Both teams lined up in similar 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 shapes which helped lead to a subdued opening, as each side was content to sit in their shape and let the other team have the ball in their own half. One route for FC Edmonton was clipped balls into their target man, Tobias Warschewski, while Atletico Ottawa were able to build down their left with winger Rafael Nunez drifting centrally to provide an outlet.
Thomas Gardner lined up as a second striker for Edmonton, however as the match began to settle he began to drop deeper into midfield when his team had the ball. This allowed the Alberta side to to creep their defensive line forward when in possession, and allowed them options to combine due to their numerical advantage in the middle of the park rather than having to rely on balls into Warschewski.
Meanwhile, Ottawa chose to overload the middle by having their wingers take up central positions. However, it was only when their central players chose to be brave or creative with the ball that they began to create chances. In the early part of the match Ottawa’s central mids and backs consistently chose to slow the game down and play regressive passes. On the one rare occasion where Drew Beckie stepped forward to slip a ball into the central Nunez, the on loan Spaniard turned cleverly and forced Ramon Soria into a yellow card. Soon after, Ben McKendry’s diagonal line splitter found Ryan Telfer in a central position and the Trinbagonian international just missed wide from outside the box.
A problem for the capital city side was that Chris Mannella, playing as an attacking midfielder, failed to offer anything offensively for his side. He was unable to find pockets of space in between the lines to combine with his wingers, or to drive in beyond Malcolm Shaw. On the rare occasion he did have the ball he played safe, backward passes. Forward destroyers can be extremely useful in an era where most teams have deep lying play makers, but it is difficult to be helpful to your side if you play in that zone of the pitch and aren’t an offensive threat.
Ottawa dominated possession and space more so in the second half, and increasingly Edmonton’s pattern in transition was hit Gardner into feet centrally, draw the opposition full backs inside, release ball into wingers and cross the ball into the striker. This pattern was attempted multiple times to zero effect in the first 15 minutes of the second frame. Alan Koch then made two substitutions to bring on Roberto Avila and Easton Ongaro and the two new men immediately executed the pattern only to be denied by a brilliant save from Dylon Powley.
In the first half a transition game didn’t really exist as both teams were conservative and played with deep defensive lines. In the second half Mista’s men began pushing their lines higher when in possession which gave the Eddies a natural way to counter when they won the ball.
Ottawa’s winner ended up coming after a brave forward run from young centre back Keesean Ferdinand found Nunez before the ball found it’s way into the box. Once again, a progressive decision from a deep, central area allowed Ottawa’s creative players to find time and space in Edmonton’s final third.
If Ongaro and Warschewski are going to lead the line, they will need service from wide areas. If Edmonton are to get the ball into wide areas, they will need a supplier. Gardner lined up as a forward, but he often dropped into central areas to get on the ball. Perhaps he’s not the biggest goal threat, but he can create overloads and orchestrate, especially in transition.
What is his role in this Ottawa side? Usually a deep lying midfielder, he was deployed as an attacking player to minimal effect. Ottawa need an initial supply line from central areas as their wingers appear to be their main chance creators, so perhaps Manella will drop into a defensive midfield role going forward to be that deeper creator.
What is Alan Koch going to do with the wide areas? He started the match with two full backs playing as wingers on their natural sides, and though they were able to get into decent areas their end product was sorely lacking. Perhaps Koch was just being conservative in the opening match, but with the profile of striker they have on the books they need their wide men to provide quality deliveries.
How are Ottawa going to get the ball from deep areas to their creative attacking players? On a couple occasions a centre back stepping forward created a positive outcome, while on one occasion a line splitting pass from a central midfielder gave Telfer a chance to drive forward. If their deep, central players can’t consistently get the ball forward, then maybe whoever plays as the number 10 can take a page from Gardner’s book and drop deep. Mista seems to have the attackers, he just has to get them the ball in good positions.