Nine days and three games for Atlético Ottawa have helped boost them to the top of the Canadian Premier League table, solely in possession of first place for at least the time being. With a little bit of help from other teams around the league, week 20 was a massive week for Ottawa.
Ottawa kicked off the week on August 13th in Victoria, taking on Pacific FC. At the time, a loss looked to be a massive blow to Atlético. Dropping a 1-0 decision against a team who just agreed to a transfer that sent their leading goal scorer, Alejandro Díaz to Sogndal in Norway was certainly far from ideal, and it dropped them down the table.
The wait for their next chance was short, however. Just four days later, Ottawa was back on the pitch at TD Place against HFX Wanderers, and three points were critical, despite the short rest. Atlético took a 2-0 lead after Maxim Tissot scored a goal in the 51st minute, but HFX responded to cut Ottawa’s lead to just one on a goal from Pierre Lamothe just seven minutes later.
Into stoppage time, things got controversial, however. The Wanderers found an equalizer courtesy of Samual Salter on a penalty that some were unsure about. But only seconds later, the game would get even more controversial, when the assistant referee raised his flag, but Ottawa continued on to score. The goal was allowed, and both coaches provided mixed reactions after the game.
“I think it was a great call from the referees,” said Carlos Gonzalez, head coach of Atlético Ottawa. “I think that most of the time when we talk about the referees, it’s because they made a mistake. That was a very difficult decision to take. I was beside [the assistant referee], and I knew it was a handball previously off the defender. The assistant referee called this handball, and the principal referee took the advantage to keep on going, so it was a great decision, because of course it was not offside, that’s not what the assistant referee called.”
“From where I was sitting, I thought [Carl] Haworth was offside,” said HFX Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart. “I haven’t seen the replay, but I thought he was offside. I thought that was the initial call. I don’t know if when the Ottawa players surrounded the official if he changed his mind,” Hart said. “I might be wrong, but that’s how I saw it.”
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No matter how either coach saw it, without VAR, Ottawa managed to dig deep and find a win when a draw looked the certain outcome late in the match. Although the three points on Wednesday night were huge, Saturday afternoon provided another boost for Ottawa. While they were sitting at home watching the games, teams they are battling for playoff seeding with were getting busy losing big games against beatable opponents.
First, it was the very same HFX Wanderers taking on Pacific from Halifax. Just under a half hour into the contest, Manny Aparicio was handed a red card, forcing Pacific to carry on for the remaining hour with just 10 men. Although the Vancouver Islanders held on for the majority of the match, HFX did eventually find the elusive goal, with Lamothe scoring in the 82nd minute, sending the Wanderers home with three points to their name.
The day finished at Tim Horton’s Field, where league-leading Forge FC hosted York United in a game Forge should have been able to see to the finish. That wasn’t the case, however, and the recently surging Nine Stripes took the action to the Hammers, beating them into submission with a convincing 3-1 victory. Just like that, Ottawa was level on points with both Forge and Pacific, and although Forge did have games in hand, it was a real missed opportunity for both sides to make Ottawa pay for their earlier loss.
Heading into their third game in nine days and after another long travel day, it’s likely that Atlético would have been content with just a single point in Calgary, as they took on fourth-place Cavalry FC. It was the first time Atlético had ever travelled to ATCO Field, and although mother nature threw a full arsenal of assaults on the ground, there wasn’t a thing that could be done to slow down the Ottawa attack.
A goal in stoppage time at the end of the first half from Keven Alemán gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead heading into the halftime break. That break would be extended by a merciless rain, but it didn’t dampen Ottawa’s spirits. Ottawa continued their dominance into the second half, scoring two more goals courtesy of Brian Wright and Ollie Bassett.
Ottawa rebounded after an uninspiring loss to Pacific with two impressive wins, and that shouldn’t be understated. Now with 38 points on the season and just seven games left to play, Atlético currently holds the top spot in the table, by far a franchise high. Still, the job is far from done.
Any of Atlético, Forge, Pacific, or Cavalry could still finish at the top of the table, but Ottawa is looking down at Forge breathing down their necks with two extra matches to play. Ottawa still has one more game to play against each team in the CPL to close their season, and with their last matchup against Forge coming this weekend, they have a golden opportunity to expand their lead at the top up to six points.
After an impressive stretch where Ottawa managed to secure six points in three games in just nine days, a playoff appearance is looking just about as certain as it can get, and the hope for a home playoff game at TD Place is growing ever the more possible.
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