MATCH ANALYSIS: Pacific attack bursts to life, hands York United heavy loss

Final Score: York United 1-4 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: De Rosario 86; Meilleur-Giguère 10′, Young 18′ Aparicio 62′, Brazão 79′
Game of the 2023 season: 98
CPL match: 465

Match in a minute or less

Pacific FC strolled to a dominant away win at York Lions Stadium on Sunday afternoon, continuing their Ontario road trip with a 4-1 victory over York United to retain hold of second place and hand the Nine Stripes a frustrating blow to their playoff hopes.

Thomas Meilleur-Giguère got things started for Pacific, getting his foot on a headed pass across goal by his centre-back partner Amer Didic; soon after, a deft Djenairo Daniels touch sent Sean Young in on goal, and he made no mistake and made it 2-0 — which the score would stay at until halftime.

Manny Aparicio and David Brazão both scored in the second half as Pacific continued to press their advantage, putting the game fully out of reach. York would find a consolation goal late courtesy of Osaze De Rosario, but it wasn’t nearly enough as they found themselves on the end of a second consecutive loss at home.

Three Observations

Pacific find joy with dangerous counters, ruthless directness

For weeks now, James Merriman has been calling for more from his attacking group, specifically repeating that he wants them to be more ruthless going forward.

Well, they certainly were ruthless against York in this game, especially in the first half-hour or so where they constantly were able to pin York back and break in transition; perhaps the best example is their first goal, where the initial attacking move in the box was decent but unsuccessful, before Kunle Dada-Luke put the cleared ball directly back into the box rather than recycling and letting York get back into their shape. They made good use of towering centre-backs Amer Didic and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère still being in attacking positions in the box, and they were rewarded for it.

In other games recently where Pacific have found it more difficult to score, they’ve been a little slower with their movement and more static in the build-up, especially at home against some teams that have occupied space on the smaller pitch and made it difficult to play into the box.

This time, though, there was far less hesitation or delay in Pacific’s attacking mindset; they were aggressive in playing through defensive lines and moving the ball on with quick touches — look at the Young goal or the later Aparicio goal for examples of how they passed and moved to get the ball around York’s defenders.

Merriman spoke postmatch about how this performance was one he’d been waiting for from his side, which has been picking up decent results and defending very well but hasn’t necessarily had the high-octane attack it had earlier this season.

On Sunday, they were far more aggressive, pressing defensively to win the ball high up the pitch and moving it forward quickly, especially in transition, to beat York’s lines before they could arrange themselves defensively.

“We’ve been waiting to reward ourselves going forward and creating those chances, and a lot of those chances came from that focus,” Merriman said. “We were clinical early, which is something we’ve been waiting for. Full credit to the boys, to the group and the players that took their goals, the way we attacked and the chances we created. It didn’t stop throughout the game, so it’s a big performance for us. It’s something we can build on for sure.”

Certainly, this would be a perfect time for Pacific to return to form and build some momentum with just three games to go before the postseason. They can clinch a spot officially if Halifax Wanderers beat Atlético Ottawa on Monday night.

Photo Credit: CHANT

Deflating loss for York as Nash sounds off on effort

For the second week in a row, York United will leave a home loss feeling that they allowed a visiting team to come in and outplay them in the early stages.

Last week against Valour, they started poorly and found themselves down a goal at halftime. This week, knowing the stakes were even higher with so much less runway in the playoff race, the start was even worse, as York often found themselves second to the ball. They won just 36.8 per cent of duels in the entire game, giving the ball away nine times in the defensive third.

Head coach Martin Nash was understandably upset after the game, and he did not mince words in calling out his side’s general effort in a match so late in the season while they’re fighting for a playoff spot.

“We didn’t come with the bare minimum requirement to win a game,” he said. “We didn’t come with energy, no passion; when that happens, you’re not going to win, and what happened tonight is going to happen every time you step on the field. I thought we were the same way last week, we started the game and didn’t have the drive and desire. We talked about it all week, talked about it before the game, tried to get them going — and they’ve got to find something in each one of them individually. If they can’t find that minimum desire to show up and play with passion and desire and effort, they’re going to get beat every week.”

Nash went on to add that he’d felt like they’d had a good week of training, working on a tactical plan and trying to produce the kind of effort required to beat Pacific, but when the game started it seemed to him like the plan had been thrown out the window. The lone player he singled out to praise was 21-year-old Trivine Esprit, suggesting the rest of his far more experienced players had not been up to standard.

This is two consecutive home defeats for York, who have the worst home record in the league — just 11 points from 12 games.

“For whatever reason, I don’t know why we can find the energy, the attitude, the drive to play on the road and not at home. Especially when you have three home games to get a playoff place — now we have two, and then one on the road… We’ve got to come out with effort. I thought [Trivine Esprit] was fantastic tonight playing centre midfield, he gave an effort, got stuck in and didn’t really give the ball away. I didn’t think he got a lot of help.

“There was a few guys that put the effort in, but there was a lot of guys that I felt didn’t make the bare minimum requirements of a professional footballer.”

Photo Credit: CHANT

Pacific stay on gas pedal, maintain urgency with lead after letting off in Ottawa

On Wednesday evening in Ottawa, Pacific opened the game well and absolutely dominated possession, trying to pick their way through Atlético’s low block. They did break through and score around the half-hour mark, showing a glimpse of the aforementioned quick forward play that helped them explode in this game, but after taking the lead they collapsed and let Ottawa right back into the game.

This time, Pacific obviously got on the board much earlier, but perhaps most impressive from them was how they continued to press on the accelerator, ensuring they killed off the game. After Meilleur-Giguère’s goal, they went immediately in search of a second. After halftime, they again seized opportunities, with another nine shots (and 1.26 expected goals) in the second half when they were already comfortably in front.

Goal differential certainly could come into play in the playoff race, but perhaps more important is the intangible psychological benefit they’ll draw from such a comprehensive, 90-minute performance.

“We felt good in Ottawa in the first 30, 35 minutes, we only rewarded ourselves with a goal,” James Merriman said. “The biggest difference [today] was a little bit more urgency to get forward, to try to create one-v-ones, to combine, to get into the final third to cross if we can, to take those chances, the cutback; we did that on the first two goals and took them really well. It’s a little bit a mentality shift and how we attack the final third, right when we need it.”

That said, Pacific still felt they could’ve been even more comfortably in front, with another two or three golden chances in the first half especially. Meilleur-Giguère, in classic defender fashion, was annoyed to have conceded near the end of the game.

“For sure it was better today, but even then I feel like we could have six or seven maybe, we can kill the game even more,” Meilleur-Giguère said. “We conceded a goal at the end; it’s already 4-0, it’s not too bad, but if it’s 2-0 and they score to go to 2-1, now we’re under pressure. In that type of game we could have had six or seven and we have to take that, but it was great. We’ll take that result for sure.”

Regardless, putting four goals in the net and refusing to let up en route to a comprehensive victory is massive for Pacific at this point in the season, and could be a turning point they needed as they look to chase down Cavalry FC for the title — or, at least, ensure they finish second above Forge. Player of the Match

Kunle Dada-Luke, Pacific FC

The fullback was involved in almost all of Pacific’s goalscoring opportunities on Sunday, not technically credited with an assist but playing the ball back into the box for the first goal, driving up the wing on the second and helping bring it down and play forward ahead of the third. Dada-Luke won five out of six tackles and 10 out of 14 duels (both team-highs), and his 80 per cent passing accuracy in the final third was also joint-highest in the game among starters.

What’s next?

Pacific will be back in Ontario once again next weekend, as they complete the road trip trifecta by playing in Hamilton against Forge FC on Saturday evening (7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT). York, meanwhile, will remain at home, looking to bounce back when they host Atlético Ottawa earlier on Saturday afternoon (1 p.m. ET).

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