After dropping all 3 points this past Wednesday against York 9, Pacific got back to winning ways this Saturday afternoon against FC Edmonton.
On this grey afternoon at Westhills Stadium, Pacific FC took on FC Edmonton in another crucial midtable clash in the Canadian Premier League. With both teams dropping their games this past Wednesday, it was a good chance for both of them to bounce back as they chase an improbable spot in the CPL Championship Playoff round.
While the game started out evenly, with both sides playing at a similar level, Pacific would eventually find themselves on top after 90 minutes, as they rode a strong performance and a 30th-minute goal en route to a 1-0 victory. It was not an easy result for the Island side, as Edmonton would put up a strong push to tie things up late in the game, but Pacific would hold strong right to the final whistle. With the 3 points, Pacific launched themselves back into 3rd place in the CPL table, as they continue a strong run as of late, with points in 7 of their last 9 games.
“I thought it was excellent,” Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer said post-match. “3 days after the performance where we were unlucky with the result, they came out ready to go again.”
After both teams traded a pair of non-threatening chances early on, Pacific got the first big opportunity of the game with a glorious chance to score in the 25th minute. After some good interplay through the middle of the pitch, Noah Verhoeven was played into space down the left side, and he sent in a floating ball across the box, which found the head of a streaking Jose Hernandez at the back post. Despite making good contact with the ball from in close, Hernandez was unable to direct the cross on goal, sending it well over the frame of the net.
But despite the let-off, Pacific would open the scoring a few minutes later, as right-back Kadin Chung would find the back of the net via a deflected strike. Noah Verhoeven would once again start the move, whipping the ball in from a position not too dissimilar to his cross a few minutes earlier, and the ball fell right to Chung at the right side of the box after a failed Edmonton clearance. Pacific’s number 7 would make no mistake with his chance, as he’d cut in onto his left foot and have a strike from just outside the box, and his well-struck shot hit an Edmonton defender and flew past Connor James to put Pacific in front.
It was a much-deserved first goal of the season for Chung, who has been one of the brightest youngsters on this Pacific squad this year. He looked strong once again against Edmonton, pushing up the pitch whenever the opportunity presented itself, while still maintaining defensive posture when needed, as he made some strong tackles to break up some dangerous FC Edmonton counter attacks.
“I already saw last week, I thought he already had a good performance,” Silberbauer said of Chung. “His (development) curve is going upwards, and I was very pleased with him, but also with Noah (Verhoeven) on the other side. I thought the full-backs were excellent.”
Despite a relatively quiet first half, Edmonton nearly tied the game up in the 40th minute, as they sent numbers forward in yet another well-mounted counter-attack. Winger Marcus Velado-Tsegaye would run right through the open space in the middle with the ball, before lining up a curled strike from outside the box, and he came close with his effort, just sending the ball past the post to the left of Pacific FC goalkeeper Mark Village.
The half-time whistle would blow soon after, and it marked the end of a rough start from Edmonton. For head coach Jeff Paulus, it was a disappointing start for his side, as they were unable to dictate the game against a lively Pacific side.
“We have to own this,” Paulus said after the game. “We had a gameplan coming in, and we don’t do it at all. We wanted to press them high, you see zero press, players dropping off all first-half, gave them space to play. This one of the most technical, possession-based team in our league and we gave them space to play in the first half.”
Pacific would start the second half with aplomb, as they would pass the ball around crisply, putting together some positive sequences of interplay. As has been their bread and butter this year, they were careful and composed in playing out of the backline, as they would get the ball to both the full-backs and the midfielders with ease, before playing a couple of 1-2s to open up space and get the dangerous Terran Campbell, Ben Fisk and Jose Hernandez the ball in attacking areas.
“I thought we had 35 excellent minutes, and then 10 okay minutes,” Silberbauer said of his team’s first half. “And then we came out in the second half willing to do the work, so I’m very proud. Edmonton made it tough, they made it hard and they’re a good team, so it was difficult.”
They almost doubled the lead via one of these spells, as some clean play out of the back led to Fisk finding some space in the attacking end. After running in with the ball at his feet from the half-line in, he squared up to shoot from about 25 yards out, and he had a great hit at goal with his left foot, but James would save his strike rather comfortably.
Fisk continued to buzz, as he found some life after a quiet first half. CPL Golden Boot leader Terran Campbell would get the ball in a great position outside the box on a 51st minute counter, and he used the gravity he attracts to his advantage, sucking in Edmonton defenders before playing in Fisk down the left side. Despite a tough angle, Fisk tried to hammer one in at the near post, but he was unable to find the target, as he would hit the outside the net with a thunderous strike.
Zach Verhoven would get subbed in for Hernandez in the 60th minute, and he made an immediate impact on the game, picking up where he left off on Wednesday against York. He had a great chance in the 65th minute, picking up the ball on the right and skinning a few Edmonton defenders, but he was unable to find the back of the net, as James stood strong on his strike.
Edmonton would start to press, but they were unable to find a break, as Village would save a 70th minute Edem Mortotsi header from in tight to preserve the lead. On the other side of the pitch, Verhoven would nearly add to Pacific’s tally after being played in by David Norman Jr on the right side, but he sent his strike over the bar from in close.
And despite a late Edmonton push, including a spectacular Tomi Ameobi strike that hit off the post from around 20 yards out, Pacific would hold on for the victory. Edmonton was a tough side to break down on the afternoon, as their deep-lying 4-2-3-1 did not make it easy for Pacific to penetrate into their box, but Pacific would ultimately find the goal that they needed early on, and their defence did the rest. They could have added to their tally, as they were unable to convert some good chances, but after a York game where they got outdone by some sloppy mistakes despite dominating a good chunk of the game, they’ll be happy with the result.
For Edmonton, it was another result they’d like to have back, and after the poor start and underwhelming finishing, it was the end of another frustrating performance for them. For Paulus, it’s something they’ll have to continue to work on, as their finishing let them down in key moments once again, and for a side that doesn’t create much, it can become a death knell.
“Second half, I had to go in there and rant and rave like a lunatic,” Paulus said. “And in the second half, we actually played the way we were hoping to play. We start creating chances, but it’s the same old story for us. We get a few chances, and the few chances we get are typically good chances, but we still don’t score them.”
Despite Pacific’s good defensive performance, they picked up only their 4th clean sheet of the season, but they found it through some strong defensive play. After defending with a 4-4-2 against York, they went with a 4-3-3 against the Eddies, and it helped to contain Edmonton in the midfield, as they were unable to get much going through the wall of Norman Jr, Gonzalez and Hojabrpour. With the front three sitting back and inviting Edmonton to play long balls, it meant that the Pacific backline was going to have to be sturdy and that the midfield trio was going to have to be tidy on second balls, and they did just that all afternoon. Edmonton did start to press at the end, but their chances came when they started to keep the ball on the carpet and tried to overload Pacific through the middle at the end of the game, but the back 4 did well to rise to the task.
“I thought we weathered the storm,” goalkeeper Mark Village said after the game. “Edmonton’s a very good attacking team, they’re a big team, they like to get crosses into the box and get headers, but I think the guys at the back weathered the storm today, I didn’t have too many big saves to make today, just came out for a few crosses, so yeah the guys in front of me played very well.”
Silberbauer would add: “He (Village) did good, he took what was coming at him, and overall the defence, with the midfield, worked their butts off, so I’m very happy with the performance.”
For Pacific, it’s now all about trying to do their best to pick up points ahead of the end of the campaign. While a spot in the CPL final is unlikely at this point, they will want to give a strong effort as they push down the stretch, as they continue to build on their foundation ahead of next year. If they want to keep growing their cultured style of play, results will only aid the process they have so firmly believed in, so look for them to come out strong the next few matches.
“It’s all about getting points these last few games,” Village finished. “We got 6 games left, so let’s make a late push here, and that’s what it’s all about right now.”
Up Next: Pacific FC vs Cavalry FC, Sunday, September 22nd, 2019, 12:30 PST (Spruce Meadows, Calgary)