Pacific FC ended their 2021 season off on a high note on Sunday, as they were crowned 2021 CPL champions. Here’s our match report from a game to remember for the Tridents.
HAMILTON ON – There is one match a year that starts with fireworks: The Final.
On Sunday, Pacific FC made sure there were some fireworks after, too, winning the Canadian Premier League championship for the first time in history. For the first time since the BC Lions won the 2011 Grey Cup, a BC team has won a top-level professional sports league championship (sorry Vancouver Whitecaps and your 2015 Voyageurs Cup).
In the freezing rain, in front of over 7,000 avid Forge supporters, the side from Langford, British Columbia, came into the match as underdogs. However, Hamilton, the only champions in CPL history had a chance to win their first title in front of their home fans.
Finals are special. It doesn’t matter what a team has done throughout the year, whether in first or last, it’s down to 90 minutes of soccer and 22 people chasing a ball. At the end of the day, someone wins, and someone comes away thinking they were close.
Pacific sat back and absorbed pressure throughout the match, and other than a few counter-attacks, they did not look like they would find a goal. That is until Alessandro Hojabrpour connected on a crossed set piece from Gianni Dos Santos, heading the ball past Forge’s Triston Henry to give Pacific a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute.
“We trained that, with him actually being the decoy, that was the plan, but he read the situation well with his football intelligence, and these are the greatest moments that will define players,” Pacific head coach, Pa Modou Kah, said after the match.
Hamilton began the match with a plan, but so did Pacific. Knowing Forge’s skill, the Tridents began the match conservatively, a stark contrast to the flowing attacking style they became known for throughout the season and in the Canadian Championship.
At the end of the first half, the tactics were clear. Forge boasted 73% possession but could not find many chances in high-scoring percentage areas. Meanwhile, Pacific’s counterattack nearly came together on several occasions.
Head Coach Pa Modou Kah seemed content to let his side absorb pressure throughout the first half and just look to counter-attack through Terran Campbell and Josh Heard, with Manny Aparicio running the transition. Still, it was a set-piece from an unsuspecting midfielder to win the title.
“The set plays are huge in today’s game, and we spent three days on the set plays,” said Kah. “Alessandro was supposed to be the decoy, but sometimes with the decoy, they score. I never thought he would score with his head, but it was one of those days, and it will go down in history.”
On the stat sheet, Forge outplayed Pacific in every way. 17 shots compared to a mere six, and controlling the play throughout the game. Yet when the ball rippled Forge’s goal, everything shifted; Pacific picked up a skip in their step right after the goal. Meanwhile, Forge played with their heads down, seemingly dejected through the final half-hour.
“From the beginning of the year, that was our goal to get to the final. One game final, anything can happen,” said Hojabrpour. “Today, we won off a set piece, but finals can go anyways, and we’re lucky enough to win today.”
As the final whistle blew with the snow blowing at an angle, not having the ball in the first half did meant nothing to Pacific. They are 2021 CPL Champions now, hosting the North Star Shield in Hamilton’s freezing rain.
With the victory, Pacific FC earns the right to represent Canada in the final iteration of the Concacaf League as we know it. While the Concacaf club tournaments shift in a couple of years, Pacific will get a crack at the tournament that Forge recently made the semi-final of, before losing to Honduras’s Motagua.
“When we began in June, I told the guys in June that we play to win. These are the moments that will stay with you for the rest of your life,” said Kah. “Anytime I’ve talked to Bobby [Symryniotis], I’ve told him I want what you want, and that is a trophy and to represent Canada.”
The end of a special 2021:
There might not be a year in history more important to Canadian soccer than 2021.
This year, Canada won the Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer, the men’s national team stands atop the Concacaf World Cup qualifying standings, Forge FC made a deep run into the Concacaf league, and to top it all off, Pacific FC beat their BC rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, before winning the CPL Championship.
2021 will go down in Canadian soccer lore, with its final chapter authored by Pacific FC, and their first-ever Canadian Premier League North Star Shield, as they beat Forge FC 1-0 on a wet and windy Hamilton evening.
With gold glitter littering Tim Horton’s Field’s plastic pitch, and no fans left in the stands, the noise of Pacific FC’s celebrations rings throughout the stadium, but even though its the end of the road for the Tridents in 2021, there’s a lot more to come for the Vancouver Island club. For Kah, the title means one thing: “One Island, One Club, One Community, we are Pacific FC.”
Cover Photo via: Canadian Premier League/David Chant