Mista switched from a back four to a 3-4-3 for his second ever match in charge of Atletico Ottawa, while Rob Gale made major changes in personnel — he changed his midfield three out completely while Fraser Aird started at right wing and Brett Levis at left back to provide more natural width compared to their opener.
Immediately it was clear that Valour could exploit the channels by transitioning quickly against Ottawa’s back three. The geometry of a three man backline versus a central striker and two wingers always means that there is a potential for the attacking team to isolate against the back three in transition, and Valour nearly scored their first goal of the season early. Fraser Aird exploited the right side channel before laying it into Stefan Cebara, who in turn set up Austin Ricci, but te striker’s shot was well saved.
Valour continued to push forward, and Mista quickly changed to a 4-4-2 formation with Mohamed Korouma moving from left wing back to right midfield as Gianfranco Facchineri moved to left back. The Spanish manager immediately recognized that his three central defenders were being exposed and reverted to a shape more similar to their first match. It is unclear if Mista started the match with the new 3-4-3 to specifically counter Rob Gale, or if he did so because he was missing his first choice left back Vashon Neufville to suspension.
The change to a back four helped stabilize the expansion side somewhat, but they still had many issues to deal with. Out of possession, Gale continued with a relatively high line of engagement and pseudo man marking system, most notably with Raphael Ohin shadowing Francisco Acuna. In possession, Ohin would often split the Valour centre backs; this allowed his team to have a 3v2 situation at the back to pass around Ottawa’s press, and also let the full backs push high to create variety and overloads in attack. The Winnipeg side showed great urgency with and without the ball, often picking on the out of position Facchineri, and forced Nacho Zabal into numerous saves in the first half.
The second half started out with less intensity than the first, but Valour’s continued attacks down their right finally bore fruit just past the hour mark. A deep run from Stefan Cebara wasn’t tracked and a struggling Milovan Kapor cynically pulled him back to concede a penalty and a second yellow card to put Ottawa down a man and a goal. The rest of the match was academic.
The young defender was put in a very difficult position. He started as the left sided centre back in a back three, but was quickly shuffled to his weak side as a left back in a back four. Valour consistently got behind him, most notably when they earned the penalty, and he often struggled to find the correct solution in possession. It is hard to criticize the teenager considering he was playing an unfamiliar position that his team didn’t initially game plan him for, and his situation illustrates that although a mid game tactical switch may make sense in a vacuum, the logistical considerations are often more important.
Ohin came in as a like for like replacement for Dante Campbell, and whereas I highlighted Campbell for a poor performance against Cavalry FC, I highlight Ohin here for an impressive one. The Ghanaian midfielder man marked Acuna out of the first half, and provided a reliable starting point for his team when they had the ball at the back. His mobility and movement allowed the rest of his team mates to thrive in their roles.
Last match I asked what Ottawa would do if Acuna was unavailable or marked out of a game. This performance only puts that question more into focus. Mista’s left side offered zero in attack without Neufville, and the coach abandoned the idea of Kourouma as a wing back after approximately 10 minutes. Ottawa are obviously willing to switch formations, even mid match, but perhaps it makes the most sense for a new club to focus on one system.
Despite being the better side, they did concede a couple dangerous chances, most notably when Ottawa played an accurate, straight ball over Valour’s somewhat high line. Gale is flirting with a high line/high press system with some man marking in midfield, but if you only commit partially to such a philosophy you are liable to be ripped apart by teams who play direct.