Martínez finally broke the deadlock after a flurry of chances and corners, keeping the CPL newcomers alive in the top-four hunt.
Final Thoughts: Atlético Ottawa’s 2020 Season
CanPL.ca’s Charlie O’Connor-Clarke and Marty Thompson are joined by TSN 1200 radio broadcaster AJ Jakubec to talk Atlético Ottawa’s 2020 campaign.