VANCOUVER, BC – Enter the heavyweights.
With the preliminary round of the Canadian Championship out of the way, the likes of former MLS superpower Toronto FC, 2021 Champions CF Montreal, and 2021 CPL Champions Pacific FC enter the fold.
After getting a bye through the preliminary round, the three clubs finally embark on their 2022 Canadian Championship journey on Tuesday night, hoping to make a run towards either a historic first or simply adding another Voyageurs Cup to the collection.
In the quarter-finals, Pacific plays host to York United, who got past Atletico Ottawa in a lengthy penalty shootout. Meanwhile, CF Montreal plays Forge, and the 2017 MLS Cup Champion Toronto FC pay a visit to the Kitchen to take on the HFX Wanderers. The Vancouver Whitecaps face Cavalry FC after getting past Valour and FC Edmonton respectively.
While most matches are fresh matchups, that’s not the case for Pacific and York, playing each other for the second time in four days after reaching a 0-0 draw in CPL last Friday. Still, the element of the domestic cup adds another element and more consequence to the matchup.
A win in the Pacific-York side of the bracket sets up a match against the winner of Cavalry and the Whitecaps. While neither opponent would be easy, avoiding Toronto and Montreal provides the path of least resistance and a potentially higher chance of qualifying for the 2022 Canadian Championship Final.
Although playing a cup game adds an exciting prospect, it will be a challenge for both clubs to recover after such a recent game. Fortunately for both, travel has not been an issue with the game a the same location, however, fatigue, injuries and load management will play a part.
Most notably, Pacific’s Manny Aparicio, one of the CPL’s best players this season, is out with an injury sustained in the previous matchup. At the same time, the Nine Stripes starting goalkeeper, Niko Giantsopolous, played 90 minutes on Friday before being loaned to the Whitecaps and travelling to North Carolina. With these adjustments, among other factors, there will be changes in both lineups for Tuesday’s cup clash.
Both teams will look to bring the same intensity they had in Friday’s scoreless draw. Despite neither taking maximum points, it was positive for both sides, proving they can test themselves against some of the best players in the CPL in 2022.
York can continue what they are doing
For York, expect them to stay fairly consistent with the 4-2-3-1 defensive setup that has helped them to one of the best defensive records in the league this season, having conceded just five times through seven league matches. With Diyaeddine Abzi and Chrisinovic N’Sa on the wings, the formation often shifts to a somewhat back three, as they usually jump up in the attack.
Abzi has proven that he can punish defences in the CPL, and with a Pacific midfield adjusting to life without Aparicio, there may be spaces to exploit on the wing. Meanwhile, the centre-back combination of Dominick Zator and Jordan Wilson has been stellar since Roger Thompson went down with injury. However, Thompson could return to the XI after being subbed in on Friday.
“We have a few things to clean up (from Friday), but we’re looking for the same kind of effort,” York head coach Martin Nash told reporters. “I think it’s gonna be an even game, and the team that finishes their chances is going to win.”
Up front, there may be a shift from York to manage the demand on their strikers. Osaze de Rosario has gotten off to a stellar start in his pro career but is still inexperienced. He has struggled as a lone striker in front of Lowell Wright, playing a somewhat false nine.
Martin Nash continues to be familiar with the Voyageurs Cup in the second round. Despite never winning the trophy, he has seen different managerial approaches to the competition through his Whitecaps playing days and his time with Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry. However, it will surely be on his mind as he hopes to set up a york clash against one of his former clubs.
Pacific likely to adapt and adjust in midfield
Most things have gone right for Pacific this season, but even with the best player in the league for the first half, they struggled to penetrate York’s backline. Pacific’s wide players also struggled to adjust to york’s switching plays, as the Torontonian’s multi-faceted attack tested an energetic and attacking-minded Pacific 4-3-3.
For Pacific, the key will be handling the quality of York’s wide players and ensuring that they don’t get into high-scoring areas. “Overall, I’m happy with the performance,” Pacific manager James Merriman said after the York game on Friday. “And I think what we gained as a team in our unity, in how we work for each other, and stick together, that goes a long, long way for us as a team, and for us for the rest of the season.”
With Gianni Dos Santos or Luca Ricci likely replacing Apracio in the lineup, Pacific will have to find a way to work the ball centrally, allowing Marco Bustos to shine in the attacking half as he hopes to fill the void left by Aparicio.
The Pacific attack is flowing with 13.53 xG through eight matches this season, but the finishing has not been there. Helping them, however, is the fact they’re likely to be up against a weary Giantsopolous.
Neither Pacific nor york have had much time to regroup and reflect on their Friday clash, but that could be good. With a short turnaround after a decent result for both sides, the Canadian Championship will come with a spark. If it’s anything like Pacific’s first round last year [against Vancouver], it could bring fireworks.
BTSVancity Prediction: Pacific FC 2-1 York United