This was probably not the way Mista would’ve chosen to begin his first head coaching gig.
The 41-year-old gaffer of Atlético Ottawa, tasked with assembling a roster for a brand-new football club in the midst of a pandemic, has encountered a few speed bumps the past few months, with dreams of a packed home opener at TD Place put on hold (for now).
Speaking to CanPL.ca in English for the first time, the Ottawa coach expressed his disappointment at not getting that moment in the sun just yet, holding out hope for it to come one day.
“We are not happy, because we have a lot of supporters. Hopefully we can see them again as soon as possible,” he said. “I know we have a lot of people waiting to come see us inside the field very soon.”
Mista also provided some insight into life in the Atlético Ottawa training camp, with 16 players signed and, likely, a few more on the way.
Unfortunately, the coach confirmed that international players Bernardinho (Ghana) and Tevin Shaw (Jamaica) are among the CPLers stuck outside of Canada due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, meaning it’s unlikely either will be available for the 2020 season.
“Bernardinho and Tevin, who are outside, are very important players for us,” Mista said.
Indeed, the two midfielders looked likely to be major pieces of the Ottawa squad, with Bernardinho a potential starter. Now, Mista is working to replace them from the pool of players that could get to training in time for a potential 2020 CPL kickoff.
“We need one more attacker, and I think we need a right winger because this is the position we don’t have enough players,” he explained.
Ottawa currently has the smallest roster of the eight CPL clubs, but a few additions could round the team out. Another defender may also be in order, with Brandon John and Gianfranco Facchineri the only natural centre-backs signed.
Despite the challenges of the current situation — recruitment has surely been difficult over the past few months — Mista thinks the extra time they’ve had to prepare might turn out to benefit his side.
“It’s given us time to know a little better the Canadian league and players, to gain confidence with our team coming,” the coach said. “This is a strange situation of not being able to play all together, but I think without a doubt that we are stronger for this situation.”
On a personal level, the former Valencia, Atlético Madrid, and Toronto FC player has been able to use this time to settle into his first role a the helm of a first team, after a few years’ experience coaching at youth levels in Spain.
Although a handful of players on the team — including Canadian Ben Fisk — can speak Spanish, Mista has been working hard to become more comfortable in English.
“My English is improving little by little, I need more time to adapt to the language and culture from Canada,” he said. “We have some players who speak Spanish, like Ben and other guys, it’s very good for all. But I try to speak (only) a little in Spanish; I prefer to speak in English because I think it’s better.”
Fortunately for Mista, the whole squad does speak one common language: soccer.
“I sincerely believe that soccer is the same in all countries. It doesn’t matter what makes a professional, it’s in the amount of competitiveness and the personal demand,” he explained.
He added: “I am a person with a team that I have high expectations of, and this is where I’m going to demand a lot of myself.”