Atlético Ottawa announced on Friday that 20-year-old defender Tyr Walker has signed his first full professional contract, which will keep him with the club until the 2025 Canadian Premier League season. Ottawa also confirmed that Spanish midfielder Alberto Zapater will be back with the team in 2024, after triggering an appearance clause in his contract.
Walker, a graduate of Ottawa St. Anthony Futuro Soccer Club’s academy, one of 14 Powered by Atlético Ottawa clubs in the area, Walker was identified by Atleti after impressing as part of the Atlético de Madrid Development program in 2022, a program implemented by the club that aims to develop, monitor and nurture local players in the hopes of potentially moving them on to the first team in Canada or elsewhere in Atlético de Madrid’s network worldwide. As part of the development program, a select group of under-23 men’s players from the region form a team that participates in weekly training sessions in the same professional environment as Atlético Ottawa, at TD Place Stadium.
Walker earned an invitation to Atleti’s pre-season camp in Madrid, Spain ahead of the 2023 campaign, where he featured three times, including one start, and scored against UD San Sebastián de los Reyes. He went on to sign a U SPORTS contract with Ottawa in April 2023 and remained with the club through the end of the 2023 regular season.
“Tyr is a special talent and we are proud to sign him to his first professional contract,” said Fernando Lopez, CEO, Atlético Ottawa. “It has been a pleasure to watch him develop from a youth player at a Powered By club, to a part of the Atlético de Madrid Development program, to a U SPORTS player and now, officially, a pro. Tyr’s evolution is exactly why we have built this player development pathway in Ottawa, and we are excited to watch him inspire other local talent over the next two seasons and beyond.”
Walker logged 242 minutes over five appearances in the Canadian Premier League in 2023.
“We’ve seen a lot of improvement in Tyr since he was first identified as a prospect,” said Carlos Gonzalez, Head Coach, Atlético Ottawa. “He has earned this opportunity through consistent hard work and a humble attitude. I expect more success for him as he continues to apply those principles to his game.”
Walker becomes the second player this off-season to extend his stay in Ottawa by two years, after the club announced on Friday that it has re-signed goalkeeper Nate Ingham through 2025.
”I'm very excited to sign for my hometown club. The whole process has been very new to me, so having my parents and agent's support has been a big help.” said Tyr Walker. He added: “Can’t wait to see you guys at TD Place. Come in big numbers and Vamos Atleti!”
Zapater, meanwhile -- a 38-year-old native of Ejea de los Caballeros, Spain-- automatically sealed his return to Atleti after playing every minute of the 16 games Ottawa contested following his addition to the squad as a mid-season signing in June 2023. Zapater’s consistent inclusion in Ottawa’s starting eleven triggered an appearance clause in his contract and ensured he would return to the nation’s capital for a second season.
“Alberto was one of, if not the biggest, signing in Canadian Premier League history and it is clear that he quickly became a critical part of our 2023 squad, so we were more than happy when he guaranteed his own future with the club,” said Fernando Lopez, CEO, Atlético Ottawa. “He sets a high standard as an experienced professional within our locker room, and continues to show his abilities on the field. We look forward to seeing the impact he will make in his first full season in Ottawa.”
Zapater’s football journey began with Real Zaragoza of La Liga, Spain’s top division of professional soccer. He graduated from his boyhood club’s academy in 2004 and went on to make 177 appearances for the first team, competing against such notable players as Ronaldinho and Diego Forlán and finishing as a runner-up in the Copa del Rey in 2005. Zapater later spent time in Italy’s Serie A with Genoa, Portugal’s Primeira Liga with Sporting CP, and Russia’s Premier League with Lokomotiv Moscow.
In 2016, he returned to his hometown club Zaragoza, bidding farewell to the team at the end of the 2022/23 season after he was hailed as the club’s “eternal captain.” His impressive career spans more than 450 matches at the highest levels of European football, and his robust and determined style of play caused legendary No. 10 Diego Maradona to nickname Zapater “The Bull.”
“Alberto’s understanding of the game, both on and off the ball, as well as his overall competitiveness was an important addition at the core of our squad last season,” said Carlos Gonzalez, Head Coach, Atlético Ottawa. “Having a player of Alberto’s quality and with his experience is an important cornerstone as we build out our squad for 2024.”
"I am very happy to say that Atlético and I will continue together one more year.” Zapater added in a statement to Season Seat Members at a recent Holiday gathering to celebrate the wrapping of the 2023 season.
Zapater earned a spot in the CPL’s Gatorade Team of the Week once in 2023. In a two-match week in July 2023, he won 12 of 19 duels and made four interceptions in a 2-0 win over Cavalry FC and before playing destroyer again in a 3-1 victory over Vancouver FC, making three interceptions and winning four aerial duels.
Atlético Ottawa 2024 Roster as of Nov. 24, 2023:
Goalkeepers: Nathan Ingham
Defenders: Karl Ouimette, Tyr Walker
Midfielders: Gabriel Antinoro, Ollie Bassett, Aboubakary Sacko, Noah Verhoeven, Alberto Zapater
Forwards: Ruben del Campo, Gianni dos Santos, Samuel Salter