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Aparicio and revamped Atletico Ottawa looking to top Canadian Premier League table

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On his third stop in the Canadian Premier League, Manny Aparicio is closer to home and, hopefully, another title.

The 28-year-old midfielder, born in Buenos Aires and raised in Toronto, joined Atletico Ottawa in the off-season from Pacific FC _ part of a strong Ottawa recruiting class.

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“We have a lot of positions where no one can really feel relax and take their starting spot for granted, which is good to see,” said Aparicio.

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“It’s gelling well together,” he added. “I don’t really see any egos or anyone thinking they’re better than anyone else, which is beautiful to see because in sports unfortunately it happens a lot. So it’s been good to get to know each another and see what guys are like.”

Atletico Ottawa marks its 100th game in all competitions on Saturday when it hosts Cavalry FC at TD Place Stadium.

Week 2 of the CPL kicked off Thursday with second-year Vancouver FC improving to 2-0-0 with a 2-0 win over visiting Halifax Wanderers FC (0-2-0).

Valour FC played at Pacific on Friday while Sunday sees York United host Forge FC.

Atletico Ottawa, which entered the league in 2020, topped the regular-season standings in 2022 at 13-5-10 only to lose the championship game 2-0 to Forge FC. The team brought in Aparicio and other reinforcements after finishing sixth at 10-12-6 last season, missing the playoffs by two points.

Ottawa has also signed 2023 goalkeeper of the year nominee Rayane Yesli (Valour FC), defenders Amer Didic (Pacific), Jonathan Grant (Forge) and reigning CPL U-21 Canadian Player of the Year Matteo de Brienne (Valour), midfielders Aboubacar Sissoko (Forge FC) and Liberman Torres(on loan from Spain’sVillarreal B) and wingers Kevin Dos Santos (York), Kris Twardek (Bohemians, Ireland) and Ballou Tabla (Manisa FK, Turkey).

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Only five returning players figured in Ottawa’s starting lineup in the season-opening 2-1 comeback win over visiting York: star attacker Ollie Bassett, veteran goalkeeper Nate Ingham, defender Luke Singh (on loan from Toronto FC for the second straight year), 38-year-old Spanish midfielder Alberto Zapater and forward Samuel Salter.

Ottawa quality’s shone through against York, although it took some time.

Aparicio led the way, scoring in the 63rd minute to tie it at 1-1 before setting up Twardek for the 79th-minute winner.

“It’s going to take some time for us to click together,” said Aparicio. “It was good to see the team pull through and find some grit and fight … It was a good comeback.”

Aparicio came up through the Toronto FC academy, joining in October 2010 after spending time with Unionville Milliken Soccer Club and North York Soccer Club.

He was 17 when he signed a homegrown player contract with TFC in August 2013, becoming the eighth player to join the first team from the academy. He played for TFC II and spent time on loan to the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads.

Aparicio left TFC after the 2015 season and eventually signed with York before the CPL’s inaugural 2019 season after several years in Spain’s lower divisions with SDC “rdenes, CD Izarra and CD San Roque de Lepe.

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After two years with York, a team he captained, he spent three seasons with Pacific including the 2021 championship campaign. In 2023, he was named to the CPL Best Eleven and was a player of the year nominee.

A Canadian youth international, he was 19 when he made his lone appearance for Canada’s senior team, coming off the bench in a 1-0 loss to Colombia in an October 2014 friendly.

Aparicio got married in December. With wife Laura originally from St. Catharines, Ont., the move to Ottawa has brought both closer to family.

“Ottawa was a good fit for that. And then on top of that when you’re in talks and you start hearing the project they’re trying to build, the players they’re trying to bring in … it sounded like the place to be right now,” he said. “And having the backing of (owner) Atletico Madrid.”

Ottawa spent part of the pre-season in Mexico, training at the facilities of Atletico de San Luis, another member of the Atletico Madrid family.

Aparicio looks around the CPL and wonders what might have been if the league was around during the earlier part of his career.

“It was just so limited the options we had,” he said.

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He notes he got to play in Spain largely because he was able to get an Italian passport due to his grandmother’s bloodlines.

“I have some teammates (now) who are 18, 19 years old and they have so many options to play for teams and grow and get minutes as well,” he said. “From 17 to 21 years old, I only played when I was on loan or I was with TFC 2, I wasn’t really laying first-team minutes, which for me is the biggest thing at that age.”

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 19, 2024

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