Every game you play technically is worth the same. You can only earn three points for a win, and you can’t lose points, and while all of that is true, sometimes certain games just feel bigger. It doesn’t even need to be a playoff game to feel like that, and for Atlético Ottawa this weekend, they have one of those games.
As they ready themselves to take on Forge FC later this weekend, Atlético is faced with the reality of the importance of this match. Currently sitting in first place in the Canadian Premier League table, Ottawa holds a slim three-point lead over the Hammers, having already played two more games than their Ontario rival.
The stakes are high. A win for Atlético would send them six points clear of chasing Forge, and would ensure that even if Forge did win both of their games in hand, they would be tied. A loss, on the other hand, would swing momentum back the way of Hamilton, and bring the two teams into a tie for first immediately.
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With Cavalry FC and Pacific FC still well in the mix as well, this is a game that could go a long way to helping Ottawa secure a playoff spot for the first time in their existence, and the first home playoff game for an Ottawa professional soccer team since the Ottawa Fury hosted the Charleston Battery in the USL Play-In Round in 2019, a game Ottawa went on to lose in penalties.
The last time Ottawa met Forge, the result was far from what Atlético would have been hoping for. The Hammers blasted Ottawa with a relentless attack, scoring four goals, cruising to a 4-0 finish. Aboubacar Sissoko, Terran Campbell a pair of times, and Noah Jenson did the scoring for Forge, as they waltzed home with three well-deserved points in their back pocket. This time, however, there should be more fight out of this Atlético side.
There is even added importance besides just what is happening in the standings for Atlético, however. Much has been made about their under 21 minutes, and as of August 22nd, they still sit well in last in the league with just 1,272 minutes played. Ottawa is relying on just three players, Zakaria Bahous, Zachary Roy, and Owen Antoniuk to reach the required 2,000 minutes, and forcing them all to play key games where there is no margin for error is clearly not a favourable strategy for Ottawa.
Of the three, Bahous is evidently the most comfortable, and is the player that head coach Carlos Gonzalez is the most confident in, as evident by his 11 starts and eight additional appearances through substitutions. But for Roy and Antoniuk, the comfort isn’t the same, and it would be best if the lion’s share of minutes the rest of the way came in moments where every mistake isn’t critical.
With six games still to play after Saturday’s game, there is no result that is going to solidify anything for Atlético. Still, bagging three points over a team that you are in a title hint with will never be a bad thing. These three points could be critical in swinging Ottawa’s season either way, both positively, or negatively.
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