MATCH ANALYSIS: Pacific extend clean sheet record in scoreless draw with Forge FC

Final Score: Pacific FC 0-0 Forge FC
Goalscorers: n/a
Game of the 2024 season: 18
CPL match: 502

Match in a minute or less

It was another match and another clean sheet for James Merriman’s Pacific FC side on Saturday, as they played out a scoreless draw with Forge FC at Starlight Stadium.

Both sides had their chances in this match, with the visitors outshooting their opponents 15-10 on the night, but just 4-3 in shots on target. Emil Gazdov and Jassem Koleilat made a handful of crucial saves in the Pacific and Forge nets, respectively, but the hero of the match was Forge defender Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson, who cleared a shot from Adonijah Reid off the goal line near the end of the first half — the closest anyone came to scoring in this game.

Adding one more point to their tally, Pacific FC take sole possession of first place in the Canadian Premier League table with eleven points from five matches. Atlético Ottawa, who started the day in first place, are in action on Sunday against Vancouver FC, and can climb back to the top with a win or draw. Forge meanwhile remain in third with ten points, and have a game in hand over both Pacific and Ottawa.

Three Observations

“French connection”, Gazdov help Pacific extend clean sheet record and move to the top of the table

The Tridents already had the Canadian Premier League record for most consecutive matches with a clean sheet coming into Saturday’s game against red-hot Forge FC, and were able to extend it to a very impressive five in a row.

Perhaps even more impressive about it is the fact that James Merriman’s side has done it in their first five matches of the 2024 season, and as a result are the only team in the CPL yet to concede this year in league play. Forge has conceded twice through their first four matches, and are second in the league in terms of having the stingiest defence, albeit with one less match played.

Emil Gazdov is a big reason the Tridents now sit alone atop the CPL table for the time being, with the 20-year-old goalkeeper already keeping four clean sheets (Sean Melvin was in net for the fifth). For comparison, Forge kept ten clean sheets in 2023, the most in the league, and Pacific is already halfway there with 23 matches still to play in the regular season.

Part of the reason for the backline playing so well together might just be that they can all speak French, according to Pacific defender Eric Lajeunesse. Lajeunesse is from Ottawa, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère is from Repentigny, Quebec (a suburb of Montreal), and Aly Ndom is from Pontoise, France.

“I think we have a strong backend,” said Lajeunesse after the match. “We have the French connection in the back, we all speak French to each other, we’re all very close to each other, and we communicate well — if we have a problem we fix it right away and we talk to each other all the time, that’s really important.

“The players in front of us, or the ones that started, they’re the first line of defence and they help us out.”

The next step for Pacific, if they can continue to be solid defensively, is to find some balance with the attack. They have already played two scoreless draws this season, and could potentially get out to a commanding early lead in the table if they can turn single points into three.

Daniel Parra continues to emerge as dangerous attacking threat

Daniel Parra, on loan from Liga MX club Monterrey, has been a mainstay at left back for Forge so far this season, and was arguably the most effective attacking player in Saturday’s match. Parra led Forge FC in touches (114), final third entries (19), and successful dribbles (four), routinely bombing up and down the left flank and combining with the midfielders Noah Jensen and Alessandro Hojabrpour to try and drive Forge up the pitch.

The 24-year-old was also important for Forge when building out of the back, linking up with the centre-backs Garven Metusala and Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson all game long to try and create plays from deep in their own half.

Parra’s consistently good performances this season have already landed him in the CPL’s Team of the Week twice in four matches, and he also looked sharp against CPL rivals York United and MLS side CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship.

Late in Saturday’s game, Bobby Smyrniotis brought defender Dom Samuel off the bench for midfielder Noah Jensen in a move that would typically be seen as negative, or just playing to hold onto the clean sheet. Instead what it did, however, was allow Parra to move higher up the pitch into midfield and try to get onto the ball a bit more to help the Forge attack find a late winner.

While that would not come to fruition in the end, Parra was involved all the way up to the final whistle. It was the Mexican fullback who took the last shot of the game, a headed effort inside the box that missed the target, and Parra also drew a red card for Reon Moore when trying to grab the ball back from the Pacific striker to resume play quickly.

Parra has been a crucial part of Forge’s early success this season, and will almost certainly continue to be as the season progresses.

Jassem Koleilat keeps clean sheet in Forge FC debut

With Christopher Kalongo playing every minute in every competition so far in 2024, Forge FC manager Bobby Smyrniotis decided to give the young goalkeeper the night off on Saturday, and give a club debut to Jassem Koleilat.

Koleilat, who was born in Prague, Czech Republic, and is of Canadian descent through his mother, signed a short-term contract with Forge ahead of the Concacaf Champions Cup in February, before putting pen to paper on a multi-year contract with the club in March. The 24-year-old spent 2023 with Los Angeles FC 2, after previous stops in the NCAA, USL, and in Europe.

With Forge spending a lot of the first half in Pacific’s side of the pitch, Koleilat wasn’t really’ called upon until the 37th minute. Tridents attacker Dario Zanatta was cutting in from the left flank and tried to curl a shot into the bottom right corner of the net, but Koleilat did well to dive to his left and push it around the far post.

Koleilat was tested again from the ensuing corner, forced to push a curling shot from the wide area over the crossbar to keep the match scoreless. The Forge goalkeeper received some help from Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson moments later as well, as the Swedish defender cleared the ball off the goal line after a low shot from Adonijah Reid seemed destined for the back of the net.

When Reon Moore got a head onto a corner kick into the penalty area midway through the second half, Koleilat was ready to react quickly and make a relatively simple catch to keep the Tridents off the board.

“It’s obviously a great feeling,” Koleilat said of his debut clean sheet after the match. “Bobby gave me the opportunity to play today, and thankfully we kept a clean sheet away. Tough opponent, they’ve been doing really well defensively, so it’s good to match the opponent’s energy, and it’s good to take a point away from home.”

There’s some symmetry in this situation as well. Kalongo made his Forge debut at Starlight Stadium on April 10, 2023, a 2-1 defeat to the Tridents.

“[He was] excellent,” Bobby Smyrniotis said after the match about the debutant. “He’s a goalkeeper that we brought in because we believe in him, we didn’t bring him in just to sit around. Chris Kalongo’s done a great job in the first games, and what we have is two starting goalkeepers on our team.

“It’s up to us as coaches to manage them, and manage their playing time, keep them both engaged, because the one thing I’ve known over the first five years of this league is you’re going to need each and every player. It’s an excellent match for Jassem to come in, and I think he’s done a great job, and that keeps him activated going forward.” Player of the Match

Alexander Achinioti-Jönsson , Forge FC  

Achinioti-Jönsson, Forge FC’s captain on the day, was the anchor of the team’s defence at Starlight Stadium, and made a crucial clearance off the goal line late in the first half.

What’s next?

Pacific FC welcome another Ontario team to Starlight Stadium next, as Atlético Ottawa make the trip to the west coast for a CPL match on Friday, May 17 (7 pm PT/10 pm ET). Forge, meanwhile, head back home next Saturday and will host Vancouver FC at Tim Hortons Field (4 pm ET/1 pm PT).

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