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Canadian Premier League profiles: Atlético Ottawa

Ottawa – the federal capital and political hub of Canada. Sure, other parts of the country get more attention and for their own good reasons. The breathtaking scenery in the west with the Rocky Mountains; the impressive falls of Lake Niagara; the cultural epicentre that is Toronto and others besides. However, if you want quintessential Canada, then look no further than Ottawa.

The Ottawa Valley is the traditional territory for the indigenous Algonquin people and their word for trade is where the river and in turn the city gets its name. As such, Ottawa represents everything that Canada is. From its indigenous roots to the modern day bilingual culture, you can find it in the nation’s capital. 

In the spirit of modern day culture, Ottawa has joined the ranks of the Canadian Premier League. In 2019, seven clubs from across this vast land competed for the first ever CPL Trophy. The league was a resounding success and offers much promise for the future. Forge FC of Hamilton, Ontario were crowned inaugural champions after beating Cavalry FC of Calgary, Alberta in the season swan song.

With the second season now approaching, the league is growing and that starts with another Ontario addition – Ottawa. Apart from anything else, having an even number of teams makes mathematical sense and eases the logistics of scheduling a season but also having your capital city represented in your nation’s Premier League of football/soccer is important. This was surely a massive motivation by the CPL in the planning and locating of an eighth club.  Think the English Premier League without Arsenal or Chelsea; Serie A without Roma or Lazio; La Liga without Real Madrid or Atlético Madrid…..

Speaking of which, Madrid comes into play here in a big way. Yes, Ottawa has been granted entrance into the CPL and out of the ashes of former club Ottawa Fury has been born a team with great promise, but this hasn’t come about purely through Canadian means. Atlético Madrid, former LaLiga champions and internationally recognised football heavyweights, have thrown their weight and money behind creating the new club. As a result, 2020 will see the debut of Atlético Ottawa.

We’ve seen this expansion technique before, of course. We all know the magnitude of wealth of the Sheik of Saudi Arabia and the global outreach that the City Football Group have. Their links in Australia with Melbourne City, the USA with New York City, newly acquired Mumbai City in India, and of course their flagship club, Manchester City in England plus more besides all around the world. Atlético have their own family of clubs.

Until recently, Los Colchoneros co-owned Atlético Kolkata FC of India and continue to co-own Atlético San Luis of Mexico and now Atlético Ottawa of Canada. This now brings real exposure to the fledgling league of Canada. It has already had its own success and shown that the country can not only sustain such a league but the citizens of each city will embrace their local team with passion and pride.

But make no mistake about it, Major League Soccer is still the eye candy at the moment. MLS is established and reaches right across the United States and Canada – north, south, east and west of the North American continent there are franchises including their own debuting team, Inter Miami, owned by none other than international megastar David Beckham. In the coming years, though, as the seasons roll by and with the recognition of such names as “Atlético”, the Canadian Premier League has the potential to reach similar heights.

Along with the name come other instantly recognisable features. Most notably are of course the colours. The club badge is stylistically similar, but instead of a bear climbing a tree, Ottawa will display the locally and nationally significant Peace Tower of the parliamentary buildings in the city, and of course there’s a maple leaf at bottom.

Peace Tower, part of the Canadian Parliament Buildings that features on the crest of Atlético Ottawa [image: Atlético Ottawa/Freestyle Photography]

Atlético Madrid are historically linked to their vertical red and white stripes. They’re as synonymous to them as black and white stripes are to Juventus. Ottawa will also don this attire. It doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to picture them in red and white however. Not just because of their parent club but you only have to look as far as the Canadian national flag. Their own bright red vertical stripes and maple leaf emblazoned on a white background is a symbol of the country that Canadians practically have tattooed on their hearts, so what better team to wear the colours than the capital’s?

All of Canada’s international sports teams play in red, and as such national pride in Ottawa is plain to see. As for the equal white stripes, Atlético Ottawa simply refer to it as “Blanc”, perhaps with a Gallic shrug. Their bilingual culture is the symmetry of the equal representation of red and white, or ‘rouge et blanc’ if you will. Their website itself labels it best – “It’s harmony in duality with the goal of creating unity among the local soccer community.”

There is a third colour involved which is present in both the badge of Ottawa and Madrid – Rideau Blue, as the Canadian team call it. The Rideau Canal runs through the city of Ottawa and as well as being considered a feat of engineering, using as it does two rivers (Rideau and Cataraqui) and a series of locks to connect Ottawa to the Great Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River, it is also everything anyone would want from a Canadian waterway. From a regular and scenic boater’s paradise in the summer months to a frozen skating rink in the winter, claimed to be the world’s longest.

Speaking of the Rideau, where better to have your stadium but right alongside it? TD Place is the home of Atlético Ottawa. The former Lansdowne Park already hosts the Canadian Football League side Ottawa Redblacks and has previously showcased soccer with Ottawa Fury until their dissolution in 2019. Sport has been played there for 150 years in some form or another and over a few incarnations of the facilities from playing fields in 1870 to the impressive 24,000 capacity stadium it is today.

TD Place, home of CFL side Ottawa Redblacks and now Atlético Ottawa [Image: Atlético Ottawa/Freestyle Photography]

Owner of the Redblacks, as well as hockey team Ottawa 67s, Jeff Hunt is acutely familiar with the stadium as one of the principal investors and designers. He oversees his CFL side play here – quite literally as his condo looks right out onto the field – and now as Strategic Partner of Atlético Ottawa he can watch them too.

Heart of Football spoke with Jeff and he revealed that the stadium is often sold out when the Redblacks are at home. The hope is, of course, that once the soccer side of things gets really swinging that the attendances will be somewhere in the same area. With average gate numbers of around 5,000 during the CPL’s inaugural season across the seven founding member clubs, there is some way to go but it’s clear that Ottawa and in particular TD Place has a strong audience ready to be entertained. And entertained they will be: fans there can not only watch great, competitive sports but also eat and drink like royalty. So grab a pint of Canadian beer and some poutine, and enjoy some Spanish-infused football.

It isn’t just the owners and the name which give Ottawa the Spanish flavour. Along with the healthy roster of Canadian players, there have been a couple of additions from the parent-land. But the main addition is the head coach. Miguel Ángel Ferrer Martínez, or Mista to the majority of football fans, is no stranger to Madrid having come through the ranks at Real and playing for their C and then B teams before later playing for Atlético. The former striker is, however, probably best know for his five year stint at Valencia scoring 40 goals in 144 appearances having been bought in 2001 following a successful two seasons in Tenerife which saw them promoted to La Liga.

He finished his playing career at Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, which is perhaps where he found an attraction to Canada and Ontario in particular. This is his first venture into management but he certainly brings with him a wealth of playing experience including a handful of international appearances through every level of Spain’s national team from the under-17s, under-18s, under-21s and the full senior side.

He also has another string to his bow which will surely prove fruitful; he is somewhat of a protégé of one Rafael Benítez who has been with him for much his career. From managing him at Real Madrid Castilla, he then signed Mista for Tenerife and Valencia. Ottawa fans must, quite rightly so, be looking forward to their teams potential over the coming seasons with such an impressive coach at the helm.

It almost goes without saying that the publicity and finances, not to mention the internationally recognised name, brings with it immense pressure to succeed. Some will say that a team associated so closely with Atlético Madrid should hit the ground running and take the league by storm. Hunt is sure, however, that there is a certain amount of realism in both club and fans. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say. He is confident this project will be a success though and who is to argue? They have the resources both in terms of finance and personnel.

How far can that success reach? Hunt suggested that perhaps in the future, when Canada has decades of league history under its belt, we might see a Canadian player ply his trade in LaLiga at the highest level. It’s practically unheard of now but Canada has sporting and athletic talent, of that there is no mistake. Look no further than Wayne Gretzky, generally recognised as the greatest ice hockey player of all time, not to mention a plethora of Olympians from summer and winter games.

There is no reason why there might not be a superstar footballer, a ‘wonderkid’, just waiting to be discovered. Mr Hunt is certainly optimistic about the starlets at Ottawa. That would surely constitute a successful venture in both Ottawa and Madrid. 

And so, the second season is eagerly anticipated. There may be more additions in the future, perhaps from the provinces of Saskatchewan or Quebec – there is of course a huge French connection in Canada, and who is to say that a Spanish giant bringing themselves to a franchise in the country doesn’t spur interest from a high profile contingent from France to do the same?

That being said, the Canadian Premier League now has a sense of completion with the inclusion of Ottawa joining the widespread rank of clubs ranging from the Pacific in Vancouver, British Columbia on the west coast to the classic rival cities of Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, Valour of Winnipeg, Manitoba and the busy hub of Ontario – already home to York9 of Toronto and Forge of Hamilton – to Halifax, Nova Scotia on the east coast. The CPL is betting bigger, it is getting better and will continue to grow into a footballing force for years to come. 

The credit for the featured image on this article belongs to Atlético Ottawa/Freestyle Photography.

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