Atlético Ottawa ended their season on a high note with a 1-0 win against Forge FC.
Credit to CF Montreal loanee, Ilias Illiadis, who scored his first CPL goal with a well-taken strike early in the second half to secure three points for Ottawa and Atlético’s second win in 16 games against their Hamilton rivals.
However, the win was too little, too late for Ottawa’s playoff hopes as York United’s 2-1 win against Vancouver FC on Oct. 6 ensured York would clinch the CPL’s fifth and final playoff spot.
It could not have been closer, as York barely eclipsed the required 2,000 u21 minutes played, finishing with 2,006. York would have not qualified for the playoffs had they not met the target.
Despite not qualifying for the playoffs, Atlético Ottawa Head Coach Carlos Gonzalez was thrilled with his team’s impressive performance to close out the season.
“Sometimes you don’t play for tangible things to qualify for something, you have to play for the intangible,” said Gonzalez. “This is what we did today, we needed this type of performance, we needed this type of victory to show ourselves that we have been very near and because of different circumstances we haven’t got the spot in the playoffs.”
Forge FC secured second place in the league with 42 points.
“Our goal was always to finish as high as possible in the standings, and today we reached it, a little bit tricky with a loss but we achieved what we wanted, we finished second so now we’ve just got to get ready for what’s next,” said Forge FC Assistant Coach Kyt Selaidopoulos, who filled in for the suspended Bobby Smyrniotis.
The second-place finish also guarantees Forge will host a playoff game. It sounds like a plus, but interestingly, their home form has been underwhelming this season. Forge only won four of its 14 home matches this season. They’ve been tremendous on the road, however.
Ottawa finished the season in sixth place with 36 points. That’s 13 points behind their record in 2022, the year they lost only five games enroute to winning the league title.
In the game, Atlético looked like the more dangerous side for long portions, creating multiple quality scoring chances.
Forge also demonstrated their attacking prowess in the first half, moving the ball quickly to create open passing and shooting lanes. Forge had the majority of the possession, just under 60 per cent, but Atlético defended well and were able to create in transition.
By the half, each team had recorded three shots on target, but Forge outshot Ottawa 5-4. All four of Ottawa’s shots came from inside the box, showing an ability to pass and run through defenders.
Early in the second half, Illiadis won the ball high up the field after forcing a turnover with his strong press before running past a defender and calmly slotting it into the bottom left corner of the net, behind Forge goalkeeper Triston Henry.
Illiadis, who was player of the game, had a massive impact on all fronts. He led the team in shots, dribbles, interceptions, and possessions won.
In the second half, Forge pressed well for an equalizer. They outshot Ottawa 8-3 in the second half, and had 51 final third entries to Ottawa’s 40 and 22 touches in the opposition box to only 12 for their opponents.
One of Forge’s biggest problems this season has been their inability to be clinical at home. They’ve been shut out four times at Tim Hortons Field in 2023 and despite creating 1.9 xG worth of quality chances against Ottawa, they couldn’t capitalize.
“I think this has been one of the problems this year, we have created a lot of chances this year but we haven’t managed to [finish them],” said Forge defender Garven Metusala post-match. “We know that next week is going to be a tough game again, we know that we probably aren’t going to see a high score again.”
“I think the more clinical team is going to get the win (next week),” Metusala said of Forge’s highly anticipated playoff matchup against league-winners Cavalry on Oct. 14. “So that is what we are going to work on.”
As they have done all season, Ottawa’s defence bent, but didn’t break. They created scoring opportunities in transition.
Ottawa goalkeeper, Nathan Ingham, was an essential part of the win making seven huge saves to preserve Ottawa’s lead and record his sixth clean sheet of the season.
Ollie Bassett, Defending Player and Players’ Player of the Year, finished his season with 11 goals and three assists. He will share the CPL Golden Boot award with Cavalry forward Myer Bevan.
Gonzalez was thrilled about Bassett’s accomplishment.
“I think he is a very important player for the team and I’m very satisfied that he keeps growing and that he is maintaining consistency in his performances,” he said. “The difference between the top players and good players is consistency, and Ollie has demonstrated that throughout last season and this season he has been giving top performances for the team.”
Ottawa is also now the first CPL team to win the league one season and miss the playoffs the next.
Atlético will turn its focus to the offseason to improve itself.
“This a season that we can learn from the beginning until the end many, many things,” said Carlos González. “I think that now is a period in which we should take a step back and think about everything that we’ve done, analyze the details and see what has gone wrong.
Finishing his thoughts, González had one final piece to add:
“The reality is that we are in the sixth position but I haven’t felt that we’ve been much worse than the teams in third or fourth, we could have been (in the playoffs).”
Writer’s note: From the both of us, it’s been a pleasure covering Atlético for Capital Current this year, despite a heartbreaking ending to the season. Vamos Atléti!