Ottawa impressed from the get go in PEI, earning a 2-2 draw against York9 FC in their first match in league history.
Victor Martinez’s dramatic injury-time winner against Pacific FC, in Ottawa’s penultimate match of the first round, has to go down as the biggest goal in the club’s short history as it gave the expansion franchise a shot at qualifying for the second round.
There were struggles, too: a 4-0 loss to Valour FC and collapsing in injury time to split the points with FC Edmonton, though Francisco Acuña’s brace was a significant bright spot.
Finishing on eight points and a 2-2-3 record, Ottawa walked away from PEI by proving critics wrong, while Mista earned a Coach of the Year nomination. Mista is on a one-year contract according to Lopez, who cites re-upping the former Atlético Madrid player for 2021 as a major priority for the off-season.
“The first goal is to assemble the Atlético Ottawa roster for 2021 with some continuity, and to guarantee to everybody that the style that we have built this year will continue in 2021,” Lopez said.
“Mista and I have been exchanging a lot of conversations about what went wrong, what we can get better. We have been in touch a lot.”
Those conversations revolve around a core of Atlético Ottawa players the brass hopes it can retain for its second season. Lopez said he is eyeing “six to ten” core pieces from the 20-odd players signed last season that will hopefully be back in 2021.
“We’ve already started talking with these guys and I’m sure that hopefully we can start a conversation soon with them and then reach agreements and build a roster hopefully not in 15 days. We’ll have a lot to say about this core soon,” Lopez said.
Lopez revealed he plans to spend “the next two weeks” looking at potential loan deals for Ottawa players, something other CPL coaches are also contemplating.
“Now we have much deeper knowledge about the league, about the level, about the profile of players. It’s been a great year and just for scouting if anything,” he said.
But, in essence, Ottawa’s focus is off the field, building towards their first matches in front of fans at TD Place in 2021 and taking what was an unusual inaugural year in stride.
“Only positive things that we can take away from COVID is that this year was a warm-up for us,” Lopez explained. “Right now we have plenty of time that last year we didn’t have to plan and prepare with a lot of more time ahead of us.”