Match Analysis: Pacific FC 2-1 FC Edmonton — CPL Match #22

 Score: Pacific FC 2-1 FC Edmonton
Goalscorers: Diaz 10′, Heard 61′ ; Timoteo 73′
Game of the 2022 season: 22
CPL match: 273

Match in a minute or less

Just weeks after combining for a tense 0-0 draw, Pacific FC and FC Edmonton renewed acquaintances once again at Starlight Stadium on Saturday, as Pacific looked to extend their lead atop the league table, while Edmonton chased their first victory of the season. 

Continuing to be tough to beat at home, however, Pacific would ultimately prove to get the edge of their visitors on the night, as goals from Alejandro Diaz and Josh Heard would end up being enough for them to nab all three points on the day, even despite a late push from Edmonton that saw them make things interesting via a Wesley Timoteo goal. 

Thanks to that, Pacific would also be able to extend their lead atop the CPL table to eight points (as of writing), ensuring that they finish this matchday no fewer than five points ahead of second place, allowing them to maintain their strong start to the campaign. At the other end, however, Edmonton will have to wait for another game for that first win, although they will have plenty to be pleased about in what proved to be a good effort away from home.

Three Observations

Champions “character” leads to another tight victory for Pacific:

They might have ended up on the right side of the result at the end of it, but much as they had to do in all of their wins this season, Pacific were left to fight every inch of the way just to get that result. Due to a resilient performance from Edmonton, who refused to lie down even as they went down two goals, the win was far from assured for Pacific right until the final whistle, making for a nervy end to the match for them. 

Yet, that’s been a recurring theme for Pacific this season. 

Despite what the table might suggest, which has been clear cut dominance, it’s not as if Pacific have been running through their opponents with multi-goal wins.

In fact, they’re yet to do that once this season, and that continued in this game, which was the fifth time out of five that they won by just one goal this season. 

Part of that has been on them, to be fair, as this game was the third time that they let a two-goal lead finish as a narrow one-goal margin, but even despite that, all of their games have been quite close all the way through. 

But that’s part of the reason why they’re the defending champions. Of course, they know how to be dominant, and certainly have spells in games that remind opponents of that, but they also know how to grind things out when they aren’t going their way, which is arguably just as important of a skill in a league setting. 

As much as one might expect to be dominant in every game, that just doesn’t happen for anyone in this sport. Instead, what differentiates the best from the rest is the ability to grab wins even when you’re not at your best, and given Pacific’s standing as defending champions, as well as current table-toppers, they’ve certainly found a way to strike that balance as of late. 

“I think it’s our character, we know that it’s a long game, we know it’s never going to be easy,” Pacific’s Kunle Dada-Luke said after the game.

“But I think the way we battle and never give up to the end is why we keep the results.”

Despite their success, however, that doesn’t mean that Pacific isn’t eager to put together a big victory. Of course, a win is a win, but it’s never a bad thing to grab one in a comfortable fashion. 

So now, that’s their next quest, as while they’re happy with where they stand right now, they know things can be even better, giving something for them to strive for. 

“We need to find a way to win the game and finish the game off,” Pacific head coach, James Merriman, admitted. “We need to be more clinical, we need to not make it easier (for our opponents), we can put games away, we can put teams away, and that’s what we need to start doing (more of).”

Pacific’s new-look back 3 gives them strong wing control:

Having run with their familiar 4-2-3-1 for most of the season, Pacific elected to switch things up ahead of this game, shifting to a 3-4-2-1, instead. 

Partly done with the expectation that they’d have to break down a resolute Edmonton defensive block in the game, the change also allowed Pacific to get their full backs, a big strength of their team, further forward than they usually do. 

As a result, it really allowed them to do some damage down the flanks, giving them the tools that they needed in order to try and crack that Edmonton defence. 

With usual wingers, Marco Bustos and Josh Heard, both operating more centrally (which to be fair, is something that Bustos often does – Heard less so, though), that really freed up Kunle Dada-Luke and Nathan Mavila to play as wing backs instead of full backs. 

Pacific's average position map, showing how high Mavila (#33) and Dada-Luke (#13) pushed
Pacific’s average position map, which goes back-to-front from left-to-right, showing how high Mavila (#33) and Dada-Luke (#13) pushed on Saturday.

Through that, it really allowed Pacific to control proceedings, holding 61% of possession, while generating an impressive 1.91 Expected Goals (xG) on just eight shots. Not only were they really causing problems for Edmonton in wide areas, generating some of their best chances through that route, but they also did so without having to sacrifice their defensive solidity, either.

Because of that, it led to some very dominant numbers from the hosts, who put up one of their more efficient performances of the season, doing well to both hold the ball, and then finish their opportunities when they got them, with the flexibility that this new formation offered them being a big reason why that was the case. 

Pacific's heat map from Saturday
Pacific’s heat map from Saturday.

But that’s the sort of flexibility that Pacific have made a calling card the past few seasons. With a roster filled with all sorts of versatile players, they have not been afraid to change things up depending on the occasion, while also never being shy to ask players to play different roles. 

In a long season, that can go a long way, as it’s not in every game where you’ll be able to have all of your players, or play a team that allows you to play your style, meaning that you have to be ready to adapt to new things.

So although that 3-4-2-1 might not have been a formation that Pacific is particularly used to, they made the most of it, allowing them to grab a big result. 

Speaking of that formation, however, it does bring up some interesting questions long-term. Especially considering that Pacific is flush with options at the full back position, and have a few players that could potentially do damage should they be unleashed as wing backs, it’ll be interesting to see if Pacific considers turning to this formation more often. 

And according to Merriman, it’s certainly something he’s considering, which is why he tried it in this game, giving him and his staff a reference point to study as they ponder different looks going forward. 

”We wanted to look at it,” he explained. “And we got a good look. I need to watch the game back (first), but then we can go from there.”

There’s a reason why it’s a formation that is becoming more and more popular in the modern game, as the flexibility it provides is so useful when it’s wielded properly, as Pacific got a small taste of in this game.

“I think that the more we work on it, the more we will be comfortable in it,” Dada-Luke noted. “Because I think it’s something that surprised the opposition. So I think it’s going to benefit us going forward, because we can switch from a back four to back three, meaning you can never know with us.”

Edmonton shifts things around with switch to 4-4-2:

Having made a 5-3-2 a staple of their identity so far this season, Edmonton also came out with a bit of a new look on Saturday, pulling out an unfamiliar 4-4-2 formation, as they looked to generate more offence, while also keeping things solid at the back.

The formation change was slightly done out of necessity, to be fair, as Edmonton head coach, Alan Koch, decided to roll out a heavily rotated lineup after a busy few weeks, but even despite the unfamiliarity that some of those changes might’ve provided, the new formation did give Edmonton a bit of a new-look. 

From the added solidity that it gave them in wide areas, something that they haven’t always done as much as they might’ve liked this season, to giving them a bit more support up front, it allowed Edmonton to be a bit more of a threat offensively than usual. 

FC Edmonton's touch map from Saturday, showing their improved width
FC Edmonton’s touch map from Saturday, showing their improved width

So while they didn’t turn enough of their good forays forward into shots and chances, there’s a lot to like with this new formation for them. Especially considering that they were missing some of their main creative threats, such as Tobias Warschewski and Gabriel Bitar, yet still did generate a respectable 1.1 xG from seven shots, things could stand to get even better going forward in the attack when they have everyone back, which is another bonus. 

Because of that, it’d only make sense for Edmonton to want to use more of that going forward. Having only switched to a back four for the first time in their most recent match against Cavalry in the Canadian Championship, they got a good taste of what it can provide in a resilient late push in that game, nearly reversing a 2-0 scoreline away from home.

Especially seeing how they were able to remain alive in this game despite also going down 2-0, that is also something to further consider, as you can only imagine what sort of damage they could inflict in the set-up if they came out as strongly as possible from the start. 

Edmonton's heat map from Saturday
Edmonton’s heat map from Saturday

For what it’s worth, Koch said afterwards that he’s seen things from both formations that he was intrigued with, so he’s not going to commit to a certain set-up quite yet, but if anything, that just shows the flexibility that he has in his group. 

So ahead of his next game, which comes against Atlético Ottawa next week, Koch notes that he’ll go through all of the options before deciding what to do, something he’ll continue to do more and more of as they demonstrate an ability to play in different set-ups. 

“I think we played well with the back four and I think we played well with the back through back five,” Koch mused. “But I think we’ve also had challenges with a back four, and I think we’ve also had challenges with the back five. So we’ll head home, we’ll go assess I wasn’t able to watch the Ottawa game earlier. But go take a look and see what’s gonna be best for us next week. We’re, I think we’ve shown with quite comfortable adjust information if needed. Player of the Match

Alejandro Diaz, Pacific FC

Diaz continued to be red-hot to start the year in this game, nabbing his fifth goal in just seven games to further cement his spot atop the CPL’s golden boot standings. Plus, as he usually does, he was very effective in many ways beyond that, as well, holding up the ball nicely on several occasions, while also not being shy in dropping deep to help defend. As a result, he was able to finish with three shots, 13/19 passes completed, and 1 clearance, making for a solid all-around effort from him.

What’s next?

Pacific FC will continue their homestand this upcoming week with a clash against York United on Friday, May 20th at Starlight Stadium (4:00 p.m. PT/7:00 p.m. ET), the first of two clashes at home against York in a matter of days (the other coming in the Canadian Championship a few days later). Meanwhile, Edmonton will return back to Alberta for the next matchday, as they get set to host Atlético Ottawa in CPL action on Sunday, May 22nd at Clarke Stadium (2:00 p.m. MT/4:00 p.m. ET).

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