MATCH ANALYSIS: Pacific FC oust Cavalry FC on penalties in the Canadian Championship

Final Score: Pacific FC 1-1 Cavalry FC (5-3 on penalties)
Goalscorers: Ongaro 39′ ; Bevan 28′
2023 Canadian Championship
Preliminary Round

Match in a minute or less

One of the most anticipated matchups of the opening round of the 2023 Canadian Championship did not disappoint as Pacific FC defeated Cavalry on spot kicks.

Myer Bevan opened the scoring for Cavalry in the 28th minute on a clever finish across goal that beat Emil Gazdov. Pacific, however, would equalize before the half as Easton Ongaro found the back of the net on a well-placed header after getting on the end of a pinpoint Sean Young free kick.

With neither side able to add to that tally inside 90 minutes, the match was decided from the spot. Pacific’s 19-year-old goalkeeper Gazdov played hero. After getting a solid piece of Fraser Aird’s penalty, which trickled just past him and into the net, Gazdov made the decisive save on Daan Klomp. Pacific fullback Georges Mukumbilwa then smashed home the decisive penalty to send the Tridents to the next round.

It was a moment of redemption for Pacific, it should be noted, after the Tridents were eliminated from both the Canadian Championship and Concacaf League in penalties last year. The conclusion was heartbreaking for Cavalry, however, who have now been eliminated from the Canadian Championship in two consecutive years in penalty shootouts by BC sides, after losing to the Whitecaps in 2022.

The Pacific victory sets up a surprise BC derby in the quarter-finals as Pacific will host League1 BC side TSS Rovers, who became the first semi-pro side to advance in this competition when they beat Valour on Wednesday night.

Three Observations

Pacific’s Sean Young shows versatility during brilliant performance at multiple positions

Regardless of where Sean Young was deployed on the Starlight Stadium pitch on Thursday night, he was a class above. The 22-year-old began the match as a central defender, replacing Thomas Meilleur-Giguère who missed the match as a result of a minor injury.

Young filled in capably, showing his exceptional reading of the match as well as his quality distribution from the back, quarterbacking a few early forays forward for the Tridents. That lasted all of 22 minutes, but through no fault of Young’s, as an injury to Manny Aparicio (which Pacific FC head coach James Merriman also believes shouldn’t be too long-term) shifted Young back into the midfield. It was there that he delivered an exceptional free kick that Ongaro headed home to equalize for Pacific

“I had full confidence for him to step into centreback, it’s a minor injury to Thomas Meilleur-Giguère and a quick decision, I thought he was very good there, “Merriman told the media after the match. “He moves into the midfield, takes over for Manu, and then later in the game plays more of a double pivot with Cédric [Toussaint]. He just shows his versatility.”

Toussaint, it should be said, was also brilliant as a midfield destroyer for Pacific, consistently thwarting Cavalry attacks. The fellow 22-year-old won possession a stunning 11 times for the Tridents and was fouled four times.

Aside from the assist, Young created three other chances, completed 13 passes in the final third, won four aerial duels, and, to cap off an all-round brilliant performance, the young midfielder stepped up and scored one of his team’s penalties.

“He has all the tools, in my opinion, to go to another level,” added Merriman. “He knows that’s what I want for him and this is only our second game of the season, but you are seeing [him] start to take that next step.”

Early injuries force both sides to adjust gameplans

Before Thursday night’s clash between Pacific and Cavalry had even kicked off, the Tridents were forced to make some lineup adjustments due to player availability. Former Cavalry fullback Bradley Vliet, who now with Pacific was named to the CPL’s week one team of the week, was not in the 18, nor was centre-back Thomas Meilleure-Giguère.

In response, Merriman elected to play Young as a center back alongside Amer Didić to start the match. Pacific were quickly forced to go back to the drawing board in the 23rd minute when talisman Aparicio had to be removed from the match due to injury. In response, Young shifted back into the midfield and natural central defender Eric Lajeunesse replaced Aparicio.

The 19-year-old CPL – U SPORTS draft pick had hardly stepped into the game before he was outmuscled by Myer Bevan who got behind him to open the scoring. After that moment, however, he had a quietly solid performance.

Cavalry were forced to make an adjustment of their own in the 33rd minute, when Joe Mason had to leave the match. Mason, who was operating as something of a second striker behind Bevan, was replaced by 17-year-old midfielder Niko Myroniuk. The youngster, who is on a development contract, is more of a traditional number ten.

Wheeldon Jr. said that Myroniuk had been excellent in pre-season and deserved a chance to showcase himself in a competition built to give opportunities to young Canadian players. While the young midfielder showed flashes of real quality, especially in aerial duels. However, the youngster also looked a little overawed at times, completing just five of his 10 pass attempts in 57 minutes of action, losing possession 11 times.

Cavalry backline shows excellent ability to dictate tempo, but final act was missing

Despite being the away side on the night, Cavarly were the protagonists for large stretches, holding 55.8 per cent of the ball and largely dictating the tempo of the match.

A big part of that was the excellent ball-playing ability of their central defenders, as Daan Klomp and Callum Montgomery played 70 and 48 accurate passes respectively, allowing Cavalry to shift the ball from side to side and try to find gaps in the Pacific midfield.

Klomp, in particular, was sensational on and off the ball. After playing fullback last year, playing more centrally in 2023 allows him the ability to pick out passes to both sides of the pitch. The 24-year-old Dutchman set up Cavalry’s goal with an excellent ball over the top, and constantly launched attacking opportunities with his pinpoint deliveries.

Passing chart for Daan Klomp (#4) and Callum Montgomery (#3) – Courtesy Opta

“The manner in which we built out…we played some really terrific football,” said Cavalry FC manager Tommy Wheeldon Jr., before adding “but that final pass, that final little half step and dribble had it been different we could have won it in regular time.”

The final third is really where the game ultimately went wrong for Cavalry. They completed just 55.6% of their passes in the final third and had just 0.76 expected goals on 11 shot attempts, only six of which came into the box. For all their good progressive football, the truly dangerous players on their side did not see the ball nearly enough.

A look at the club’s passing matrix shows just how isolated their central attacking players became throughout the match — which has been an issue in the past for this club.

Cavalry FC’s passing matrix against Pacific (Opta)

Mason (#20 in the above graphic) had just 16 touches in 33 minutes on the pitch. Bevan managed to score on one of just 17 touches over the course of 69 minutes. If he had been able to get on the ball even marginally more, things might have ended differently for the Calgary side.

Nevertheless, there is certainly something to build on there for Cavalry in how they built out from the back in this match. Over the course of a long CPL season, it could prove absolutely invaluable to their ultimate goal of finally lifting silverware. Player of the Match

Sean Young, Pacific FC 

One of the brightest young talents in the Canadian Premier League demonstrated his tactical excellence in all areas of the park. That ability to thrive in multiple positions could prove invaluable for Pacific throughout this season.

What’s next?

Pacific FC advance to the Canadian Championship quarter-finals, where they will take on League1 BC side TSS Rovers. In Canadian Premier League action, the two sides will face off again on Sunday, April 23 in Langford at 1:00 p.m. PT/2:00 p.m. CT.

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