“We Are Back!” Was the cry from James Merriman while being interviewed at the end of the match, as his side won on the road in Halifax. The victory made it two 1-0 wins in the space of three days, a dramatic change in Pacific’s fortunes: from a team who had struggled at the end of the regular season, limping into the playoffs, to a dangerous one with nothing to lose and plenty to prove.
With very little time to rest, and with so much travelling from coast to coast, Pacific surprised many, but certainly not themselves. It was a remarkable performance on the east coast, one which saw Pacific shift to a relatively untested 4-4-2, as they found their way past Halifax Wanderers, a team which has been formidable at home all season long.
Looking ahead, Pacific will match up for what feels like the hundredth time this season with rivals Cavalry FC. While Pacific may “be back” defensively, with two clean sheets on the bounce, their attack is still not firing on all cylinders. Only one shot on target was recorded against Halifax, and the goal was an unfortunate own goal from Zachary Fernandez. Against York United, Pacific only managed five shots on target, while the goal came in the dying moments of the game. Pacific has done enough to get through, however, it has clearly been the defence and the work of their players across the pitch while out of possession that has taken them this far.
Emil Gazdov has grown impressively as a player this season, albeit not without some hiccups along the way, but the 20-year-old goalkeeper continues to find his feet behind one of the best central defence partnerships in the league in Amer Didic and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere. Georges Mukumbilwa has been performing admirably at left back, having been part of a rotation in the left back slot all season. On the other side, Kunle Dada-Luke was awarded Player of the Match in the game against Halifax, awarded by the CPL, but was part of, if not the cause, of the unsavoury scenes we found at the end of the game.
Fights broke out between players and coaching staff in scenes that no one would want to see, which seemed to be sparked by a gesture Dada-Luke made towards Halifax Wanderers fans after the final whistle. Dada-Luke, and a shirtless Doneil Henry, were considered the main instigators of the issues that sparked at the end of the game, and have both been issued with suspensions.
This was the third time he did it that was captured pic.twitter.com/U4BAkhZMVv
— James Janssen (@yamesyanssen) October 14, 2023
With a two-game suspension, Dada-Luke’s season is now over, depending on the result of the appeal Pacific has made to the Canadian Premier League. Should his ban be upheld, Pacific will lose so much from their defensive and attacking system. Dada-Luke has been a key player for the team all season and his energy is unbelievable. Pressing high in the 95th minute and racing back to get back in position. If the suspension is upheld, it will no doubt be music to Cavalry fan’s ears.
While one player doesn’t make a team, with all the work Kunle Dada-Luke puts in for his side, they will be missing the dynamism and strength he brings to the team. He has put in highly impressive displays defensively and stifled the attack of both York and Halifax down his side, as well as getting forward, adding to the attack. Without Dada-Luke we should expect Mukumbilwa to move back to his more favoured right side.
What happens with Pacific’s approach against Cavalry, specifically in terms of who is brought in at left back, we will just have to wait and see. What should be a positive though for Pacific supporters is the fact James Merriman has been flexible with his system all season long. While these moves have put the manager under scrutiny at times, he was able to get the job done in the first two rounds of the CPL playoffs. Will he be able to do the same against Cavalry? There’s only one way to find out.