Trident Toppling: Resilient York United wrestles back control of playoff destiny with big away win over Pacific FC

Pacific FC took on York United in a big Canadian Premier League clash at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday afternoon. Here’s our report from that one, a game that finished 2-1 to the visitors, in a game that was filled with all sorts of drama at both ends of the pitch. 

It was a game to remember, for a multitude of reasons.

Heading into it, no one quite knew what to expect from Pacific FC and York United as they got set to do battle in Canadian Premier League action in Langford on Saturday afternoon, adding an air of mystique to the fixture. 

In a game between the current first-place team in the league, Pacific, against a team that’s just on the cusp of a playoff spot, York, it promised to be a good matchup, one good enough to earn the ‘Match of the Week’ label from the CPL, so many certainly expected some sort of excitement from this game, at the very least. 

On one side, you had a Pacific side, who having already booked a playoff spot, were looking to confirm a home playoff semi-final, which gave them all to play for in their last home regular-season match of the season on Saturday, 1 of just their 2 remaining games in their 2021 CPL campaign. 

On the other, you had a York side who came into this game sitting just outside the 4th and final playoff spot in the CPL, sitting with games in hand on those around them, meaning that a victory would put their destiny back into their own hands in terms of securing a playoff berth. 

So for York to then come out to a massive 2-1 comeback victory is massive for the visitors, as they managed to spoil Pacific’s big home finale with a statement win, one that could very well be the push that York needed to book a playoff spot. 

In a game filled with entertainment, including a missed penalty, a red card, a late winner and some lovely goals, York came on top in the key moments, and that allowed them to pick up a big victory in the overall context of the season. 

Fresh off of a 1-1 draw against Atletico Ottawa last weekend, winless in their last 5, for York to go out and beat not only the team that currently sits top of the table, but also the team that has the best home record, having only lost once at home all season, this is huge for York, as they gave life back to their playoff hopes in the best way possible. 

“That’s important,” York head coach, Jimmy Brennan, said after the game. “We needed that, that win today. We had quite a few draws recently, we knew we had to dig deep today to get something out of this game, but the guys’ effort today was fantastic, they stuck to the game plan, and they were rewarded with the two goals, and 3 points that are needed to get ourselves into the playoffs.”

Meanwhile, for Pacific, who were coming off a big 5-1 victory over FC Edmonton in midweek, it was a tough game on so many fronts, because not only did they grab the lead first, and had several chances to add to it as the game went on, they ended up suffering all sorts of misery, not only on the scoreboard, but also in the discipline department, too. 

Because of a yellow card to Lukas MacNaughton, his 8th of the season, along with a red card to Gianni Dos Santos, that will now see both of those players miss the next two Pacific games, which happen to be their last game of the season and their semi-final playoff game, which are two games where they can’t afford to have any absences right now. 

The good news is that those players won’t miss Pacific’s biggest game of the year, a clash with Toronto FC in the semi-finals of the Canadian Championship on Wednesday, but seeing that Pacific is one of the favourites in the CPL, compared to underdogs in the Canadian Championship, you can’t help but wonder if they would’ve loved to have those players be suspended for Wednesday and return for the other games, instead of vice versa. 

But instead, that’ll be one for them to dream about only in hypothetical scenarios, as all they can do right now is to adjust to life without MacNaughton, while subsequently appealing Dos Santos’s red card suspension and hope it is rescinded or shortened, granting them his services again. 

What they can’t do, however, is take back their performance on the afternoon, as they were just unable to capitalize on the key moments as York were over the course of the match, something that became evident right from the first whistle. 

“Today was a great opportunity for us to take care of business and secure home-field advantage,” Pacific’s head coach, Pa Modou Kah, said after the game. “We just let it slip out of our hands, and that was what we were playing for. I’m okay losing games, but there are some games where I’m really not okay losing, and today was one of them.”

Pacific’s Marco Bustos and York’s Noah Verhoeven in action on Saturday (Beau Chevalier)

Unlike their game earlier in the week, where they found the lead against FC Edmonton in less than 6 minutes, Pacific just wouldn’t be unable to get off to a similar start in this one, as York offered up some strong defensive resistance right from the start, and that set the tone for the rest of the day.

Despite that, Pacific would find a way to get the first good look of the game in the 16th minute, when Marco Bustos did well to collect a nice pass from Terran Campbell, before unleashing a strong shot with his right foot, but his half volley would sail just over the goal. 

Not long after, his teammate, Ollie Bassett, would have a nice look at goal from distance in the 21st minute, and he’d made decent contact with the ball, just sending it wide of the mark. 

At the other end, York then found their first good chance of the game in the 23rd minute, as Alvaro Rivero found a nice pocket of space outside of the box, and he let rip on his right foot, only finding his shot saved by Isaac Boehmer, who was making his first professional start over in the Pacific goal. 

But then, Pacific had the first big breakthrough in the 25th minute, as Josh Heard capitalized on a loose touch from York’s Matteo Campagna at the back, and he’d find himself all alone in front of the opponent’s goal, looking at what seemed like a sure tally. 

Unluckily for him, though, Campagna did well enough to recover in time to put in a tackle, but he’d do so far too late, bundling over Heard in the process, giving Pacific a clear-cut penalty kick. 

From there, though, up stepped Pacific’s MacNaughton, and he hit the ball well, but not well enough, as York’s Nathan Ingham reacted quickly to the shot in his goal, getting down and palming the shot out to keep his team from going down a goal.

It was a massive moment for both sides, because while neither team had done much to deserve a lead at that point, it could’ve easily been a game-changing goal for the hosts had they buried it, allowing them to start putting their guests to the sword, but instead, it left them with all to still play for. 

“It was great that Nathan read it,” Brennan admitted of the penalty save. “He looked over at our goalkeeping coach, they made eye contact, they had a feeling it was going to go somewhere, and Nate made a big save that keeps us in the game, gives us a boost, gives you more energy on the pitch.”

And realizing that, Pacific continued their hunt towards an opening goal, sending numbers forward. Thanks to that, they’d fashion another good look for Bustos in the 41st minute from outside the box, this time on his preferred left foot, and he’d strike the ball well, but it’d deflect just wide of the frame, only marginally staying out. 

Then, though, half time would come around, leaving both teams to try and figure out what they needed it to change as they prepared for the last 45 minutes, as they looked to wake up after what was overall a pretty quiet half from both sides. 

So seeing that, it was almost no surprise that the game would find its first goal not long after the second half restarted, as Pacific managed to strike first in the 48th minute, and it was a beauty, too, giving them a huge lead.

After Bustos did well to find a bit of space out wide on the right, he managed to look up and whip in a dangerous ball on his left foot, finding a wide-open Campbell in space, and the Pacific striker made no mistake with his header, nodding home his 10th of the CPL season to give the team the lead. 

It was a massive goal on many fronts, as not only did Pacific grab a key lead off the back of it, but it also was huge for Campbell from a personal standpoint, as he became just the 2nd player in CPL history to score 10 goals in multiple seasons. 

Plus, it gave Pacific all sorts of momentum, and they nearly doubled their lead on the back of that in the 53rd minute, as Bassett found a wide-open MacNaughton off a corner, but the Pacific centre back couldn’t keep his effort down, sending it over the target. 

And off the back of that, York then found their way back into the game in the 55th minute, almost against the run of play, as they fashioned together a very well-worked counter-attack, allowing them to grab a key equalizer. 

After a nice bit of running from second-half substitute, Lowell Wright, he did well to cut the ball back to an onrushing Julian Ulbricht, and the York striker made no mistake with the chance, poking it past Boehmer to officially draw the game level. 

Thanks to that, not only were Pacific back at square one, but York had all of the momentum, too, adding another twist to a game that had already had so many of them through 55 minutes. 

So naturally, Pacific got the next two good looks at goal, as Bassett just sent a dangerous strike over the bar from outside of the box in the 59th minute, before second-half sub, Victor Blasco, just teased the outside of the box with a curled free-kick from distance in the 61st minute. 

Right after that, Blasco continued his strong run on the pitch in the 67th minute, as he did well to cut inside and unleash a dangerous low shot, but he’d just send it wide of the near post, keeping the game all tied up. 

But while Pacific pushed for that goal, they still had to be wary of the York threat, and they got a reminder of what that can look like in the 75th minute, as former Pacific midfielder, Noah Verhoeven, had a good crack off of a free-kick, but Boehmer did well to get across to the effort, parrying it away to keep things level. 

And then those warning shots would prove to be ominous in the 81st minute, when York managed to grab a key go-ahead goal with 10 minutes to go, giving them a surprise lead. 

After a nice bit of play down the left side from Ijah Halley, he did well to get the ball to Lowell Wright just inside the box, and from there, the York attacker did the rest, finding a way to cut inside and rip the ball into the top corner, giving his team the lead. 

It was a massive goal for the guests, who had done well to absorb pressure all night, always looking dangerous on the counter, so to see them grab the goal when they did was huge, as it was a just reward for the gritty effort that they’d put up for most of the game up to that point.

“The goal? We’ve been working on it all week,” Wright said after the game. “Everybody says for me to take it on the half-turn, that I have a good shot, so I just let it go anytime I’m within 20/30 metres, so I was in the box, thought why not have a hit, and it just went into the back of the net.”

Wright and his teammates celebrate his winning goal on Saturday (Beau Chevalier)

Soon after, things would then go from bad to worse for Pacific, as Dos Santos, who had only come on minutes earlier, would then get sent off in the 83rd minute for a straight red card after appearing to catch York’s Max Ferrari up high, making things even harder for his team in the last few minutes. 

Despite that, they wouldn’t stop pushing, as MacNaughton then made good contact off of a corner in the 91st minute, but he once again sent his attempt over the goal, much to the relief of the visitors. 

But other than that chance, Pacific’s late push wouldn’t yield much else in terms of clear-cut opportunities, which allowed York to cruise to victory, giving them a massive 3 points in their quest towards making the playoffs. 

For Pacific, it was a massive chance wasted, because while York were never going to be an easy team to beat, the Tridents do have one of the best home records in the CPL for a reason, but they didn’t really use that home-field advantage much in this one. 

The good news for Pacific, though, is that thanks to Cavalry’s loss earlier in the day, this result ultimately means nothing for them, as they can still guarantee a home playoff game with a win over Cavalry in Calgary next Sunday, meaning that their destiny remains in their own hands in that regard. 

Plus, as mentioned earlier, they still have the biggest game of their season (and history of their club) to play on Wednesday, when they’ll travel to Toronto to take on Toronto FC in the semi-finals of the Canadian Championship, which is a game that they clearly had their eyes on based on some of their decisions. 

A win there, and the history of their club gets drastically altered, so it’s understandable that they have already put their eggs in that basket, and at the same time, it’s not as if they completely forgot about this game, as they put out a pretty darn solid team. 

“When we say we are professionals, we have to look at what is in front of us,” Kah said. “And what was in front of us was York. We don’t know if we’ll make it to tomorrow. Nobody knows, what you can do today, that’s what matters.”

Ultimately, they just didn’t execute in the key moments, while York did, and that was the story of the game, so while Pacific’s concentration might have been split elsewhere, they still could’ve done better than they did, and they’re aware of that. 

“That’s why football is beautiful,” Kah continued. “It’s a learning moment for us, it’s a growth moment for us to see things, and we look ahead now.”

On the other side, though, that shouldn’t take anything away from York, who were full value for this result, and then some. Right from first kick, they came out with the mentality that they could make something of this game, so it’s not surprising that they eventually went out and made that happen. 

From their clear game plan, which was to keep things tidy at the back and send numbers forward in transition, to their intent to get stuck in, something they tried to do at every opportunity, York came out with one clear goal – to win this game. 

“We had a game plan,” Brennan said. “We were hungry before the game, the players were up for the challenge, so it’s always good to come on the road and pick up the win.”

Thanks to that, they were able to catch Pacific off-guard a bit, and that’s what allowed them to make this victory happen, as they just managed the ebbs and flows of the game better, winning the key moments. 

As a result, they wrestled back control of their destiny in their hunt to get into the playoffs with 2 games to go, and if they keep playing like this, you can’t help but imagine that they’ll find a way to stay there, too, allowing them to participate in the big dance. 

Seeing what this win did to their morale, as many players celebrated the result quite passionately on the pitch, the wind is starting to return to York’s sails, and with 2 games remaining for them in their season, it couldn’t have come at a better time for them as a club. 

After hitting a bit of a wall in their last few games, they broke through it at the right moment in this game, so now, they’re hoping that doing so can now push them towards their goal, which is to make the playoffs, of which they’re quite close to making a reality thanks to this win. 

“Today was a grind, and we got 3 points,” Brennan said. “So I’m happy where we’re at right now. We still got 2 games left, important games, games we need to focus on, make sure that we put the right performances in and get results that allow us to save that playoff spot.”

Cover Photo via: Beau Chevalier (IG: @shotby.beau Twitter @beauchevalier_)

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