2020 was Atlético Ottawa’s inaugural season, and it was nothing if not memorable. Within just a few months, the club was announced to much fanfare, began recruiting players in the midst of a pandemic, and played a very shortened season in a bubble tournament based on Prince Edward Island. While the club only played seven games and finished in 7th place (out of eight teams), the Ottawa squad proved they could compete with the Canadian Premier League’s best, and out-performed many analysts’ expectations.
Since the tournament in Charlottetown, PEI last season, “Ottleti” has overhauled its roster. There are 13 new faces this year, replacing 13 departed players from last season.
Newbies: Miguel Acosta (DF), Drew Beckie (DF), Keesean Ferdinand (DF), Shawn-Claud Lawson (FW), Chris Mannella (MF), Rafael Núñez (FW), Teodor Obadal (GK), Dylon Powley (GK), Alberto Soto (FW), Ryan Telfer (FW), Zachary Verhoven (MF), Jordan Webb (FW), Brian Wright (FW).
The departed: Francisco Acuña (MF), Matteo de Brienne (DF), Michel Djaozandry (DF), Gianfranco Facchineri (DF), Ben Fisk (FW), Ricky Gomes (GK), Malyk Hamilton (DF), Ajay Khabra (MF), Jarred Phillips (DF), Maksym Kowal (FW), Mo Kourouma (FW), Horace Sobze (GK), Nacho Zabal (GK).
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In 2020, the club was able to field a very strong starting XI as long as everyone was healthy and available. The main problem was depth. Beyond those starting XI, there weren’t many players Ottawa could slot in to sustain the same high level of play. For instance, Ottawa could not score a single goal without last year’s standout Francisco Acuña on the field.
This season, Ottawa boasts a lot more depth, with strong options at most positions. While Acuña did not return for 2021, several new additions have made Atlético Ottawa a dangerous team this year.
THANK YOU! We would like to wish Francisco Acuña all the best moving forward. Thank you for your leadership and contributions to the team. #AtleticoOttawa #CanPL #RosterNews pic.twitter.com/dv1URK0Yi0
— Atlético Ottawa (@atletiOttawa) January 6, 2021
Shawn-Claud Lawson may be the league’s sleeper signing of the season. Brought in from Detroit City FC of the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA), the Canadian forward is Detroit City’s all-time leading scorer and bagged a record-setting 19 goals in 2019. There’s no question—the man knows how to finish. He’ll be keen to prove he can contribute at a similar pace in the CPL.
Former Fury FC midfielder Chris Manella returns to Ottawa after playing last season with York United. He’s versatile, defensively-strong with the ability to contribute offensively, and will play a big role in making sure Ottawa dominates the middle of the field.
Beyond happy to be joining @atletiOttawa and coming back to a place that feels like home to me. Thank you to @4fernandolopez for welcoming me into this amazing family. Looking forward to seeing all the fans once again back at TD place soon. 2021 season can’t come quick enough. pic.twitter.com/fkD5E2RTqJ
— Chris Mannella (@c10mannella) April 6, 2021
The club’s most recently announced signing, Alberto Soto, may also be their most important. Arriving on loan from Atlético de Madrid, the attacking midfielder has been in the Spanish club’s academy system since 2017, and has made five appearances so far for Spain’s U20 side. With the departure of Acuña from Ottawa’s midfield, Soto is expected to fill that void. At just 20 years old, Soto doesn’t have the experience Acuña brought to the table, but his pedigree and talent are clear. If head coach Mista is looking to implement a similar system to the one used in 2020, Soto will play a defining role for the club in 2021.
“A Near Perfect Preseason”
One way Ottawa will have an advantage over the rest of the league is the preseason training they were able to organize. While several clubs haven’t been allowed to train together in-person until very recently, Ottawa spent nine weeks training in Spain, making use of Atlético de Madrid’s world class facilities and even playing closed door matches against local clubs.
The foundation is being built in Spain ⚒️.
— Atlético Ottawa (@atletiOttawa) April 26, 2021
In conversation with The Stepover Podcast, Manella spoke at length about the experience in Spain. “It was amazing. From the facilities to, I mean, first and foremost, being able to train, right? That’s obviously something we really benefited off of, you know, having a full two months, nine weeks of full training every single day getting into the rhythm
“And then obviously, the perks of what comes with Atlético de Madrid, the facilities, bringing you to the stadium and all those kinds of perks off the field, those were just the cherry on top of what was a near perfect preseason.”
New Season, New Format
To start the 2021 season, every CPL team will play eight games at IG Field in Winnipeg, in a bubble environment that’s being promoted as “The Kickoff”. From there, it’s expected teams will play another 20 games, with ten of those in their home stadiums. That’s especially exciting for Atlético, who have yet to actually play at TD Place. CPL commissioner David Clanachan expects fans will be allowed in for some of these games, but stressed the need for everyone to get their vaccines.
“The best thing we can all do as Canadians is get our vaccines. It’s important, you look at what’s happening in our country right now with the amount of vaccines that are out there, and second doses, that’s important to the country and it’s also important to live sport, to be able to go and enjoy the events we love the most in Canada.”
At the conclusion of the regular season, the top four teams will qualify for playoffs, expected to take place in November. The first round of playoffs will be single-knockout semi-final games, with the two winners meeting in a one-game CPL Final to see who will lift the North Star Shield (the CPL’s top prize).
Ottawa midfielder Antoine Coupland also spoke of the time in Spain, and he believes Ottawa has a real shot at the title in 2021.
“Being [in Madrid] and seeing Atlético Madrid win the La Liga title over some of the biggest clubs in the world… Barcelona, Real Madrid… I think we can definitely take that experience back, and bring it into our team culture. I think we have the quality, the players, the team, to really compete and go for the title this year.”
Projected Starting XI
Powley; Neufville, John, Kapor, Acosta; Viti, Manella, Soto; Telfer, M. Shaw, Lawson
Ottawa has only six defenders listed on the roster, so they better hope everyone stays healthy and avoids suspensions. Speedy English fullback Vashon Neufville is a lock to start on the left while Spanish newcomer Miguel Acosta should start most games on the right side. Expect both not to be shy to push up the field and help build the attack.
Brandon John and Milovan Kapor seem likely to start as your centre-backs, though Drew Beckie is extremely versatile and could easily slide in at either centre or right back. Young Keesean Ferdinand—on loan from CF Montréal—will probably see more time coming off the bench as the season progresses, learning from the more experienced defenders.
At midfield, Ottawa has a lot of options, but it’s Soto who will be relied on as the key distributor in the middle, and the defensively responsible Manella would provide great balance as his partner. Viti Martinez and Ryan Telfer both have playmaking abilities, and Telfer is especially known as a strong finisher. Both would be very effective playing in those wing positions.
Watching highlights of Lawson for Detroit City FC, he clearly has a knack for getting behind opposition backlines. Inside the penalty area he’s lethal. I see him and Malcolm Shaw as complimentary strikers, with Lawson up front, and Shaw in the cleanup role, getting his boot on a lot of rebounds and deflections.
An Exciting Brand of Football
With the prospect of fans in the stands at some point this year, Manella thinks Ottawa is really going to enjoy watching this 2021 team, whether in-person or on TV.
“I think we’re gonna play an exciting brand of football. And I mean, Mista has us ready, so we’re a well-oiled machine. I think the fans are genuinely going to enjoy watching us play.
“The talent of the guys returning from last year, as well as the new additions coming together, and just being cohesive. We’re a good team. I think once we start going out there and playing these games, and the fans can watch us, they’re going to know that, you know, we’re an exciting team. And especially when we post some results, I think, you know, maybe a few bandwagon fans might hop on and we don’t mind, we’ll take them all because they’re still part of our family. Even if they come for 10 minutes of a season, it doesn’t matter.
“But I think for us, once the fans see us play and see us get out there, I think they’ll be really excited to back a team that is cohesive and ready to win.”
Regular season: 2nd place
Playoffs: Atlético Ottawa win the final vs. Forge FC
Top scorer: Shawn-Claud Lawson (9 goals)
Most minutes: Brandon John
Who will score the goal of the year: Antoine Coupland
MVP: Alberto Soto
Goals for: 60
Goals against: 47
Clean Sheets: 6
Newest rivalry: York United
Fans in stands by: July 28
Atlético Ottawa kicks off their season in Winnipeg, Manitoba this Saturday, June 26, when they take on FC Edmonton at IG Field at 2pm ET. Every game will be available to stream on paid streaming service OneSoccer. TSN1200 will also carry every game on the AM dial.