Pacific FC took on Atletico Ottawa in a pivotal Canadian Premier League clash at Starlight Stadium on Sunday. Here’s what stood out from an entertaining 1-1 draw between 2 sides at opposite ends of the table right now.
Playing their last home game for a while, they looked to give a good send-off to the fans.
Sitting atop of the Canadian Premier League table by 3 points heading into the latest matchday, Pacific FC looked to extend that lead even further this past weekend, as they took on CPL basement dwellers Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
Facing off against a team struggling hard at the moment, winless in 6 games in CPL action, it felt like a good game for Pacific to get Starlight rocking, especially considering that their next league game at home comes in just under a month on October 16th.
But with their biggest game of the season awaiting them in midweek, a quarter-final clash versus Cavalry FC in Canadian Championship action, Pacific had to look to take on Ottawa with an eye on the future, as they definitely had the one-game cup tie on mind with some of their selections on Sunday.
Despite that, though, Pacific was still expected to win, as they’re one of the deeper teams in CPL for a reason, and this wouldn’t be the first time that they’ve gone out and rotated their team ahead of a game, so it’s not as if that would cause them to play unusually different.
So because of that, it was a big surprise to see Pacific come out and combine for a 1-1 draw with their visitors, one that still seems them slightly extend their lead atop the table for now, while also opening up the door for Cavalry to pass them, sitting just 4 points behind with a game in hand now.
But thanks to an early goal from Brian Wright, Ottawa was just able to carve out a result from there on in, even though a late Pacific goal from Terran Campbell left the visitors reeling, as they certainly felt like they could’ve etched out a win, with both teams instead left to share the spoils in this one.
On one hand, Ottawa felt like they could’ve had the win, as they did so well to hold onto their lead right to the very end, but on the other, Pacific also felt hard done by, as they peppered Ottawa’s goal with chances, racking up 26 shots, even though they just had the 1 goal to show for it.
“I think in the first half, we weren’t our regular selves,” Pacific head coach, Pa Modou Kah, said after the game. “We gave away a very cheap goal, yeah we rotated a lot, but we still expect ourselves to be dominant and we want to win.”
“It’s frustrating,” Pacific midfielder, Sean Young, added. “We’re always going to want the 3 points, but we started off slow, we didn’t have a rhythm, I don’t think we put enough pressure on Ottawa in the first half, but in the second half, we dominated, but to win games, you need a 90-minute performance, and I don’t think we did that today.”
“It’s still positive, how we played as a group in that 2nd half, so we just need to build on that.”
As a result, it feels like a draw would be the fair result, even if both coaches might lament dropping points, but alas, neither were able to find that cutting edge required to get all 3 points.
“We’re disappointed in this last-minute result,” Ottawa’s head coach, Mista, added. “But today, I’m so proud of my players, we played versus the best team in Pacific, they’re first in the table, and we defended very well.”
Returning to the game, however, be it due to that rotation, fatigue, or just a bit of bad luck, Pacific started out slower than usual, lacking a bit of the tempo that they’ve started to become known for this season. Other than an early Victor Blasco half-chance that was never going to threaten Ottawa’s Dylon Powley in goal, it was all Atletico to start the game, and that’d pay off for the visitors.
Thanks to Ottawa’s #10, Alberto Soto, who had a decent chance to score in the 11th minute, they’d be able to then grab the lead in the 19th minute, as Soto did well to carve through the Pacific defence before squaring the ball to a wide-open Brian Wright, who slotted home easily.
“Soto is just a different kind of player when he has the ball,” Mista said. “He sees a lot of things, he finds spaces that a lot of others don’t find, and he’s a different guy, and we know that in the last third, when Soto has the ball, we’re more dangerous, and the goal was a great example of that.”
With that early goal in their pockets, Ottawa started to slow down the game more, making it hard for Pacific to get any sort of control on the ball, especially in Ottawa’s final third.
Every attack forward from Pacific would be met by a resolute Ottawa backline, making one wonder if Pacific would find a breakthrough at all in the game.
“We knew that Pacific likes to play between the lines,” Mista said of his team’s defensive game plan.”We wanted to avoid playing there, and for that reason, we put the midfielders and the defenders closer together.”
They’d slowly start to carve away at their visitors, as Matteo Polisi came close on a nice Kunle Dada-Luke cutback in the 42nd minute, before Sean Young forced a great save out of Powley in the 43rd minute, but heading into halftime, there was still work for Pacific to do if they were to find that equalizer.
And to give them credit, that pressure would continue into the 2nd half, giving the home faithful some hope that their team would find a way to get back into this one.
Thanks to a rare triple substitution at half time, Pacific started to find their legs again, giving them the belief that they could leave this game with all 3 points.
Blasco came close in the 48th minute with a low shot that forced a nice kick save out of Powley, before Lukas MacNaughton glanced a header off of a corner kick just over the crossbar in the 53rd minute, as Pacific continued to grow into the game.
That’d continue into the 61st minute, as one of those second-half substitutes, Alejandro Diaz, did well to flick on a corner towards the back post, where MacNaughton would be first to the ball with a backheel, but his attempt would be kept out by Powley, continuing his strong performance in the game.
Piling up the pressure, Pacific then came close in the 68th minute, as Ollie Bassett stepped up to take a dangerous free-kick at the edge of the Ottawa box, but his shot would be blocked by the wall. On the rebound, though, another Pacific second-half substitute, Jordan Haynes, slid a dangerous ball into the box, one that would fall for Young, but he couldn’t quite curve the ball into the net from a tight angle, sending it just wide.
Continuing to press in chase of that equalizer, Pacific’s Manny Aparicio then found Diaz with a lovely corner in the 75th minute, and the Mexican striker managed to get a good header on target, one that Powley had to quickly react to in order to make a big save.
And like a purple tsunami, Pacific continued to send wave-after-wave of chances towards their opponent’s goal, right to the very end. In the 83rd minute, that almost paid off, as MacNaughton got on the end of a Bassett corner, but his thundering header rocked the crossbar and stayed out, keeping Ottawa alive.
So because of that, heading into the end of the game, it wasn’t quite sure if Pacific would rescue anything of this game, no matter how hard they’d pushed, as it just seemed that Ottawa would hang on right to the bitter end.
But that didn’t stop the hosts from pushing, and that’d finally pay off in the 86th minute, as Haynes would find a bit of space out wide after a free-kick, and would whip in a peach of a ball, one that would find a leaping Terran Campbell wide-open at the back post.
Completely left alone, Campbell nodded a lovely header across goal, finding the bottom corner with precision for his 7th goal of the CPL season, and 8th in all competitions, finally giving Pacific the breakthrough they’d long fought for.
With 6 goals in his last 9 games, and 7 in 10 in all competitions, Campbell’s been hard to stop as of late, so it was no surprise to see him get the equalizer here, allowing him to continue a good run of form.
“Yeah, Terran’s showing what he’s capable of,” Kah said. “I do believe that there’s more, there are extra layers that we need to still peel, and that’s what we’re doing, but he’s having a good year, he’s confident, and everything is hitting the goal, so we’ve just got to keep going.”
Not satisfied with just the goal, though, Pacific would push right to the very end, as Bassett had an attempt slice over in the 87th minute, before Aparicio almost scored a worldie right at the death, but that’d be all they could muster up, leaving them to share the spoils with their visitors.
Despite the late push, they just didn’t have what it took to win, leaving them with a feeling that this was an opportunity missed for their side.
“I think that we didn’t have that spark,” Kah said of his team’s late push “That’s why we made those changes, based off of tactical changes, and we saw the result in the second half, we created more, we were more dominant, but today wasn’t good enough, it has to be better, as we let 2 points get away.”
But while for Ottawa it is most definitely 2 points lost, as they now sit 12 points off the playoff line with less than 10 games to go, all but putting them out of playoff contention, for Pacific, it’s not the end of the world, because while they also feel like they dropped 2 points, they still sit in a good position atop the CPL table.
And now, they can fully turn their focus to the big game on their minds, and that’s the Canadian Championship tie with fellow league title contenders, Cavalry, one that could be massive in the overall context of both of their seasons, allowing either side to pursue an elusive league-cup double.
With a chance to go to the semi-finals, where a matchup with a struggling Toronto FC side or a plucky York United team awaits, there’s no reason why the winner of Wednesday’s match can’t believe of being able to make a run to the finals, where they can then try and lift silverware and become Canada’s representative in the CONCACAF Champions League, all while being the first CPL side to do so.
So although it was a rare step back for Pacific on Sunday, at least relative to some of the other results that they’ve picked up this season, they still had a good performance, and will have a fresh squad heading into Wednesday, allowing them to dream of moving on.
“We just played, but we’ve got another game on Wednesday,” Kah noted. “It’s not a big occasion, because when you play football, you just play the game, the occasion is what it is, it’s a good game. There’s nothing different compared to this (Atletico) game, and in this game we weren’t good enough, but we also rested players, which will be needed, so tomorrow I will start think about that game now.”
As they’ve continued to do all year long, they’ve always managed to not get too high, but not sink too low, and although this result sits in the middle of that, they’ll look to take it on the chin, allowing them to push forward into what awaits them now.
“Everybody’s stepping up to the plate,” Kah praised. “And that’s what you want, because for me, the players who started the first game won’t start the last game, everybody’s going to get their chances, and for me, the important thing is that they take (those chances) going forward.”
Up Next: Pacific FC vs Cavalry FC, Wednesday, September 22nd, 2021 (ATCO Field, Calgary)
Cover Photo via: Atletico Ottawa/Twitter