Atlético Ottawa and Pacific FC battled fiercely to a 1-1 draw at TD Place on Wednesday evening, as a first-half Steffen Yeates goal for Pacific was ultimately cancelled out by Maxim Tissot’s outstanding second-half free kick, as both sides took another small step forward in their bids to qualify for the playoffs.
Looking to rebound from Friday’s frustrating draw at home, Pacific boss James Merriman opted to make just two changes to his team, bringing Kekuta Manneh into the attack and inserting Sean Young in midfield in place of the suspended Cédric Toussaint. The hosts Ottawa, meanwhile, made more significant changes, with both Samuel Salter and Malcolm Shaw returning up front while Noah Verhoeven slotted into midfield and Jean-Aniel Assi and Luke Singh joined the back five.
As is often the case in matchups between these two sides, Pacific had a heavy possession advantage against an Atleti side forcing them to try and break down their block. It took Pacific a while, with not a lot of grade-A scoring opportunities presenting themselves in the first 20 minutes thanks to Ottawa’s well-organized defensive shape, but eventually the Tridents did find a way through.
Just before the half-hour mark, Manneh slipped a dangerous ball from the right half-space to Yeates, who tapped it past Karl Ouimette and ran onto it himself, smashing a shot directly over the head of Ottawa ‘keeper Nathan Ingham and below the crossbar to make it 1-0 for the visitors.
The match started to open up much more once Ottawa were trailing, and the final 15 minutes of the first half saw the hosts create four shots — two on target — with much more of the ball, as both sides began to play more direct and try to get the ball downfield quickly. Atleti did have a few good opportunities, including one that fell dangerously at the feet of Maxim Tissot, but they were nonetheless forced to go into halftime trailing.
Seeking to address some gaps in midfield, Ottawa manager Carlos González made one change at the break, adding Ilias Iliadis in place of Verhoeven in the middle.
The tide looked like it might be turning in the home side’s favour just over five minutes into the second frame, as some good early possession led to Tissot driving into the box and Kunle Dada-Luke making contact with him from behind. Referee Scott Bowman awarded the penalty, which Ollie Bassett stepped up to take, looking for his 12th goal of the season — but the attempt was saved by an excellent dive from Emil Gazdov, who also managed to corral the rebound and keep it 1-0.
Chaos did ensue in the next few minutes as well, with Ottawa continuing to attack in search of their equalizer. They had one chance on the counter-attack that trickled toward the goal line, only for Sean Young to slide in and tap it away from goal. Moments later, an Atleti corner kick sailed over traffic and was also destined for the net, but Ayman Sellouf was on hand at the back post to head it away off the line and again deny Ottawa on the doorstep.
Finally, 15 minutes into the second half, the hosts were rewarded for their efforts. They won a free kick about 25 yards out, and the left-footed Tissot stroked it perfectly over the wall and into the top right corner with emphasis to level the score at one apiece.
Pacific manager James Merriman made four changes midway through the second half, two on either side of the Ottawa equalizer — he brought Georges Mukumbilwa and former Ottawa midfielder Zakaria Bahous on in the 64th minute, followed later by Djenairo Daniels and David Brazão to try and inject more life into his attack.
Shortly after the latter changes, one of Pacific’s starters nearly put them back in front — Sellouf curled what looked like a perfectly-placed shot toward the top right corner, but Nathan Ingham stretched out and just got his fingertips on it to deflect it off the crossbar, making what could well go down as the best save of the season.
Pacific were by far the aggressors in the last 10 minutes or so of the game, with Manneh in particular buzzing around Ottawa’s penalty area, but ultimately the hosts did very well to keep them out of the high-danger areas — and nearly scored with a counter-attack of their own with the game’s very last action — and the match wrapped up in a draw.
With a point each, neither side gained much ground in the league table. Pacific moved back into sole possession of second place with a one-point edge over Forge, while Ottawa leapfrogged Halifax Wanderers back into fourth, level on 33 points but with one more win.