Final Score: Vancouver FC 3-6 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: Kwak 7′, Tahid 45+1′, Hundal 87′; Đidić 3′, Heard 24′, Sellouf 66′, Ongaro 68′, Aparicio 80′, Manneh 90+1′
Game of the 2023 season: 30
CPL match: 397
Match in a minute or less
In the second-ever all-B.C. CPL derby, Vancouver FC hosted Pacific FC in a historic game at Willoughby Community Park, as both teams combined for a thrilling league-record nine goals in a 6-3 Pacific victory.
The goals came early and often in this game, too, as Pacific’s Amer Đidić and Vancouver’s Min-jae Kwak traded goals inside the first 10 minutes of the game, before Pacific’s Josh Heard responded with a fantastic strike to make it 2-1 for the visitors in the 24th minute. From there, more history would then be made right before the end of the half, as the CPL’s youngest-ever signing and debutant, 16-year-old TJ Tahid, became the league’s youngest-ever goalscorer with a well-taken strike to make it 2-2 right before the break.
In the second half, however, Pacific would completely take over the game, as goals from Ayman Sellouf, Easton Ongaro and Manny Aparicio made it 5-2 for the visitors by the 80th minute.
Vancouver then made things interesting in the 87th minute, as Shaan Hundal scored a penalty to make it 5-3, but then Pacific killed that threat just minutes later, as Kekuta Manneh scored in the 91st minute to finally cap off the scoring for the night.
Second-ever derby matchup delivers in terms of fireworks, drama:
After a relatively tame first meeting between these two teams at Starlight Stadium back in April ended with a bit of fire, courtesy of Manny Aparicio and his teammates shushing the Vancouver FC away fans after scoring a late winner, one could only wonder what sort of energy would be brought to this second meeting between these two teams.
Especially with Vancouver defender Ibrahim Bakare noting before the game that he’d be extra motivated for this game because of those celebrations, a sentiment that one could only imagine also sitting in the minds of his teammates, it felt like this second matchup would bring a bit more thunder than the first.
Turns out, that’d quickly prove to be the case, too. Inside just the first 10 minutes of the game alone, there’d be one big coming together, several hard challenges, and a pair of goals – one from either side – leaving the fans watching out of breath as they tried to keep up with the action.
Instigated by some early challenges by Bakare himself, who wasted no time in letting Pacific’s Josh Heard know that he was on the field, both teams were more than up for the match, and it showed.
Through that, they added a bit of fire to this very young derby. And that’s crucial.
At the end of the day, derbies are about the fans. A chance to compete for bragging status in a region, the opportunity to travel away to support your team, and more, these games are crucial for fan support, and mean nothing without fans.
Yet, for a derby to really be a derby, the players have to buy in, too. They can’t go into a match like this thinking it’s a run-of-the-mill match – they need to bring the emotion to match the occasion, too.
In this game, that was not an issue, as both teams were eager to try and get the better of the other on the night.
“They’re rivals, they’ll come with everything, and we got to match that,” Vancouver’s Gabriel Bitar explained afterwards. “Whether it’s our energy, whether it’s their press, we need to be ready for whatever they’re ready to throw at us, especially in a rivalry game.”
That was the biggest thing about this match, however – one could tell how much it meant for both sides. For Vancouver, it was a chance to signify their arrival as a team to watch in the region, while for Pacific it was a chance to maintain their status as top dog.
That would be clear from the first whistle, and in the end, it led to about as entertaining of a match as one could’ve imagined them seeing when they first arrived at the stadium, adding an entertaining chapter to the very young history of this derby.
“Yeah, I think it’s great for the fans,” Pacific’s head coach, James Merriman, noted. “Great for our history to have our two teams going at it like that, us two BC teams.”
Pacific’s persistence, resilience pays off with big second-half outburst:
Pacific may have won big in the end, but make no mistake – this result was far from assured for the Tridents for at least two-thirds of the match.
Having done well to grab two first-half leads, they were left frustrated as they allowed Vancouver to grow right back into the game, relinquishing those leads on two separate occasions.
Entering this match, that’s something that they’d done just twice through 10 games in all competitions, so for them to do it twice in 45 minutes had to be hugely frustrating for them.
As this Pacific team does, however, they made sure that it didn’t get them down. Knowing the quality of their team, they stuck at it, eager to wrestle back control of a match that they’d felt that they deserved to win.
That would pay off in the end, too, as they completely took over the match for the last 30 minutes, outscoring Vancouver 4-1 in that third of the match to seal their victory.
Led by their substitutes, as Ayman Sellouf (one goal, one assist, one penalty drawn), Easton Ongaro (one goal), Kekuta Manneh (one goal) and Steffan Yeates (one assist) all got in on the scoring action, they were able to get the result in the end.
On the road, against a fired-up team, they easily could’ve let the game slip away after Vancouver’s second equalizer, but instead, they stuck at it and were rewarded for that.
“Yeah, I think we knew we were the stronger team today, and the goals were going to come,” Ongaro said afterwards. “So it was just a matter of us keeping at it, to continue creating those chances and then the ball just kept going in for us after that.”
“Yeah, we were frustrated at halftime, for sure,” Merriman added. “We were frustrated. We didn’t feel that the scoreline should’ve been 2-2, we felt that we were in control, but we weren’t defending well. So we were disappointed at halftime, we challenged the group, and the group challenged each other to win the game.”
Yet, credit has to be given to those players who came off the bench for that, as it was another example of what has quickly become clear about this Pacific team early on – they’re a very deep team.
The third time they’ve scored four or more goals in a game this season, they’re actually yet to see a player score more than once in a game yet this year, and already have nine different goalscorers in their ranks in CPL play. For context, only two teams have scored more than nine goals, period, just showing the wealth of attacking talent that Pacific has all over the field.
That’s been huge for them, allowing them to take over games, as when everyone clicks, they’ve been hard to stop.
Plus, over the course of a long season, their ability to rotate guys throughout their squad will only pay off for them, as well, keeping them fresh as the dog days of the campaign creep up on everyone.
Safe to say, there’s a lot to like with Pacific’s depth right now, and another showing like this one only shows why.
“We know we have that (we have that depth), it gives confidence to the group,” Merriman said. “It’s also extremely competitive in training, and it’s competitive with players taking opportunities in games, whether they start or come into games.”
“And I think if you want to challenge and be there at the end of the season, that’s the type of squad that you need, and that’s what you need the training environment to look like. So we’re where we want to be, and we need to keep managing the group, and the group needs to keep competing like this.”
TJ Tahid leads much-needed offensive burst for Vancouver:
Heading into this game, the mission was clear for Vancouver – score some goals.
Of course, defending them remained a priority, as they were looking to maintain a streak of two consecutive clean sheets heading into this match.
Therefore, given the score, their mission was half-successful.
Defensively, they left a lot to be desired, as they were quite disorganized off the ball. Especially in the second half, they seemed powerless to Pacific’s pressure, left to watch as their guests ran right through the middle of the pitch and into the final third.
As a result, they conceded five-plus goals for a second time in their last four games, something that they’ll be frustrated with given that they’ve otherwise only conceded four goals in their other six matches.
Yet, given that they’ve mostly been defensively solid, they’ll feel that this match was an anomaly. Statistically, that’s not an unfair assessment, either – yes, they allowed far too much space for Pacific in their half of the field, but Pacific did score their six goals on 2.24 Expected Goals (xG) from 13 shots, which isn’t terrible from Vancouver’s perspective.
Really, their big frustration is how they managed moments, instead of how they played overall across the game, and they echoed as much after the match.
“That’s really what we have to learn as a team,” head coach Afshin Ghotbi explained. “How do we manage games better? How do we manage our emotions better? How do we stay organized and stay balanced in a 2-2 game? And even if the goal doesn’t come, how do we keep it to 2-2, and just wait for that right moment to win the game.”
On the other hand, that didn’t take away from the fact that Vancouver did tick off that other aforementioned goal – fittingly enough, to get more goals, as they entered this game having scored just four goals in seven games.
Given that they almost doubled that total in just this game alone, they certainly ticked off that box. Especially given that they scored two goals from open play, something that they’ve struggled with this season, that’s huge.
In particular, 16-year-old TJ Tahid was a huge asset for Vancouver’s attack – starting just his second game for the club, he scored a great goal, and was a livewire down both flanks while he was on the pitch.
Along with the return of Gabriel Bitar, who was out injured as Vancouver was shutout in their last two games, that gave the Eagles the offensive energy that was just missing for them in those matches.
When they can get their attacking players running into space, they can be tough to defend, doing well to combine and create overloads in dangerous areas. If they can get that happening with more regularity, they’ll be on the right track offensively.
Especially seeing that they were up against a very solid Pacific defence, one that doesn’t give away many cheap goals, that’ll be a good building block for them to use as a springboard toward future matches.
Ultimately, their big goal will be to combine their solid defensive play with an offensive performance like this one on a more consistent basis, but they’ll be encouraged that they were finally able to get some goals to go along with the chances that they’d generated in prior games.
“I feel like we’re starting to find and show our quality in the attacking third,” Bitar noted. “And we’re starting to click. This team was built maybe two months ago, so we’re just trying to find our groove, and I think we’ll improve as the season goes along.”
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Ayman Sellouf, Pacific FC
Despite coming on in only the 59th minute, with the game still 2-2, Sellouf helped turn the game around completely for Pacific after his insertion off the bench. With one goal, one assist and one penalty won, along with two chances created, Sellouf was everywhere for Pacific once he came on, proving central to his team’s winning efforts in the end.
Vancouver will be back in action on Sunday, June 11th, when they travel to Alberta to take on Cavalry at ATCO Field (2 p.m. PT/3 p.m. MT). Meanwhile, Pacific will head to Ontario to face Forge on Saturday, June 10 at Tim Hortons Field (4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET).
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