Pacific triumph over Forge to top the CPL table

After a triumph on the road in Hamilton over Forge FC by a score of 1-0, Pacific FC have claimed top spot in the Canadian Premier League.

After seeing out an even first half, James Merriman’s side took the game to Forge in the second half, dominating play and grabbing the winning goal from their 14th shot of the second stanza. The goal came from fortunate circumstances, with Djenario Daniels chasing down a long-ball from Manny Aparicio. Tristan Henry came out quick from the Forge goal, but dropped a headed back pass from Dominic Samuel. Daniels took advantage of the open net, and Pacific saw out the final minutes effectively. With three points on the road, Pacific FC now sit alone at the top of the table with a game in hand over their closest rivals, along with a two-point cushion.

Tactical Tweaks

In this match, we saw a slight change to the way Pacific set up their team, something they had been building on from the week prior against Vancouver, with Easton Ongaro earning the start in front of Adonijah Reid at the number ten role. Eric Lajeunesse has been starting at left back recently, which in possession sees him move centrally to form a back three, allowing Kunle Dada-Luke to push higher up the field as a winger. Out of possession, Pacific are dropping into two banks of four, with Steffen Yeates being used on the right-hand side of the midfield. Adonijah Reid now has been given freedom to play off of the centre forward to find space in dangerous areas, while also being able to drift out wide and allow players like Yeates or Aparicio to move higher up the field in the centre of the pitch.

Pacific were comfortable out of possession in this match, slowing Forge’s attack and limiting them to eight shots all game, with just one shot on target, which was dealt with by Kieran Baskett, who has looked impressive since taking the starting role in goal ahead of Emil Gazdov. In possession, Pacific never looked rushed, and with Reid up close to Ongaro (then Daniels later in the second half) it gives Aparicio the chance to create and dictate from deep lying positions. He can hit long diagonals to Josh Heard (replaced by Sellouf in the second half) or Dada-Luke bombing down the right. He can also build up play centrally, carry it, or instigate quick give and go sequences.

With this rotation between in possession and out of possession styles, Pacific are reacting better than any CPL side at present to the challenges their opponents offer, as well as sticking to their tactical principles. In the Vancouver match, where this system was debuted, Merriman commented on the poor defensive performance which saw his team give up three goals, even though they would win the derby 6-3. This time out, his players seemed confident in their roles. Clearly, what had been worked on at the training ground appears to have sunk in.

Djenario Daniels: Pressing Machine

Easton Ongaro continues to struggle to find his rhythm at Pacific, but will be given the opportunity to continue to improve and try to produce more going forward. His link up play was lacking in this one, even with the support of Reid ensuring Ongaro wasn’t completely isolated, which he had been in some games previous.

Enter Djenario Daniels, who came on to hassle and bother a defensive line who had spent around 70 minutes dealing with the physicality of Ongaro and the pace of Reid. He forced Forge to be quick and precise with their passing and defensive shape, and ultimately, was able to catch them out at a critical moment. For his efforts he was rewarded with the deciding goal, finally getting on the score sheet after being foiled by the woodwork on two previous occasions for Pacific. Daniels adds a fear factor for defences, combining the size and strength of a target man with the pace and quality of someone who would traditionally have a smaller frame. With the goal, Daniels becomes the 10th Pacific FC player to find the net this season after just nine games.

Depth on Display

Forge has been well praised for their depth and ability to dominate this young league, winning three of four titles. By being able to replace departing players efficiently, their ability to stay at the sharp-end of the league table has been impressive. However, Pacific are gradually showing just how well they have been doing in recruitment, threatening to overtake their eastern neighbours in terms of squad building.

Being able to keep key players has been a huge part of this. Amer Didic and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère are one of the best central defensive partnerships in the league. Manny Aparicio and Sean Young in the centre of midfield are two of the best in the league as well. Additionally, these are all young, or in their prime, aged-players. Beyond this, they have gradually brought in high-level secondary players such as Kunle Dada-Luke and Georges Mukumbilwa at full back over the past two seasons. This past off-season, Pacific brought in a striker with a fantastic record in the CPL in Ongaro, along with Reid to join Daniels, giving the side three very different profiles at striker.

The signing of the season in CPL so far, Ayman Sellouf, has been a revelation for Pacific, and they have added further depth with players such as Cédric Toussaint, Steffen Yeates, and Bradley Vliet. Finally, we shouldn’t forget Kekutah Manneh is still yet to play more than 57 minutes in a game so far.

Each week, James Merriman has a tough task on his hands, trying to keep players happy and motivated while being forced to leave many quality players out of starting lineup. Pacific have the talent and depth of a Championship side this season, and so far, they have been proving it with their play.

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