The Gloves Are Off: An Interview With Nathan Ingham
Atletico Ottawa will kick off its first ever playoff run tonight, and a large part of how they got there is due to their man between the sticks, Nathan Ingham.
The 29-year-old goalkeeper has been one of the most consistent performers in the league since the CPL kicked its first ball, and his transition to the nation’s capital this year hasn’t seen him miss a beat: now set for his second foray into playoffs – and Ottawa’s first – the club’s number one sat down with Northern Tribune to talk about this moment and everything that led up to it.
No More Nine Stripes
When Nathan Ingham made the transfer from last year’s playoff-based York United to last-placed Atletico Ottawa, he didn’t feel any pressure – in fact, he felt like he was moving to the better team.
“Maybe it was how they ran things, maybe it was an assumption on my part – but I was completely correct,” Ingham explains of the move. “I knew there was no shadow of a doubt that in my mind with Ottawa this year, I was going to finish higher than fourth.”
The faith between Nathan and the club went both ways, with Fernando Lopez handing the goalkeeper a two-year deal. For him, that kind of gesture makes a significant difference – especially for a player at his age. It helps one settle, helps them sort out a new lease with more confidence, and does a lot of little things in the background that make a big difference mentally.
“Any relationship won’t work unless both both sides are bought in and trust each other and appreciate each other, and that’s clearly what’s going on here,” says the shotstopper.
Ingham was a key signing for Atletico Ottawa’s roster rebuild, but his face was just one of many new ones filtering into the locker room at TD Place. The club sought out a variety of players from all walks, including CPL playoff makers like Nathan Ingham, Ollie Bassett, and Maxim Tissot.
That kind of experience was key, especially as the sixteen new athletes gelled together as they tackled a brand new season. They started off with back-to-back one-nil wins, but didn’t let it get to their heads. After a 6-1 blowout loss, they were unfazed: this was a blip, but they knew the right pieces were in place to improve.
“We never really got too high or too low, we were always working towards smaller goals, always trying to crack things on the field in practice and in games. At no point have we felt like a finished product and we’re still working on ways to get better now – but our philosophy is we’ve been able to nail down what our pillars are, and now the changes we’re making are very minute compared to the early year.”
The goalkeeper believes that the Canadian Premier League’s first expansion side now has a pretty good idea of who it is, and they’ve been able to stay on pace and do what champions do: pick up points, even when things aren’t going your way.
That’s easier said than done, and a big portion of that credit also goes to the new gaffer, too.
The Carlos Gonzalez Effect
Nathan Ingham arrived to the club after he had removed inaugural head coach Mista from the position. The club brought in Carlos Gonzalez, a relatively unknown gaffer (in CPL circles, at least) who would have to acclimate to Canada and take the reigns during a significant roster rebuild. He did so with gusto.
“I really feel the league and the people around it don’t realize how difficult it is to start with a brand new group and a brand new staff. You look at a Premier League side like Nottingham Forest, all the money they’ve spent and how they’re going about things right now: the results aren’t going their away, and they’re not firing their coach because they know how difficult it is to deal with a turnover that big, whereas those other clubs are sacking managers left and right.”
The only thing Atletico Ottawa fired was themselves to the top. Gonzalez trialed a few formations at the start of the year and found what worked best with the squad he had. As the results began to consistently roll in, he adopted more of a fine-tuning approach as they battled upwards. He’s not only adapted to the travel and the styles of play here, but he’s bested many domestic oppositions at their own game, too.
A surefire contender for the league’s coach of the year award, Ingham is adamant that you can’t take away the fact that he took sixteen new players and won the league with them, which he describes as a truly special accomplishment for both the league and the club itself. They want to be in the best position they can be to win championships and make it to the Champions League, and what better way to do that then finishing in first?
Top Of The Class
It’s also easy to overlook at Atletico Ottawa’s regular season win is Ingham’s first silverware of his professional career, even if the trophy is coming in late. It’s been a long time coming for the 29-year-old.
“I think the longer you play, the more you realize how few and far between those moments can be, and winning one can definitely lead to winning others,” he says. It’s a great booster to a player’s CV that gets noticed by club scouts, and he alludes to that having already happened with the club’s successful integration of the likes of Ollie Bassett and Maxim Tissot.
The lack of a physical trophy didn’t stifle the celebrations upon the regular season’s conclusion: the players partied proper on the pitch and you could see that the moment meant something special to each and every one of them.
“I think that’s important, to be honest. We work extremely hard, and as athletes I think it’s important to live in the moment on the field. You know, if you make a mistake, you can’t think about the past. While you’re playing a game, you can’t think about the next game – we’re in the moment every day, whether it’s on the training pitch, in a match, or over a string of matches. So, it makes sense to celebrate the moment and not worry about what’s to come.”
While the celebrations flowed into the locker room that night, Ingham also shines a focus on the professional mentality behind the team: the next morning it was all back to business. The squad arrived to practice, and the players were in the moment: it was a fresh slate with no talk about celebrations, trophies, or first place. It was all eyes on Saturday.
Pacific-Bound For Playoffs
Atletico Ottawa’s first foray into the CPL playoffs takes place after a league switch to two-legged semi-finals, something Ingham isn’t quite sure yet on how he feels – he’s weighed the pros and cons of one and two legs, and right now his only head scratcher is that the higher seed doesn’t host first.
Whatever the format, Atletico Ottawa is walking into Starlight Stadium – a tough locale to play – brimming with confidence.
“We’ve been quite good on the road,” asserts Ingham. “I think we approach this match similar to how we done in the past: we’re not going to change anything, we’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We’re preparing well. We’ll get on their pitch and get ready for the game, so the preparations more or less the same. We’re not scared of anyone home or away, so we’d be going there to get a result, and I think they know that. We’ll approach it the same way we approached our first 14 away games.”
While it’s never easy for a club to play away at Starlight Stadium, Atletico Ottawa marches into the battlefield with a goalkeeper who’s big penalty save there last year helped launch his former side into playoffs. Now, a big performance could help launch his new team into a final.
This week also saw Ingham receive his second-ever Golden Glove nomination following the club’s table-topping regular season campaign. Ingham tied for first in saves while collecting eight clean sheets to boot, coming up big on many occasions to help Atletico Ottawa retain its pole position. Now he’s up for an award for his efforts throughout the history-making campaign.
Not that it matters too much to Nathan: the proof of his labour is out on the field, not something that sits on a shelf.
“The award is extremely important to my career, but it’s not important to me,” he says bluntly. “It’s something I can’t control, right? If you look at my performance last year – and you did, you wrote an article about it – you know it was one of my best seasons, and the numbers back that. I was a really key piece along the Zator and a few other core guys at York that got that team into playoffs. I wasn’t nominated for an award, but that doesn’t change anything about how my season went. Whether I was nominated or received an award or not, it has no effect of what I’ve done on the field. That’s the reality.”
He doesn’t intend to be disrespectful of the award, describing it as a great honour that would help his career – but for him, it’s another aspect that he can’t, or perhaps won’t, take time thinking about. He’s always been a blunt but honest guy: he just wants to do well for his team, and he’s thankful that thus far he’s done a good job throughout the regular season to help them reach playoffs.
“This nomination is extra, it’s nice. I know my Mom and Dad will be super proud, they’ll probably tear up the most out of everyone, but otherwise, no – it’s opinion-based. Everything opinion-based is irrelevant.”
When Ingham earned his first golden glove nomination back in 2019, we asked him if he was pleased. He wasn’t, because he hadn’t won the league and didn’t lead it in clean sheets. He was hungry for more, and that sentiment has only grown as his career has progressed.
“It has nothing to do with awards or anything like that,” he laughs. “It’s just honing my skills and putting myself in a place to make as few mistakes as possible, make as many big saves as possible, because that will ultimately help us win games.”
The keeper and his team are always in the film room reviewing what they can improve upon, and the constant battering of hard work poses an interesting conundrum as he approaches the later stages of his career with a lot of memories behind him.
“You’d love to enjoy all these moments to their fullest and talk about how great things are going, but the second you start doing that you slow down. It’s the reality – the only reason the group of us athletes who have made it ten years or more as a pro is that we constantly need to be better and try to do that every day. Luckily for me, I have that. When my career is over, I’ll be able to look back and decide whether maybe I should have enjoyed these moments more, but for me it’s all about constantly getting better because I haven’t come close to accomplishing what I want as a professional, and I’m getting to a good age to really make my mark and reach some goals that I’ve set years and years ago. I can’t slow down now.”
Into The Breach
Today will see Ingham and the rest of the Atletico Ottawa take to the pitch at Starlight and give it all they’ve got. It’s time to live in the moment and take on the reigning champions.
“From the beginning of the year, everyone was prepared to play 31 CPL matches this year. After 28, we weren’t surprised that we have a couple of more. With the consistency we have, I think we feel pretty good going into playoffs,” he concludes.
Pacific FC hosts Atletico Ottawa at 7:00PM EST tonight. The match is available to subscribers of Fubo, OneSoccer, Telus, the latter of which is also offering a free CPL stream for every playoff match and the final, too.