Match Analysis: Toronto FC 2-1 Pacific FC — 2021 Canadian Championship

Final Score: Toronto FC 2-1 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: Altidore 15′, Shaffelburg 25′; Diaz 83′
2021 Canadian Championship

Match in a minute or less

It came down to the wire, but Toronto FC will advance to the 2021 Canadian Championship final, having beaten CPL outfit Pacific FC by a 2-1 scoreline at BMO Field on Wednesday night. The Reds got on the board in style early on, as a Jacob Shaffelburg pass led to a perfectly-placed finish off the far goalpost from Jozy Altidore to make it 1-0 in the 15th minute.

Just 10 minutes after that, TFC doubled their lead, as Shaffelburg jumped on a loose ball in the box and buried it past Callum Irving before the Pacific defence could get in front of him. Pacific made a valiant brave push late in the second half, with Alejandro Diaz pulling back a goal in the 83rd minute to prompt a frenetic last few minutes, but ultimately the second goal eluded them and Toronto held on to win.

RELATED: HIGHLIGHTS: Toronto FC dispatches Pacific FC to reach 2021 CanChamp final

Three Observations

Toronto suffocate Pacific with aggressive pressure

Despite the vast playing surface at BMO Field, it felt as though Pacific had no space to work almost every time they won the ball on Wednesday. Toronto applied immediate pressure to their backline and midfielders, giving absolutely no space to play out of the back or into midfield.

At times in the first half, Pacific tried to bypass the press with long balls out to Josh Heard on the left wing or Marco Bustos on the right, but many of those were cut off by TFC’s fullbacks and gave possession back to the hosts.

Ultimately, it was the aggression of TFC out of possession that won the day for them; Jacob Shaffelburg was a ball of energy covering everywhere from the left touchline to the middle of the park, and Noble Okello — a late addition to the lineup after Omar Gonzalez withdrew before kickoff with injury — was tireless in marking Pacific’s midfielders and forcing them to play backwards or give the ball away.

As a result, Pacific had trouble getting into the attacking third or finding central support for the wingers when they did get higher up the pitch. Alejandro Diaz had a very strong night holding up play as a centre-forward, but he often found himself isolated.

Credit is due to TFC, who seemed to understand what Pacific wanted to do with the ball and thus mitigated them especially in the first half, closing down space and taking away opportunities for line-breaking passes.

Pacific stay in the fight, nearly find second goal with late surge

After conceding two goals in short succession fairly early, teams at every level often fall apart and never again find their footing in the match. Pacific did no such thing, though. Even with the two-goal deficit, and with Marco Bustos out of the game (more on that later), Pacific continued to try and find their way back into it in the second half.

Coach Pa-Modou Kah injected some further energy into his side around the hour mark, bringing on Victor Blasco and Matthew Baldisimo — two positive substitutions, with those two replacing fullback Jordan Haynes and centre-back Abdou Samake. Kunle Dada-Luke, who had come on at halftime in place of Bustos, was a positive influence as well, with his speed along the right flank helping Pacific break the press even after he moved to right-back.

Pacific certainly matched (perhaps exceeded) Toronto in terms of effort and energy, but they did appear to tire during a lull in the second half. They found new life, though, when Alejandro Diaz finally broke through for them and finished a dangerous chance served up by Kadin Chung.

After that, the mood on both benches shifted dramatically. The nerves certainly grew in the TFC camp, and everyone with a Pacific badge on their jacket was on their feet. The visitors managed three very dangerous shots after the Diaz goal, plus a few more crosses that TFC just barely dealt with. Two corner kicks back-to-back in stoppage time gave Pacific an excellent chance to send the game to penalties — even goalkeeper Callum Irving came into the box for those — but ultimately they couldn’t quite get the right touch in front of goal to score again.

Nonetheless, Pacific will emerge very proud of their effort. To remain in the fight like that, despite the scoreline and tired legs, is a testament to the group. Kah expressed that sentiment in his postmatch comments, commending his team for representing the CPL and Vancouver Island well in their biggest ever match.

“I think we can be very proud of our group and the way we played. They held their ground,” Kah said of his side postmatch. “It was just unfortunate with the touch of Diaz that he couldn’t finish the second chance, I think it was a little bit high up towards his head, it would’ve made it 2-2. But it was the biggest game ever in our club history, and I think we showed up today, and we showed what we’re capable of doing.”

Devastation for Bustos with first half injury

The defeat will hurt for Pacific, but perhaps for none more than Marco Bustos. The star attacker, who only recently returned to the Tridents’ lineup after missing two months with a knee injury, left this match in heartbreaking fashion. Not long before halftime, Bustos went down after a hard tackle in midfield, and seemed immediately to clutch at his knee.

Though he returned to the game — and got on the end of a cross to take Pacific’s first shot on target of the game — he lingered on the field with PFC coaching staff after the halftime whistle, and in that moment he certainly looked to be in pain. Sure enough, when the sides emerged for the second 45, Kunle Dada-Luke had taken his place on the right wing.

To come out of this match, after working so hard the past few months to be ready to play in it, would surely be devastating for Bustos.

“He feels it, because he wants to be out there to help his teammates, especially in a game like this,” said Pacific coach Pa-Modou Kah postmatch. “Unfortunately injury is a part of football, it’s part of life, so for us we regroup again. For him, there’s better things ahead so he’s just got to keep going.”

Pacific thus had to play the second half without their best player, which certainly made their mountain to climb even greater, already being down 2-0 at that point. This particular story extends well beyond this match, though; another injury to Bustos could have enormous ramifications for the remainder of Pacific’s season. They remain atop the CPL standings right now, with one regular season game left to play, but nothing is certain.

The Tridents will be desperate to find out as soon as possible how serious Bustos’ injury is, as losing him could have a major impact on their playoff campaign. Kah wasn’t able to confirm anything on the severity postmatch, but it certainly would be crushing for Bustos personally — and for Pacific as a team — if he can’t return. Player of the Match

Jacob Shaffelburg, Toronto FC

As he did last time TFC played a CPL team (the quarterfinal against York United in September), Shaffelburg was the most dominant presence on the pitch. He helped create the first goal with a slip pass to Altidore, and he scored the second himself with an excellent burst of pace.

What’s next?

Toronto FC will now take on rivals CF Montreal in the 2021 Canadian Championship final (date/time TBA). Pacific, meanwhile, will turn their attention back to league play; they’ll head to ATCO Field this Sunday, November 7 to take on Cavalry FC in their final match of the CPL regular season (3:30 pm ET/1:30 pm MT).

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