Final Score: Pacific FC 4-2 Atlético Ottawa Goalscorers: ; Diaz (35′, 53′, 55′), Cambpell (75′); M. Shaw (2′, 15′) Game of the 2021 season: 29 CPL match: 164
Match in a minute or less
In perhaps the most entertaining — and chaotic — match so far in the 2021 CPL season, Pacific FC edged out Atlético Ottawa despite going down 2-0 after the first 15 minutes. With the early lead, Ottawa had to defend for much of the contest — particularly after Ben McKendry’s 22nd-minute red card — but their resolve ultimately broke, with Alejandro Diaz scoring three times (one from the penalty spot) before Terran Campbell added the late insurance marker in a run of four unanswered goals from the Tridents to survive a cataclysmic start and take home a resounding victory in their final match of The Kickoff in Winnipeg.
Newly-aggressive Ottawa press causes early problems
In previous matches, “aggressive” wasn’t necessarily a word that would spring to mind for Atlético Ottawa. However, they seemed to enter this game with new life, deploying a fervent three-man high press from kickoff. In the early stages, they did very well to pin Pacific back, and it paid off directly with two goals — Ottawa seemed to force several phases worth of backwards passes out of the backline with their pressure before Shaw’s first goal just two minutes in, and the forward’s second goal came from similar aggression with a direct ball over the top before Shaw won the physical battle and finished professionally.
Once Ottawa went down to 10 men, they obviously weren’t able to keep up that press, especially when protecting a two-goal lead. They seemed to settle back into a 4-4-1 formation with Shaw isolated as the lone pressing threat in front of two rigid, narrow banks of four, and it didn’t exactly work, given the four Pacific goals that followed. Still, it would’ve been interesting to see how Ottawa’s press might have transformed over the course of a game if they’d kept 11 men on the pitch — perhaps they would’ve retreated somewhat anyway with a lead, or indeed ran out of steam eventually, but Pacific was saved from needing to break it score.
“We decided to press a little bit more high,” Shaw said in his postmatch availability. “From our backline to our midfield, we decided we needed to step more, so that enabled me to be able to go more often. There’s less space between our lines and that enabled us to have a more efficient press, and from there we were rewarded with some goals. Going forward, that’s definitely something we’re gonna implement.”
Certainly a shame they were forced to scrap that plan so quickly (although not for Pacific).
Pacific overwhelms with man advantage
The very obvious storyline of this match revolves around how quickly things shifted after McKendry was sent off, but it really was the tipping point in this game. Pacific was dominant in possession, even before this point, but the man advantage gave them full license to progress upfield, and they managed to come out of a nearly-disastrous first half down just one goal having fought back and won a penalty.
The Tridents took over completely in the second half, with a staggering 72.9% possession in the final 45 minutes, with a staggering 80.9% of the full game played either in the middle third or in Ottawa’s end. The heatmaps below paint a picture of just how much Pacific took on the role of protagonists after the McKendry red card, with Atleti barely making a venture outside their own half, the only player really being able to do so more than a couple times being Miguel Acosta on the left.
Although Pacific had a huge share of possession even before the red card, they were a little toothless going forward in the early stages. After the drastic momentum shift with the red card and later penalty, though, they managed to exploit the acres of space much better, moving the ball far more quickly to try and pull Ottawa’s rigid blocks out of position. With a team-wide pass accuracy of 91.4%, they were definitely comfortable in possession, but they also managed to penetrate further and further as they settled in.
“Our biggest problem in the game was actually our tempo on the ball, moving it side-to-side, and we spoke before the match that we wanted to play with a high tempo on the ball,” said PFC assistant coach James Merriman. “Maybe we had 60% possession, but we weren’t doing anything with it, weren’t going as quick as we wanted to. Obviously they go down a man, so all the more reason for us to move the ball quickly and make them try to get across the pitch… That’s something that I think, as the game went on, we did better and better.”
Pacific actually set a CPL record in this match, becoming the first side to finish a game with a team-wide pass accuracy above 90%, but they also played the lowest-ever percentage of their passes forward — a hallmark of prioritizing ball retention. Once they started to probe more and move quickly, they began breaking Ottawa down.
Bustos quietly brilliant in secondary role
Though the spotlight is, quite rightly, on Alejandro Diaz after a special breakout night for him, Marco Bustos deserves a lot of credit for Pacific’s energy and effort in this game. The Winnipeg-born star didn’t bag a goal of his own to get back on level terms with league scoring leader Austin Ricci, but he did just about everything else for his side: it was his run that drew the penalty, his perfect corner kick that found Diaz’s head, and his shot that hit the post for Diaz to finish.
The fact that Bustos will certainly have many more nights like this makes it easier to justify giving Diaz his moment in the sun as man of the match, but he deserves a lot of credit as well. With a staggering 95.7% pass success rate (second on the team only to Jamar Dixon’s even more astounding 98.3), three shots, and three key passes, Bustos had a major hand in all of Pacific’s attacking moves, but he seemed to operate in a slightly more reserved role in the right half-channel, looking to prioritize the overlap with Kadin Chung or the through ball to a striker perhaps more than in recent matches. He also seemed more confident with his crosses, both from set-pieces and open play.
“It’s been great since last year, we’re getting more comfortable every time we play,” Diaz said of his burgeoning partnership with Bustos. “I think just still building that confidence up, it’s going to be better every single game.”
After two consecutive frustrating games for Bustos in which HFX Wanderers and Forge, in succession, shut him down and took away his space, he tried some slightly different looks in this game and it worked out — all part of the 25-year-old’s continued growth as a player, as he diversifies his skillset.
CanPL.ca Player of the Match
Alejandro Diaz, Pacific FC
Impossible not to give the laurels to a man who scored just the second hat-trick in CPL history. Diaz did what a great goalscorer does, getting himself into good positions and making the most of his opportunities — which is the most you can ask of a player whose job on the night was primarily to make himself available to Marco Bustos (a perennial honourable mention here). Diaz had an incredible six shots, five of them on target, plus a key pass. Had Ottawa held on or scraped a point, Malcolm Shaw may also have gotten the nod for this spot thanks to his energy in the press.
Having completed their time in the Winnipeg bubble, both teams will now return home to prepare to continue their CPL campaigns. Pacific will make a triumphant return to Starlight Stadium on Vancouver Island next Friday, July 30 against Cavalry FC (9:30 pm ET/6:30 pm PT), and Atlético Ottawa look ahead to a visit to Nova Scotia and a date with HFX Wanderers FC on Monday, August 2 (2 pm ET/3 pm AT).