Pacific brings drama as York advances to Canadian Championship semis

LANGFORD, BC –  Fans of the Canadian Championship are spoiled with Starlight Stadium. On Tuesday night, a 96th-minute tying goal from Pacific FC forced a penalty shootout as the Tridents fell to York United in the 2022 Voyageurs Cup quarter-finals.

This dramatic result, ten months after Pacific notched a dramatic victory over their B.C. foes, the Vancouver Whitecaps, in the inaugural Ferryside Darby. Fair to say, Starlight Stadium has offered some memorable Canadian Championship moments. 

With their win in penalty kicks, York United advances to face either Cavalry FC or the Vancouver Whitecaps in the next round, with a chance to punch their ticket to the Canadian Championship Final for the first time in club history. 

(Canadian Premier League)

However, the loss stings for Pacific, the top team in the CPL. They got away from their strengths on home turf and saw their Voyageurs Cup dreams slip away amid a feisty affair. 

“It’s tough right now, it’s a game of moments and chances, and I thought we gave them their two goals, I thought we started very strong and created good chances, but we need to take those chances,” Pacific head coach James Merriman said post-match. “We need to play our way even if the game becomes stretched or a team is going to be physical with us; we have to play our football.”

Despite the loss, Merriman knows there are positives to take and has his club’s sights set on the Concacaf League and the remainder of the Canadian Premier League campaign. Meanwhile, the Canadian Championship takes precedence for York.

Quick recap:

A goal-filled first half looked to highlight the match, but it came down to penalty kicks in the end as York United prevailed over Pacific FC in Langford. Pacific opened the scoring in the 11th minute through Amir Didic heading home a corner kick. However, the lead wouldn’t last long as York’s Roger Thompson tied the match on a corner in the 25th minute, and Osaze De Rosario continued his strong form with the go-ahead goal in the 31st minute. On the final kick of the match, Didic completed his brace to tie the game and send it to penalty kicks with a strike from outside the box. York prevailed from the spot.

How it happened and takeaways:

Pacific changed their tactical makeup from Friday’s 0-0 loss against York, adapting to the injury absences of Sean Young and early season CPL MVP candidate Manny Aparicio. U SPORTS draft pick, Luca Ricci played alongside Jamar Dixon in defensive midfield while allowing leading goalscorer Alejandro Diaz to take on the number 10 role. 

While switching Diaz to a deeper role than his usual striker position allowed him space to create, it isolated Josh Heard, who stood alone early in the Tridents’ 4-2-3-1. Still, controlling the ball in midfield was integral to Pacific’s attack. 

For York, the main change came at centreback as Roger Thompson returned to the starting eleven, lining up along Dominick Zator in a combination that has proved to be one of the CPL’s impermeable backlines. Unfortunately for Thompson, he had to leave the match in the first half due to an injury, although he left having scored York’s opener.

Despite little consistent possession for either side, Pacific FC opened the scoring in the 11th minute from Amir Didic, who neatly headed home a lofted corner kick from Ricci, giving the former Montreal Carabin his first CPL assist.

Playing with an extra jump in their step, Pacific continued to pile on the pressure after their goal. Marco Bustos nearly added a second in the 17th minute when he fired a shot over the crossbar following a nifty five-pass buildup and a cross from Josh Heard. 

However, moments later, York got a centreback corner kick goal of their own as Roger Thompson sent a blistering header past Callum Irving to tie the match in the 25th minute. After that goal, the game turned in York’s favour, leading to their second goal at the half-hour mark from Osaze de Rosario. 

While York controlled the match into the second half, the last 10 minutes saw Pacific turn the dial-up on their pressure, firing countless shots on goal. Although York took as much time off the clock as possible, Didic swung his left boot at the ball in the 96th minute, beating Gianstopolous from outside the box to send the match to penalties. 

Despite his travels from Victoria to Charlotte with the Vancouver Whitecaps and back, Giantstopolous was unfazed and not weary on Tuesday, making exceptional saves throughout the match and stopping penalty kicks in the shootout to ensure the victory. 

“We’ve got some senior players that kind of drag the younger guys along,” York head coach Martin Nash told reporters post-match. “ There’s a strong mental will in that locker room, and the guys work hard day in and day out, so I’m proud of the group.”

Moving on for York:

With a league draw on Friday, and a cup win in penalties on Tuesday, York United has shown that they can play with the cream of the crop in the CPL. Moving on to face either Cavalry or the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Nine Stripes wil have another tough test.

For head coach Martin Nash, the quarter-final victory sets up a reunion with one of his former clubs, having played with the Whitecaps and coached with Cavalry.

“It would be great, I’ll watch the game tomorrow and tough to be happy or unhappy for either team, but being my former club, it should be a fun one either way,” he said. 

While York has made their way to the semifinals, they are by no means a cup favourite after winning two penalty shootouts to reach this point. Playing a physical style, they can force teams into their patterns, but they will have to do that against more formidable opposition in the next round. 

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