Pacific FC has already experienced both highs and lows in just the first week of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season. The purple and teal brigade came into the new season with some expectation, and to an extent they’ve lived up to their billing so far.
There is certainly a long way to go before the end of the season, but starting off on the right foot is critical to a title challenge. How did their first three games go?
Pacific FC open with 2-0 win over HFX Wanderers
A showdown between the Westernmost and Easternmost teams in the CPL was the second match to kick off on opening day. Both teams had come off impressive Island Games last season, where HFX finished league runners up and Pacific in fourth.
It would be Pacific though that got off to an early lead, with Marcos Bustos finding himself wide open in the box with a beautiful touch by Alejandro Diaz. His left footed strike found the bottom right corner of the net, and the Canadian superstar gave his side the 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.
Pacific, buoyed by their early goal, kept pressing for an insurance marker and found it through an absolute golazo by new signing Ollie Bassett. The Irish attacking midfielder was surprisingly put in a defensive midfield role, but made his offensive capabilities known regardless. A weak clearance found its way to his feet, Bassett taking one touch before belting it into the bottom right from 25 yards out. Already in the 37th minute, Pacific looked comfortable.
The scoreline would stay the same until the final whistle, both teams putting in a hard battle until the very end. Pacific FC played well, retaining the ball well with 58 per cent of the possession and hitting 84 per cent of their passes. They also seemed to possess an offensive optimism, out-chancing HFX even with the 2-0 lead in the second half.
Praise has to be given to the Pacific backline as well for holding firm in the clean sheet. Christopher Lee, Pacific’s first round pick this past draft, made his professional debut and did not put a foot wrong. His name was taken by the referee in the 79th, but the dangerous circumstances made the yellow card much more palatable.
A strong start to the season positioned the boys in purple and teal well, and the next few games would really show what they were made of.
Pacific FC draw 2-2 with York United FC in second game
Not York9 FC, but the rebranded York United FC would be the next foes that Pacific took on. This would be an early reunion for Manny Aparicio, who joined the Tridents from his hometown club.
It was York that was able to take the lead first, Diyaeddine Abzi finding a step to get on the end of a beautiful Max Ferrari cross. His header gave York the advantage in the 32nd minute, a slender lead they took with them into halftime.
It wasn’t until the 51st minute that Pacific found their answer. Terran Campbell’s run behind the defense went unmarked, and the Whitecaps Academy graduate found a streaking Bustos in the box. Rather than have a shot on goal with two defenders hounding him, Bustos showed excellent vision to find Josh Heard right in front of the net, who potted in the equalizer with plenty of time for the go ahead marker.
And indeed it would be Pacific who brought themselves ahead, though not by the means they expected. Swinging a cross in, Heard found his pass deflected by Chrisnovic N’Sa in the box. The ball fluttered tantalizingly in the air before nestling into the top corner of the net. The own goal put the purple and teal on top in the 67th minute.
However, York would equalize in the 82nd minute. A rash decision by Callum Irving to punch the ball away from a corner proved costly as it deflected off Lowell Wright and fell right onto the head of Jordan Wilson, who made no mistake in bringing the game level once more.
Both teams had their near misses towards the end, Lowell Wright hoofing a wonderfully executed hold up play outside of the box just beyond the right post for York. Ollie Bassett was given the ball for a 30 yard free kick, and only just missed the left woodwork.
- Photo gallery: Pacific FC down HFX Wanderers on opening day of CPL season
- Photo gallery: York United and Pacific FC produce entertaining draw
The game ended in a 2-2 draw, something that Pacific is sure to feel unsatisfied with having had the lead going into the final 10 minutes of regulation time. There were positive signs though, the Tridents winning possession again and tallying 81 per cent in pass accuracy. However, their strikes were a bit wayward this match, hitting the net once in 11 attempts while York delivered six on target out of 14 tries.
Josh Heard and Marcos Bustos were making their presence felt, not only limited to their names showing up on the scoresheet. Both players were active in making runs and creating chances, and it will be something that this side will need dearly as they continue to fight for the title.
Pacific FC lose first game of new season 3-0 against defending champions Forge FC
A clash with the league titan, the two-time reigning champions, was the first true test of this young Pacific side. Forge did not look like themselves to start off this season, surprisingly losing both matches coming into their tilt with the Tridents.
Both teams seemed to be feeling each other out in the first half, not wanting to overcommit and leave themselves vulnerable to a counter. Forge did find themselves probing more offensively though, attempting seven shots that didn’t find the target.
Again, despite the vulnerability that Forge showed in the past two games, a draw against the reigning champions would not have been the worst result in the world. Unfortunately, it all unraveled for Pacific in the span of 10 minutes.
The 70th minute saw orange shirts flooding forward through the midfield, black Pacific shirts scrambling back to contain 2019 Golden Boot winner Tristan Borges. Unfazed, Borges played David Choinière through, who laid it over to Mo Babouli. The former Toronto FC man unleashed a hit past Callum Irving to give Forge the 1-0 lead.
The 75th minute saw Forge double their lead, Tristan Borges once again torching the Pacific back line. Once the shape collapsed, Borges found Elimane Oumar Cissé who tapped a shot on goal. A moment’s hesitation by Jordan Haynes proved costly as the rebound was quickly slotted away by super sub Chris Nanco, giving the champions their comfort.
It wasn’t over for the purple and teal brigade unfortunately. Jordan Haynes played excellent for the first 60 minutes, but these two mistakes may be what fans remember from this match. The Pacific defender gave away a penalty kick in the 80th minute as a result of an inadvertent handball. Naturally, Borges stepped to the spot and coolly put it to the right, giving Forge the insurmountable 3-0 lead.
Quality of possession proved critical in this match. For Forge, who were coming off two shaky results, this match proved that the heart of a champion never dies. They outshot, outchanced, and outplayed Pacific towards the end of the game. Forge attempted 15 shots on goal with 42 per cent possession, while Pacific only managed six shot attempts on 58 per cent possession.
While it is easy to fixate on the 3-0 scoreline for the Tridents, it should be noted that this game was still in the balance before the 70th minute. A few optimistic notes was that once again, they found themselves with an over 80 per cent pass accuracy and winning the possession battle.
Encouraging start to new season for Pacific FC
One key detail perhaps missed by some is that Pacific did not once start the same 11 in these three games. It seems Pa-Modou Kah is treating the early matches as a small experiment, tinkering with the pieces around the big names and trying out different tactics.
A positive note is that the big names are performing well. Marco Bustos has performed as advertised, while the returning stars such as Kadin Chung have shown their quality throughout the matches.
The signings in the offseason also appear to be meshing well. Manny Aparicio fits very well into the Pacific midfield, while slotting Ollie Bassett deep in the middle of the pitch seems to have unlocked a monster in the Irishman. With fresh players being tested out in each match, it will be interesting to see who Kah opts for in his preferred starting eleven, if he even decides on one. The depth this season is much improved than years past.
As mentioned, Pacific are retaining the ball well and not missing their passes. While this is a good indication, some questions have to now be asked about the finishing piece. Is this past match just Forge’s experience pushing them through? Or are the Tridents missing just that last bit of quality to polish off their chances? Whatever is the case, the key to this season will be consistency from Kah’s men.
Only over the course of a season will the true character of this Pacific team be tested and revealed. Will they be champions? It’s too early to tell, but there are encouraging signs to take from their first three matches, as well as a lot of room for improvement.
Pacific FC currently sit fourth in the CPL table with four points, trailing the leaders Valour by five. They look to bounce back in a big way Wednesday July 6, against Atletico Ottawa.