Atletico Ottawa players do what they can in isolation as CPL postpones season

The Canadian Press

It's been a transatlantic whirlwind for Canadian international winger Ben Fisk since becoming the first player to sign with expansion Atletico Ottawa on March 4.

The Canadian Premier League club's pre-season camp in Spain, at the well-appointed training centre of parent club Atletico Madrid, lasted only a few days thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak. The virus has hit Spain hard and the CPL instituted a 14-day hold on training soon after Fisk and his team crossed the Atlantic.

With Canadians urged to come home, the club returned after a handful of training sessions.

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"It was still incredible just to have those few days and feel a part of Atletico Madrid. We were treated very, very well," said Fisk.

Now Fisk and his teammates are in self-isolation in Ottawa.

"I have plenty of time on my hands," he said with a chuckle.

Even more given Friday's announcement that the eight-team CPL has postponed the scheduled April 11 start of its second season. The league has not announced a target kickoff date, saying only the season will start "when it is declared safe by the relevant health and government agencies, including our governing body Canada Soccer."

The CPL regular season had been slated to wrap up Oct. 4 with each team playing 28 games.

Like most, Fisk had anticipated the postponement. MLS and the USL Championship, the second-tier league in the U.S., had already announced further delays to their season.

"First and foremost, the most important thing is the health and safety of everyone," he said. "I think as athletes we have a unique opportunity to be role models for the community. Even just the fact that all the teams in the league right now are following the required protocols and showing that we're all in this together, I think, is really important.

"And then obviously with the start of the season, I'm confident nothing will be started ... unless it's safe for everyone."

No binge-watching for Fisk in the meantime. The 27-year-old from Vancouver has been making phone calls to fans who have put down deposits on season tickets, working on online university courses and doing what he can to stay fit.

The players have been given home workouts by the team trainer.

"You do what you can inside your own home but we'd all like to be kicking a ball right now obviously," said Fisk, who is not feeling any symptoms of the virus.

Atletico was originally scheduled to return to Ottawa on April 7 to continue preparations for its league debut April 18 against reigning champion Forge FC in Hamilton. Ottawa's home opener was to be May 16 against HFX Wanderers FC at TD Place Stadium.

Instead, the team landed back in Canada on Monday. Fisk said while they were looked after in Spain and the training complex was first-class, the players are relieved to be back home.

"Things in Spain are a lot worse than they are here. The country's been on lockdown pretty good and we were more or less just quarantined in our hotel there (outside of Madrid) ... Things certainly progressed pretty quickly while we were there."

Fisk got home to an apartment stocked with groceries and other supplies, thanks to the club.

A plus for Fisk's roommate is he's "quite good" in the kitchen.

"I really enjoy cooking. Unfortunately I didn't have my set of knives with me. They're still in Victoria," he said.

While Atletico Ottawa has just seven players signed officially, the roster is larger than that. Fisk's two flatmates, for example, have yet to be unveiled.

"That's above my pay grade to answer," he said diplomatically when asked how many players the team had in camp. "I guess I can say there were definitely more than seven with us."

Fisk spent last season on Vancouver Island with Pacific FC, scoring six goals and adding five assists in 24 CPL games (including 19 starts).

After spending time with the Vancouver Whitecaps under-23 side, Fisk went to Spain to play for Coruxo FC and then Deportivo La Coruna. Fisk joined FC Edmonton in 2016, moving to Ireland in 2018 to play for Derry City FC before joining Pacific FC for the inaugural CPL season.

He won two caps for Canada in 2017, starting against Bermuda and coming in off the bench against Scotland.

 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

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