Pacific FC unable to contain second-half flood as Forge all but books spot in CPL Final

Pacific travelled to Forge on Saturday with slim playoff dreams in their mind, but those would quickly wash away as Forge rode a dominant second-half to a win on a rainy afternoon in Hamilton. 

On a grey, rainy afternoon in Hamilton, Pacific FC took on Forge in a clash that had plenty of playoff implications. With Forge close to joining Cavalry in the inaugural Canadian Premier League championship round later this fall, they knew a result would all but confirm their presence in that series. Against a tough Pacific outfit, it wasn’t going to be an easy 3 points up for grabs, so they knew that they had to bring their best to get the victory that they desired. 

And they did just that, overcoming their Western foes with a dominant second-half performance, putting Pacific’s title hopes on life support. For Pacific, it was a tough result to stomach, as they looked to go toe-to-toe with one of the league’s best, but they were just unable to keep up on the afternoon. They still have 4 games to go, however, so they now turn their focus to growing and making sure that come next season, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in these types of games.  

“We have to look at everything,” Pacific coach Michael Silberbauer said after the game. “And we have to take everything into consideration. This game ended, and now we already have to look forward. There is still lots to be done before the season ends.”

Things got off to a slow start, as both teams were unable to control much of the game. They both had spells of controlled possession, but neither team found the space to get a chance or a shot. Forge had a good chance in the 12th minute, as Tristan Borges did well to pick off a poor Nolan Wirth throw and get the ball to captain Kyle Bekker, but the #10 was unable to keep his shot from flying over the bar. 

Pacific nearly had a chance of their own a few minutes later, as Victor Blasco danced through a couple of Forge defenders before cutting in at the top of the box, but his low shot would skid just past the near post to keep the game level. 

The intensity seemed to pick up after those chances, as it would begin to feel much more like a game with important title implications. There were some tough tackles by both sides, the Forge supporters were getting into it and there was just overall more passion shown by both sides. 

Possibly spurred on by that passion, Nolan Wirth nearly gifted Forge the opening goal, as he came flying out of his goal to meet a long ball, but wandered a bit after winning the original aerial dual. He gave the ball away to Forge’s Anthony Novak close to the half-line, and the Forge forward did well to quickly get the ball to his teammate, Elimane Cisse, who was at the top of the box. Given his open position, it seemed like the opening goal was imminent on the play, but luckily for Pacific, Kadin Chung reacted well after the giveaway, as he cleared Cisse’s shot right off the line to keep things level. 

Forge would continue to press, as they started to ride the wave of momentum created by the Cisse chance. In the 31st minute, Cisse decided to play provider this time, making a nice run down the right side, doing a good job to funnel the ball to a streaking Kyle Bekker in the box. In a great position to score, Bekker elected to take the shot first time, but he struck the ball just over the goal on his curled strike, much to the pain of his supporters.

Despite the sustained bit of pressure from Forge, Pacific would find the next big chance of the game in the 42nd minute, as they would manage to move the ball deep into Forge’s half. Midfielder David Norman Jr, who jumped up to pick out a nice pass to find him in the box, would do well to maneuver himself around defender Dominic Samuel, forcing the Forge man to take him out with a last-ditch tackle. It was a clumsy challenge from Samuel, and it forced the referee to assuredly point to the spot after a quick moment to judge the foul. 

It seemed like it was going to be a sure goal for Pacific, one that would flip the script of the game, as the CPL’s leading goal scorer, Terran Campbell, stepped up to the spot to take it. He seemed assured in his run-up, and he strode up confidently to strike the shot, but it was a poorly hit shot from the frontman, as he hit it low and right beside Henry in goal for the save. 

Pushed on by the energy of the save, Forge would open the scoring soon after, as they would tally one right at the stroke of halftime. Kwame Awuah, one of Forge’s standout performers in the first half, got the ball down the left side of the pitch, where he would curl in a peach of a cross right to a wide-open Bekker at the top of the six-yard box. With Wirth caught in no man’s land on his line, and Pacific’s defenders too far away to catch him, Bekker took his time with his shot, taking a couple of touches before slamming the ball into the roof of the net with his left foot. It was a much-deserved opening goal from Forge, and an equally as painful goal to concede for Pacific, who surely had the thoughts of the missed penalty in their minds. 

“We had ball movement to start the half and they’re a little bit further back.” Forge coach Bobby Smyrniotis said of his team’s start. “But maybe we weren’t creating as much as we wanted,  we created 2 to 3 very good chances, one with Cisse when the net was partially open, and the other one with Bekker. So we knew we could get into those deep situations, but maybe we weren’t sharp enough.”

“I think that was a little bit of a wake-up call for us, the penalty shot. So the team (Pacific) comes down on one of their only attacks close to your goal and get such a call, you want to be a little bit sharper going from there. So I think that that turned on everyone’s attention span a little bit more, and it showed throughout the next portion of the game.”

The referee would soon blow the whistle to put an end to the half, sending both teams back to the locker rooms with plenty to think about. Pacific defended well for most of the half, as their 4-5-1 did well to nullify a lot of the space available in the middle of the park, forcing Forge to play through the flanks. The only problem with the set-up was that it limited Pacific offensively, as wingers Blasco and Ben Fisk were not really able to get into the game besides flashes, which in turn made for a quiet first half from the dangerous Campbell up top. Also not helping the cause was that Pacific’s usually strong midfield was unable to control the match as they have in recent games, making for an overall frustrating half offensively. 

After the break, Pacific came out with a noticeable injection of energy offensively, kicking off the second half with new life. They nearly scored an equalizer early on, as a cleared ball sat well for midfielder Alexander Gonzalez, but the Panamaian’s volley would sizzle just wide from 20 yards. Nearly immediately after, Norman Jr had a crack himself from distance, but his shot would go low and wide. After a dearth of chances early in the game, it was positive to see Pacific find their legs as they looked to overcome a 1 goal deficit versus a tough opponent away from home. 

That spell of play would ultimately amount to nothing, however, and Forge would soon take advantage of that. Borges had a great chance in the 65th minute, as he would volley just wide from inside the box, as Forge ramped up the pressure on their Western foes. With the chance in his mind, he would then turn provider in the 72nd minute, as he would cut inside from the right side before feeding Cisse in the box with a beautiful pass, and Cisse made no mistake with the strike, slamming it into the near top corner with ease. 

After that, it would only get from bad to worse for Pacific, as Forge only continued to grow into the game. In the 76th minute, Chris Nanco got the ball on the left-wing, and he did well to find Borges all alone at the top of the box, who had done well to split the Pacific centre backs. He would take the ball down well, line up a shot, and he made no mistake with the finish, sliding the ball past Wirth to tie Campbell for the Golden Boot lead. 

“We wanted to get the ball out wide,” Bekker said after the game. “We knew we had a lot of pace up top today, especially with Nanco. And (we knew that) if we could utilize that and kind of push them back, it’s obviously going to be in our favour. Again, I think we kind of tightened that up. But we did good to keep kind of going and going and going to spend out their backline and kind of make them go towards their own goal.”

Playing to just stay in the game and avoid a blowout, Pacific found a good chance in the 80th minute, as Gonzalez won a free kick in a good area. Second-half substitute Issey Nakajima Farran stepped up to take it, and he curled the ball over the well with precision, but Henry got down and parried the ball away strongly, keeping Forge’s clean sheet intact. 

And that’s the way things would finish. Despite a late bid from Pacific to spoil the clean sheet, including a Blasco strike from distance and a Verhoven chip that nearly fooled Henry, Forge would leave victorious, as they all but confirmed their spot in the CPL Championship. After a strong start from Pacific, little mistakes costed them, and in a game of mistakes, those often are the difference between 3 points and going home empty-handed.

“I just think we didn’t take good enough care of the ball,” Silberbauer said. “I think the opportunities were there, in the second half we took a little bit better care of the ball, and for a while there we felt we were in control trying to press forward, and at the end, it’s a different story right?”

For Pacific, it spelled the end of a tough game, as they were unable to keep up with their high-flying Eastern rivals over the 90 minutes. As Norman Jr alluded to after the game, when you’re second-best in effort over a game, it’ll be tough to win games. With some tough games still to come, it’s those kinds of lessons they’ll want to take into 2020. 

“Yeah, it was a frustrating afternoon for us,” Norman Jr said. “We came out, we were the second-best side today, it was again just a game we want to look at, for sure, and move on to Wednesday against Halifax.”

While Forge didn’t play their strongest game, they will be pleased with the result, as they found a way to play their game en route to a convincing scoreline. If they are to beat Cavalry in a final, they’ll need to find a way to play as they did in the second half over a 90 minute period, but for Smyrniotis, that’s something to work on heading into the next couple of games. 

“I’d say it was a very good 55, 60 minutes,” Smyrniotis said. “When we look around, certain parts of the first half maybe we weren’t the happiest with. But I think the guys showed through, they kept at it, and in the second half, I thought it was very good. Obviously, getting the three goals is important, keeping a clean sheet is important, as we get into this next stretch of games, so from that aspect, we’re very happy with the performance of the guys.”

Pacific will now gear up to head home to take on Halifax, where they will want to find a more consistent effort than what they delivered against Forge. They did well to limit their opponents, keeping them at bay for that first half, but as often is the case in this sport, one good half doesn’t win games, so they’ll want to find some consistency when they take on the Wanderers. 

So for Norman Jr and the rest of his Pacific crew, it’s just about finding what they did well, and what they didn’t, and translate that to a good 90-minute performance on Wednesday. In a league filled with what-ifs and fine margins, they’ll want to ensure they’re on the right side of those questions next time out. 

“I don’t think they created much besides the goal they scored right before the half,” Norman Jr said. “And we’re unfortunate to miss the penalty as well. But (with) those, you can look back at a game and say ifs and buts all you want, but at the end of day we weren’t good enough today and we didn’t deserve any points.”

Up Next: Pacific FC vs Halifax Wanderers, Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019, 19:00 PST (Westhills Stadium, Langford)

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