Regular season title in the bank, Atletico begin quest for playoff title

« We refocused. I didn’t feel like the title was going to our heads. It’s a sign of a great team. »

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Atletico Ottawa captain Drew Beckie is delighted with what the club has already achieved in winning the Canadian Premier League regular season title.

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He is even more impressed with the maturity the players have shown as they prepare for the opener of their two-game semi-final showdown with Pacific FC, which kicks off Saturday night in Langley, B.C. .

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« There’s been such a great response to how we won the league, » Beckie said. “We have refocused. I didn’t feel like the title was going to our heads. It’s the sign of a great team.

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In an incredibly close race to the end, Atletico secured top spot with a record of 13 wins, five losses and 10 draws, including a 2-2 draw against York United FC on Sunday.

Their total of 49 points put them ahead of Hamilton’s Forge FC and Calgary’s Cavalry FC by just two points. Pacific was just another point behind that, finishing with a record of 13 wins, seven draws and eight losses.

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Margins are minimal. Atletico outscored their opponents 36-29, while Pacific held a 36-33 advantage.

Fittingly, the CPL announced on Thursday that Atletico goalkeepers Nathan Ingham and Pacific’s Callum Irving were among the three finalists for the Golden Glove award. Marco Carducci of the Cavalry is also up for the honor of recognizing the league’s top goaltender.

While Beckie is proud to have won the league title – « We were the best team in 28 games and it’s great that the league finally recognizes it (with a trophy) » – the playoffs bring another type of challenge.

The semi-finals are a two-legged format. After Pacific hosts the opener, the clubs will meet again on Sunday, October 23 at TD Place, with the winner determined by total goals scored.

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Should Atletico move past the Pacific, they would stage a one-game CPL final against the Forge-Cavalry winner the following weekend.

In the four regular season games, Pacific have won two and Atletico one, with the last encounter – September 11 at Langley – ending in a 1-1 draw.

The way Beckie sees it, there are no secrets.

« Right now it’s on the details, » he said. “We know how they play. They know how we play. We have to keep them out of dangerous areas. If we keep the ball out of the box, we are confident in the way we play.

Ollie Bassett, who led Atletico with eight goals – tied for sixth in the CPL – expects the games to be close.

« You basically have 180 minutes, not 90 minutes, and it’s definitely different from a one-off, » he said. “It’s a bit more tactical, with a focus on the finer details. Nobody wants to be wrong. It’s going to be tight, careful.

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There’s additional motivation for Bassett, too. He was with Pacific a year ago, but lost playing time over the season and was not re-signed.

It has since become a fan favorite in Ottawa, with the Capital City Supporters Group creating a giant letter « OLLIEWOOD » structure at the east end of TD Place during games.

« It’s pretty cool, » he said, praising the fans for their support throughout the season. « When I first saw it, I didn’t expect it. It’s a nice little feeling.

Bassett has already played four times against his former team and does not want to do too much.

« I try to take it as another team to overtake, but I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t be great to beat my old team and reach the final this way. »

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For Beckie, it’s a second chance to make the playoffs as a professional in Ottawa. In 2015, he was with the Ottawa Fury of the North American Soccer League.

Ottawa and Edmonton were the only Canadian teams and the Fury advanced to the final before losing to the New York Cosmos.

Beckie is excited about the growth of Atletico here and the Canadian Premier League in general.

« I’m in a different place in 2015, in a different part of my career, » he said.

“At the time I was discerning about how I could contribute, but now I’m older and have more experience. I’m excited for the young players. Our league did not exist. It’s better for the future, for the next generation.

Whatever happens over the next few weeks, Beckie is confident that a structure is in place for Atletico to enjoy long-term success.

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« With the Fury, there were bridges that never really connected, » he said. « We have the (Capital City Supporters Group), who have spent a lot of time and energy and their own money supporting us, to really help create this sequel. »

Beckie wants to score even more for the city, which would come with a victory over the Pacific.

« Having a home final would be monumental, another trophy to fight for, » he said. « There haven’t been many trophies for sports teams in this city lately. »

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