AGR's High Press: Analyzing Ollie Bassett's new role in Atlético Ottawa attack
It was another exciting weekend of CPL action, culminating with another change at the top.
From some crucial clashes, a surprise upset and a few bangers, this weekend was once again filled with action, as the race towards the playoffs continues to heat up.
Thanks to that, the gap between first and fourth is now just two points, while six points is all that separates first and sixth.
Safe to say, heading into a weekend where first plays second and third plays fourth, that could make for another chaotic matchday, one where another new leader could emerge.
Now, the question is - who might that be? All eyes will be on Cavalry vs. Pacific and Atlético Ottawa vs. Forge as they look to answer that question.
Before previewing too much of next week, however, here’s a look back at the week that was in the latest edition of High Press.
Analyzing Ollie Bassett’s new role in Ottawa's attack:
Sometimes, finding success isn’t the hardest thing to do in professional sports - different players go on hot streaks all of the time.
Maintaining success, however? That’s the real challenge. It’s one thing to go on a hot streak, but to then keep it up while opponents adjust and hone in on trying to stop you? That’s not easy.
Yet, that’s what distinguishes the top players from the rest of the pack.
And right now, Ollie Bassett is showing that for Ottawa this season. The defending Player of the Year and Player’s Player of the Year, many were wondering how he’d follow up a dream 2022 campaign, one where he helped Ottawa go from a last-place outfit to a title-contending team.
Turns out, the answer would be for him to somehow hit another level. After nabbing eight goals and two assists in 2022 regular season play (along with an assist in three playoff games), he’s completely obliterated those numbers this year. Despite still having eight games to play in regular season action, he’s now up to 10 goals and three assists after scoring a brace in a key 3-1 Atlético Ottawa road win over Valour this past weekend.
As a result, not only is he once again in the mix to repeat as POTY and PPOTY, but he’s also tied for the Golden Boot lead, and now has Ottawa back in the hunt to defend their regular season crown.
Safe to say, it’s the exact sort of response one would’ve wanted to see after the campaign that he had last year, as he’s proved that wasn’t a fluke.
Speaking of last season, however, that’s made for an intriguing talking point as Bassett’s heated up as of late - what has changed for him since last year? No doubt he’s thriving this year, but what’s fuelling that surge?
To begin, there are a few factors.
First, there’s the reality that this is Bassett’s team now. Not to say that it wasn’t last year, but it’s worth noting that Bassett wasn’t the only one stirring the drink up front for Ottawa. In fact, across the regular season and playoffs, he actually co-led the team in goal contributions, as Ballou Tabla had 11 such involvements.
Along with the presence of Brian Wright, who had nine goal contributions, there were a few key figures up front for Ottawa.
Now, however, Bassett’s really become the main option up front. In fact, other than him and his 13 goal contributions, the two next-best players have more than half of that - Carl Haworth and Sam Salter currently sit with six.
That formula is working for Ottawa, however - after 36 goals in 28 regular season games last year, they’re already up to 32 in 20 so far this year, further showing the importance of Bassett’s growth for the rest of the lineup.
GOAL🏠🏠🏠— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 19, 2023
You know the saying, "#CANPL BANGERS ONLY"!🔥@OllieBassett28 bangs home a free kick to tie the lead league, as well as get the brace! @atletiOttawa lead 0-3 over @ValourFootball in #CanPL action🍁⚽️#ForValour | #ForOttawa
TUNE IN | 🔴https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/An0FYrpCcq
With Tabla and Wright departing, there was some worry that those losses would leave a dent up front for Ottawa, but instead, it’s clear to see that Bassett’s stepped up to fill those shoes. Along with the fact that Ottawa’s overall offence has been better, with more names stepping up, that has helped them overcome those absences.
On the point of Bassett stepping up, however, that then leads to the second point on what has changed for him this year - he’s occupying different spaces in Ottawa’s attacks, where he’s almost played as a second striker at times, after playing as more of a #10 last year.
That point is clear when looking at his stats.
Not only has he improved his attacking output significantly, jumping from 0.26 goals and 0.1 assists per 90 minutes last year to 0.51 goals and 0.15 assists per 90 minutes this year, but he’s also getting into more dangerous areas, as his Expected Goals (xG) per 90 is up from 0.14 to 0.29, while his Expected Assists (xA) is up slightly from 0.06 to 0.07.
Led largely by the fact that he’s averaging over double the touches in the box from last year, currently at 1.94 after putting up 0.91 last year, as well as the fact that he’s almost doubled his shots from 1.34 to 2.35, it’s clear that he’s getting into more dangerous areas.
Therefore, while he is actually creating at a better rate than last year, sitting with the same key pass numbers but with a better assist, xA and big chance generation rate, the big improvement has been his goalscoring.
In particular, he’s become a true threat from non-penalty situations, already up to seven such goals - last year he had just five.
GOAL🏠🏠— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 19, 2023
Olliewood comes to Winnipeg!🔥@OllieBassett28 sneaks one through Yesli to give @atletiOttawa a 0-2 lead over @ValourFootball in #CanPL action🍁⚽️#ForValour | #ForOttawa
TUNE IN | 🔴https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/NxU15cBGWH
Yet, that’s been exactly what Ottawa has needed, especially after the departures of Wright and Tabla, who each had seven goals. Sam Salter was a solid replacement option, and has chipped in nicely with five goals, but Bassett’s contributions have ensured that Tabla and Wright’s contributions haven’t been too badly missed.
And now, Ottawa is reaping the rewards of that. Currently sitting one point off first, they’re flying at the moment, having claimed 23 of their last 33 available points across the last 11 games.
Because of that, dreams of lifting more silverware have returned to the capital after a slow start, which also has Bassett back in the mix to pick up some more hardware of his own, too.
Certainly, if he keeps this up, it’ll be hard to bet against him at this point.
Shamit Shome bringing balance to Cavalry’s midfield:
Another team that is cruising right now? New leaders, Cavalry, who have now won seven of their last 10 games after a big win over York this past weekend.
After a slow start, they’ve been on fire as of late, doing well to climb right up the table with their efforts.
Plus, they’re doing so off the back of some key contributions across the lineup, too - Marco Carducci has settled into another solid campaign in goal, Daan Klomp is having a Defender of the Year calibre season at centre back, while Ali Musse and Myer Bevan have been huge up front. You add in the recent contributions of William Akio (four goals since arriving this summer), as well as Eryk Kobza, Bradley Kamdem and Sergio Camargo, and there are a lot of pieces to like at Cavalry right now.
Yet, while they’ve all played a big part in this recent surge, there’s been another name who has quietly been playing a quiet role in recent weeks - Shamit Shome.
Finally healthy after dealing with a knee injury, he’s slowly eased himself back into the lineup as of late, featuring in seven of the last eight games. Not only that, but he’s really become a key general for Tommy Wheeldon Jr, too, starting and going 90 minutes in his last three matches, a sign of how he’s feeling right now.
But while he’s become a key part of this team, it’s worth noting that he’s doing so in a bit of a different role. After playing as more of a true central midfielder at rivals FC Edmonton over the last two years, he’s occupying a different spot for Cavalry.
Instead of being a true out-and-out midfielder, he’s been playing in a bit of an inverted full back role, one that sees him shift between playing out wide and into the midfield depending on the situation.
Through that, it’s given Cavalry a lot more flexibility out wide, as it’s allowed them to really unleash the likes of Ali Musse, Willy Akio and Fraser Aird down that flank, while adding a bit of stability in possession in midfield.
As a result, it’s allowed them to replace the absence of right back Roberto Alarcón, who often played a similar role at the back, which is a key part of Cavalry’s intricate tactical system, which rotates between a back four off the ball into a back three on it.
That showed against York, as Shome finished with 24 out of 29 passes, had one tackle, three clearances, one interception, six recoveries and won all three of his duels.
Doing well to stay composed in possession on the ball, while frustrating York off it, Shome helped Cavalry put up what was a relatively no-nonsense win, one where they showed great ruthlessness on both sides of the ball.
And credit has to be given to Shome for that. It’s not an unfamiliar role for him - he played wing back at CF Montréal under Thierry Henry, and is comfortable playing centrally, but combining both positions into one could be an adjustment for many.
Yet, that’s why Wheeldon Jr. sought out Shome this offseason, as he loves versatile players who can play roles like that, which is shown in their tactical flexibility.
It’s paying off for them right now, and they’ll look to keep that going as they chase a regular season title, and that elusive North Star Shield.
Should they do that, contributions from players like Shome would be a big reason why, as it feels like this is one of the deepest Cavalry teams yet, and they continue to prove that each week.
A case for a midfield trio with Vancouver:
It’s been a “High Press” for the midfielders (Mid Press?), and that theme continues over in Vancouver, where the Eagles picked up a big 3-2 Salish Sea Derby win over Pacific FC this past weekend.
And a big reason for that success? A tweak from head coach Afshin Ghotbi, who switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 for this game.
Led by a midfield trio of Renan Garcia, Elliot Simmons and Vasco Fry, it was a key adjustment for Vancouver, who wanted to match up against Pacific’s three of Cédric Toussaint, Manny Aparicio and Sean Young.
And it ended up working masterfully for Vancouver, as they did well to clog up the middle, making it tough for Pacific to play through. That didn’t deter Pacific from completely playing their game - they won the possession battle handily, but Young and Aparicio had to keep dropping deep to get on the ball, instead of being able to play between lines as they prefer to do.
Thanks to the defensive work rate of Fry and Simmons as #8s, they did very well to match up to their counterparts off the ball, and it showed, with both of Pacific’s goals only coming due to breakdowns in wide areas, one in transition and one off the second phase of a set-piece.
Then, on the other side of the ball, Fry thrived, in particular, doing well to set the tempo in possession. Through that, Vancouver actually ended up having some great spells of possession, including a lengthy move that preceded their opening goal, in which they managed to retain the ball for over a minute.
It was remarkable to see, especially given that they were up against a team of Pacific’s calibre, yet that shows how much this team has grown, as they would’ve struggled to put together a move like that months ago.
And their continued improvement in midfield remains a big part of that. An area where they’ve struggled to find consistency all year long, trying out all sorts of players there, that’s changed over the last few games, and Fry and Garcia’s arrivals have helped immensely.
Now, it’s allowing other players to play in more of their natural positions, and even that is having a positive effect, as Vancouver has been having more balanced and complete performances.
You add in that Kadin Chung made his long-awaited return to the bench after an earlier injury, and should be able to slot in at his usual right back position after filling in midfield to start the year, and that effect will only continue to be felt going forward, too.
Therefore, while Vancouver are very unlikely to make the playoffs at this stage, they’re doing well to set the table for next year, and performances like this Pacific one will only help them do that.
Player of the Week: Ollie Bassett
In a good battle between Bassett, Gabriel Bitar and Daan Klomp, Bassett just edges it for this week, as his brace proved to be huge for Ottawa.
In excellent form right now, he’s showing up in big moments for his side, and it’s allowed them to push up the table at the perfect time.
Goal of the Week: Marcello Polisi
It didn’t come in the circumstances under which he would’ve liked it to, but what a way for Marcello Polisi to score his first professional goal this past weekend, as he scored an absolute rocket of a golazo in Valour’s loss to Ottawa.
Despite finding himself closer to the centre circle than the opposing goal, he decided to have a crack, and it ended up paying off for him, in spectacular fashion.
You do have to feel bad for Forge’s Beni Badibanga, though - most weeks his free-kick effort would have easily won, but that’s how good Polisi’s goal was.
GOAL🎖️— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 19, 2023
Another #CanPL goal, another BANGER!🔥
Marcello Polisi with a worldie from distance to bring @ValourFootball within 2 goals of @atletiOttawa🍁⚽️#ForValour | #ForOttawa
TUNE IN | 🔴https://t.co/7JFAUhgRAE pic.twitter.com/zvUPrQDwBI
You Gotta See This: Béni Badibanga’s banger
It’d feel wrong to go without highlighting this one.
What a first goal for Badibanga with Forge, as he rescued a key point off Halifax with this dipping free-kick, denying the Wanderers of a win that could’ve completely shaken up the top-five race.
For a Forge team in mixed form at the moment, they’ll be hoping for more of that from their newest signing going forward.
What I’m watching this week: Atlético Ottawa vs. Forge
It’s a weekend of 1v2 and 3v4, in what could easily be some early playoff previews, as Cavalry hosts Pacific and Ottawa hosts Forge.
But while Cavalry versus Pacific will undoubtedly be a huge game, and is one to not miss, it feels like Ottawa and Forge’s clash could be the game to watch of the two.
On one side, given Ottawa’s recent form, and their dominance at home as of late, this is a game they’ll expect to win, which would be massive for their title hopes.
And on the other side, more intriguingly, it could push Forge down into fourth, which is why it’ll be a must-win game from the Hamilton-based outfit, especially if they want to win the regular season title, as their hopes of doing so could be heavily dashed by a loss.
Because of that, they’ll hope it goes similarly to the last time they visited Ottawa, where they nabbed a 1-0 win off the back of some Triston Henry heroics and a timely late David Choinière winner, much to the frustration of Ottawa on the day.