2022 CPL Regular Season — Match #104
Pacific FC vs. FC Edmonton
September 30, 2022 at 7 p.m. PT/8 p.m. MT
Starlight Stadium in Langford, British Columbia
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It’s the penultimate matchday of CPL action, and there’s still everything to play for at the top.
With just Atlético Ottawa having booked a spot in the playoffs, that means that there are just four teams still in the race for the three spots up for grabs at the moment.
Along with the fact that four teams still remain in the race for the inaugural CPL regular season title, there is still plenty still left to be decided over the last couple of weeks, even if the playoff race narrowed from seven to five this past weekend.
One of those five teams? Pacific FC, who thanks to a big 2-0 win over the Halifax Wanderers, have certainly made things interesting now here, as they get set to host FC Edmonton at Starlight Stadium on Friday.
There, the defending ‘North Star Shield’ champions have a big chance to book their spot back to the big dance, as they’ll clinch a playoff spot this weekend as long as they better whatever Valour’s result ends up being in their game against Cavalry on Sunday.
As a result, a win over Edmonton Friday would be huge, as it’d force Valour to have to win in order to keep Pacific from clinching this matchday, putting a lot of pressure on them ahead of their Sunday game.
Because of that, having picked up that crucial 2-0 road win earlier this week, spirits are high in Pacific’s camp right now. After a tough stretch, they appear to have gotten their swagger back, and will look to prove that with a strong game here against Edmonton, even if they’re on short rest ahead of this one having played on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I think it’s about our mentality, mind over matter,” Pacific FC head coach, James Merriman, said this week. “Players need to accept it. They know that it’s going to be tight.”
“So I think we just need to have a mentality of accepting it and getting on with it, as everybody knows how important the game is for us.”
Meanwhile, Edmonton is just looking to finish off the season on a high note. The first team out of the playoff race, they’ve kept fighting despite that, doing their best to play spoiler for the other teams still in the hunt.
Which, as they proved the last matchday, when they drew Forge 1-1 at home, is something they can very well still do at this stage, and will look to prove again versus Pacific.
Having grown each match out, Edmonton is looking to build momentum ahead of 2023, and there’s no doubt that picking up a win over Pacific, which would be their first road win of 2022, could help them do just that.
“Yeah, we’re excited to go play another game,” Edmonton head coach, Alan Koch, said this week. “We’ve only got two games left. So we want to try to savour, enjoy and embrace the last two games, and we’re excited about that.”
Therefore, while this might be a game between one team with playoff aspirations and one team out of the race, both teams will certainly be up for it, which should make for an entertaining game.
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3 THINGS TO WATCH
- Edmonton looking to play Pacific tough again: A big storyline to watch out for in this game? How tough Edmonton is expected to play Pacific, as they’ve been quite competitive against them over their four seasons in the CPL, sitting with four wins and four draws in 14 previous meetings since 2019. That’s been no exception this season, either, as while they’re yet to beat Pacific, sitting with two losses and one draw, they played them tight in each game, only losing each game by just one goal. Therefore, given how much Edmonton has improved since the last meeting between these two teams, which came all the way back at the beginning of July, it really feels like they could cause some problems for Pacific on Friday. With how organized they are defensively, and their improvements in how they possess and play with the ball, they’re no longer the team that will expect just to hold on – they can control huge parts of the game (just ask Forge). Because of that, finding a way to turn that into a road win versus Pacific isn’t out of the question, something that they’ll look to do now, throwing a wrench into Pacific’s late-season plans. “We will go fight, we’ll give it everything we can,” Koch said. “We will embrace the opportunity, we know that we’ve played them close, but for the most part, we’ve played everybody close during the course of this year, too.” Meanwhile, on their end, Pacific is expecting exactly that from Edmonton, so they’re hoping that doesn’t catch them by surprise, much as happened with Forge. “We expect a good game,” Merriman added. “We know they’re going to come out and be competitive and be organized. So it’s not a game that we take lightly at all.
- Return of Manny Aparicio a big boost to Pacific: There’s no doubt that Pacific’s win over the Wanderers this week was huge, for many reasons. The biggest of which? The return of Manny Aparicio, who slotted back into the Pacific lineup after a four-game suspension. There, he didn’t miss a beat, either, nabbing an assist on Josh Heard’s goal to make it 2-0, showing his offensive impact. Because of that, look for him to shine in this game. Pacific has picked up 28 points in the games in which he goes over 75 minutes, compared to 11 in games he’s either failed to meet that mark or missed out, showing how important he is to their overall success. Both in how he defends from the front, as well as how he brings the likes of Heard, Marco Bustos, Gianni Dos Santos and Djenairo Daniels into the game, he has a big impact on both sides of the ball for Pacific when in the lineup. Therefore, with three games left in the season, Pacific are going to hope that he can stick there, because as seen over the course of the year, that could very well be the difference between them repeating as champions or not. “Those are the moments that he brings, but also just so much more,” Merriman said of Aparicio. “So it’s great to have him back, it might take a game or two to find his rhythm within the team, but it was a really strong performance for him in his first match back after a little while out.
- Courtney Smith the latest Edmonton player to step up: Nicknamed ‘FC Opportunity’, there have been a lot of players that have stepped up big-time for Edmonton this season. Wesley Timoteo. Mamadi Camara. Gabriel Bitar. The list goes on for them. Now, they’ve had another step up as of late, and that’s Courtney Smith, who scored Edmonton’s crucial equalizer against Forge last weekend. His second goal of the season, both of which came in September, he’s really come on as of late, doing some damage from the wide areas for the team. Able to cut inside, and with a strong left foot, he has given another dimension to his team’s attack, doing well to play off of Camara up front, and Timoteo alongside him. As a result, look for him to stay hot this matchday. Looking to finish the year strong before potentially heading back to his parent club, Halifax, a strong end to the season will only give him more options for next year, no matter where he ends up. “I was actually speaking to (Smith) about it earlier this morning, actually,” Koch said of Smith. “He felt like in his college career he was almost allowed to get by just being himself and doing whatever you wanted, because he’s a very attack-minded and creative player, but when you get to professional football, unless you’re Messi, you have to play within a team and within the structure. And his progression in that regard has been immense, he’s grown so much in terms of understanding what to do when we have the ball and what to do when we don’t have the ball. And I’m really happy for him to get rewarded here in the last few weeks.”
FC Edmonton wins: 4 || Pacific FC wins: 6 || Draws: 4
July 9, 2022 — FC Edmonton 2-3 Pacific FC
“The group did come together for that game, the spirit and energy in the locker room in the day leading to the match was very, very good. And everyone had a good feeling going into the game and everybody performed well, so we got the job done, which was most important after all those delays. So now we come home with a good spirit in the team. We know it’s a tight turnaround for this match, but now it’s just up to us to have the mentality to be up for this game tomorrow night.” –– Pacific FC head coach James Merriman.
“I’m excited that these are big games for our opponents because it gives us the right type of test that we want for our group. We don’t want to play games that don’t really mean anything, where both teams could just go in and go through the motions, as I don’t think that would help us in terms of what we’re trying to do with our players. So I think it’s a good thing for our group that these are important games, they’re big challenges. We know Pacific will come out of the gates flying, but those are the types of challenges we want, we want to play good teams and play meaningful games.” — FC Edmonton head coach Alan Koch.