Final Score: Atlético Ottawa 2-0 HFX Wanderers FC
Goalscorers: Bassett 71′, Shaw 76′
Game of the 2023 season: 32
CPL match: 399
Match in a minute or less
For the first time since August of 2022, Atlético Ottawa won a match at TD Place Stadium, defeating Halifax Wanderers 2-0 on Saturday night.
The two goals came in a track meet of a second half where both teams had excellent chances to score, but Ottawa made the most of theirs as Ollie Bassett and Malcolm Shaw found the back of the net. Sean Melvin, meanwhile, made four saves — including a potential game-saving stop on Halifax captain André Rampersad to make sure the visitors couldn’t reply.
Halifax remain the only club in the Canadian Premier League without a win so far this season. Despite that, this was their first loss away from home in six road matches — with the first five ending in draws.
Wide open second half allows Ottawa to finally find some attacking joy at TD Place Stadium
After a first half in which Halifax, on the road, spent a lot of time sitting back and somewhat uncharacteristically absorbing pressure at times, the match truly opened up after the halftime whistle. The second 45 saw the teams take a combined 18 shot attempts, with an expected goal count of 2.27 to 1.24 for the hosts.
Ultimately, the amount of space and verticality on display truly suited the hosts, who found plenty of joy — and ultimately two goals late in the second half — through transitional moments. It was only the fifth time in 23 home matches in all competitions under Carlos González that Atlético Ottawa had scored more than a single goal in a match at TD Place Stadium.
For the first part of the half, Halifax actually looked the more likely to find a breakthrough, with Rampersad and then Wes Timoteo testing Melvin. But a triple substitution from González, bringing on Carl Haworth, Noah Verhoeven and Zach Verhoven in the 67th-minute changed the complexion of the match.
Verhoven, who has made a reputation for himself as one of the best impact subs in the Canadian Premier League, created a glorious opportunity mere minutes after stepping on the pitch — only to be stopped by Fillion. He then won a crucial header that led to Bassett’s opener, before playing a stunning curling ball forward to fellow substitute Verhoeven, who squared it across the box for Shaw on the second goal.
“I think that the three subs were a key moment in the game, we were feeling a couple of minutes before that the team was dropping a little bit and the energy wasn’t enough, and yeah we decided to do three substitutions in a row and bring new energy to the team,” said González. “The guys came out with appropriate energy and commitment and they impacted the game. I think that at the end of the day this was probably the thing that changed the game in a certain moment that we were suffering a little bit.”
Teams aren’t going to open up like this for Atlético Ottawa every week, but when they do, it was a reminder of just how lethal this side can be on the counterattack. The next step will be just as important, building on a positive result for the first time this season.
Back three allows Atlético Ottawa better ability to progress the ball forward
For the second straight match, Carlos González deployed a back three of Karl Ouimette, Diego Espejo and Luke Singh. It is a shift that has had positive implications, especially in the way that Ottawa are able to build out of the back quickly in moments of transition, or hold the ball better when they are looking to slow a game down.
On the ball, the three could quickly shift play from side to side creating more opportunities to maintain possession. Should they lose the ball, Max Tissot could then shift back into a left-back role when needed to provide a back four.
In possession, Tissot and Jean-Aniel Assi (and later Haworth) could quickly get forward at the wingback position and allow Ottawa outlet passes that they have struggled to find in previous matches as they built out of the back. Assi, in particular, was a constant outlet throughout his time on the pitch, creating three chances and having 63 touches, while attempting a stunning 16 dribbles.
“Today we knew that we were going to have an opponent that they were going to jump sometimes from the outside, sometimes from the inside, and the free men were going to be the wingbacks, so we tried to find them and from there progress in the game and find the spaces to break them,” said González.
The passing chart below shows just how often Ottawa were able to find their wide options, as well as the number of passes played between their three central defenders (Singh is #5, Espejo #4, Ouimette #20).
To counter, Halifax looked to press higher on the back three in the second half at times and try to force them to move the ball quicker and under pressure. They found some joy in doing this, important to their second-half outburst in chances, but ultimately didn’t do enough to defend the spaces in wide areas throughout the match.
Transitional moments, finishing, continue to be an issue for Halifax
After a first half in which they were largely outplayed but kept the score even, Halifax looked the more likely of the two sides to score in the opening moments of the second 45. In fact, captain André Rampersad really should have beat Ottawa keeper Sean Melvin on a wide-open chance in the box after a brilliant set-piece routine. If that ball goes in, it likely changes the outcome of Saturday’s match.
“We had a massive chance and it felt like the moment we missed it, and the reaction from the group was really poor, you know like putting their hands above their head and stuff. I think at that point instead of wanting more we deflated,” said Halifax Wanderers head coach Patrice Gheisar.
Instead, it continued a worrying trend for the visitors, who have created chances but are still struggling to finish them consistently enough to earn results. The Wanderers have scored a league-low six goals so far this season, despite 10.18 expected goals on the season. Against Ottawa alone, they had 1.69 expected goals and 3 big chances on 14 shot attempts and a stunning 33 touches in the box.
Another significant issue for Halifax this year also played out in this match, their transitional defending. Far too many times when they lost the ball high up the pitch Ottawa were able to break the other way quickly and get in behind. Considering this has been Ottawa’s main attacking weapon since González took over, it was far too easy at times for the hosts.
“Number one, we’ve got to take care of the ball a little bit better,” said Gheisar. “Even if we don’t have the ball and they get it, a lot of teams play direct and they see the spaces and I don’t blame them, I would do just the same thing. I think the way that we are playing everyone is kind of sitting back, we have a lack of space and when we lose the ball there is a lot of space so we just need to be better with the ball. When we lose it try to stop the forward pass, and third deal with those moments.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Ollie Bassett, Atlético Ottawa
Bassett ruthlessly prodded at the Halifax backline until he finally found his moment of joy with his fourth goal of the season to open the scoring. Bassett also had four shot attempts, and created three chances through some brilliant passing all over the pitch on Saturday night.
Atlético Ottawa stay in Ontario, but are on the road at York Lions Stadium where they take on York United on Friday, June 9 (7:30 p.m. ET). Halifax, meanwhile, are back home where they will host Valour on Saturday, June 10 (2:00 p.m. AT).
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