On a macro level, this match was about which side was able to get their attacking midfielders the ball in dangerous positions. Francisco Acuna was Atletico Ottawa’s most dangerous player, while Alvaro Rivero played at the tip of York9 FC’s diamond and often found himself pushing past the two strikers ahead of him. In the formations the two teams played, the attacking midfielder is always going to be a key.
Both sides lined up in a way that made it natural for their full backs to be a secondary outlet, with Mista playing with inverted wingers and Jim Brennan choosing a formation containing no wingers. Acuna would drift into spaces around Matthew Arnone, often linking with Ben Fisk and Vasho Neufville, while Rivero was less a creator and more a driver from deep. As mentioned, he often found himself beyond the strikers and would periodically be the first presser for his team.
On a micro level, the battle between Ottawa’s left back Neufville and Joseph Di Chiara, who was acting as York’s right sided shuttler, was the most interesting. Neufville used his quickness and drive to push forward often, while Di Chiara found himself with a lot of the ball on the inside right channel. After an early exchange saw both players receive a yellow card, each one of their duels became more and more high leverage with Y9 increasingly pressuring the referee to send Neufville off.
Eventually, the constant attacks from Neufville led to Atletico Ottawa’s first ever goal as he made the decision to dribble past his man rather than swing in a cross before picking a calm cut back to Mohamed Korouma. Acuna was set up to be Ottawa’s key man, and his play and the focus required to contain him allowed Neufville to impose himself as the most dangerous attacking player on the pitch.
Early in the second half, Acuna popped up in the right hand channel after a very nice combination in midfield, and the Mexican midfielder calmly laid the ball to Malcolm Shaw to put his side up by two. But the mini game from the first half gave York9 a lifeline as Di Chiara beat Neufville to a loose ball and the provider of the first goal was sent off. Not only was this devastating for Ottawa for the fact that they were down a man, but doubly so because the man who was sent off was one of their best players. The knock on effect was also that Ottawa’s other star man, Acuna, was sacrificed by Mista to solidify his line up.
York9 were able to take advantage of their numerical superiority, and Di Chiara equalized from the spot after cleverly getting his body in the way of a defender to earn a penalty. Di Chiara’s ability to win fouls had single handedly earned his team a man advantage (he won both fouls for Neufville’s two yellow cards) and a goal. While not a long term strategy for success, such clever play can turn an individual match.
Rivero had been subbed off by this point, and two of the substitutes had combined for the first goal. While York had lacked any real plan before the red card, they now played with more purpose — perhaps not having to deal with Atletico Ottawa’s two most prominent attacking threats was as important as being a man up. In the end Atletico Ottawa held on for their first ever point.
Joseph Di Chiara
Di Chiara was involved in the match in a variety of ways, and he was the most dangerous Y9 midfielder from open play. Perhaps that was because he was the shuttler on his natural side (as opposed to Kyle Porter who played on the left of the midfield diamond), but if York 9 FC play this system and their forwards are unable to create then he may be a key player for Brennan.
The Mexican attacking midfielder was able to pick up the ball in dangerous areas and was a focus of York9 defensively. He looks to be the key man in Mista’s 4-2-3-1 formation, and must be able to combine with the inverted wingers as he did for the second goal.
What will be York’s primary source of chance creation? Prior to the red card, they created one good chance which fell for Ryan Telfer. Telfer must be prioritized as a key player for the Nine Stripes, but it was difficult for them from open play. Their full backs were a positive last season, especially in the second part of the year, but it is difficult for them to be the primary option. Brennan was missing a number of players, including Manny Aparicio, so maybe it is unfair to read too much into this match.
For a brand new club, the way Atletico Ottawa lined up was clear and logical. A 4-2-3-1 with a careful double pivot, inverted wingers, overlapping full backs (especially on the left), and an attacking midfielder who finds and exploits space. With the book now out on them so to speak, what happens if Acuna is unavailable, has an off night, or effectively marked out the game? Neufville showed he can be a real attacking option from full back, but the other Ottawa attackers will need to be relied on during the season.