MATCH ANALYSIS: Vancouver FC climbs to 2nd in CPL table with spirited 2-1 win over Pacific in Salish Sea Derby

Final Score: Vancouver FC 2-1 Pacific FC
Goalscorers: Dyer 40′, Fry 86′; Sellouf 6′ (pen.)
Game of the 2024 season: 26
CPL match: 510

Match in a minute or less

Vancouver FC won their third straight Salish Sea Derby match on Saturday, defeating Pacific FC 2-1 at Willoughby Community Park in Langley to climb to second place in the Canadian Premier League table.

Pacific opened the scoring in this game, as Josh Heard won a penalty off the hand of David Norman Jr that Ayman Sellouf stepped up to convert in the sixth minute, before Vancouver responded through a Moses Dyer goal to make it 1-1 in the 40th minute.

From there, that set up an entertaining finish to the match, which saw Vancouver’s Vasco Fry score in the 86th minute after his side won the ball high up the pitch, securing the victory for his team in dramatic fashion.

Three Observations

Vancouver picks up third straight derby win with strong second half

Heading into this match, a lot was made about this derby and what it meant to both teams, and rightfully so. After four entertaining contests saw both sides win two games apiece in 2023, the expectation was for this match to be just as exciting as those four matches were, adding another chapter of lore to this derby’s young history.

Especially with a strong showing of both Vancouver and Pacific fans for this game, who provided a strong atmosphere to this one, it had all of the makings of another good matchup.

Through the first half, however, the intensity was lacking, as both teams took some time to find their feet in the game.

Because of that, the first 45 minutes were marked by two distinct moments – both goals, as other than that, the two teams spent most of the half trying to figure out how to break the other down, looking mostly out of ideas on how to best to do so.

Not only that, but the intensity one would expect from a derby match also wasn’t there, either, with both teams seeming rather subdued, staying away from any big tackles. Of course, that could’ve been an instruction from both coaches – sometimes, teams can get too excited by the prospect of a match like this, foregoing structure and positioning for wild tackles, which would’ve made sense.

That idea went out the window in the second half, however, as both teams came out strongly, bringing some of the energy that wasn’t there earlier, indicating that both coaches weren’t satisfied with their teams play.

Because of that, the rhythm of play increased, the tackles started to get a bit more difficult, and that brought the match to another level, setting up a furious end to the game. Even as both teams squandered chances at both ends, it seemed like someone would find a winner, sending their fans home happy.

Turns out, it’d be the home team, and ultimately that made them deserving of their win. While both teams had done well to come out with energy in the second half, Vancouver seemed to start to get an edge through their physical play, which allowed them to then will the chance on their winner.

Pacific certainly had their chances to win this game, outshooting Vancouver 17 to 13, but Vancouver made the most of their opportunities, winning the xG battle 2.21 to 1.66 despite Pacific having a penalty, and that allowed them to win the game.

With that, they’ve now won three straight derby matches, having emerged victorious in the last two matches between these clubs last year, now giving them an edge in the all-time matchup with three wins to Pacific’s two.

Because of that, keep an eye out for Pacific’s response in their next meeting, which comes on June 27 in Langford. Given how frustrated James Merriman was after the match, that matchup will certainly be circled on the calendar, as they look to put this loss behind them.

“For me, we gave the gave three points points away,” Merriman said. “We need to think about this, we need to look back at it as we were poor, this was our worst performance from us (this year), so we need to be better – this is disappointing considering it’s a derby match.”

Until then, Vancouver will relish this victory, as it’s a strong reflection of how they’ve started to step up in big games as of late, and none may have been bigger than this derby matchup between two of the top teams in the CPL to start 2024.

“That’s what good teams do, they find moments to change gears, and we’ve (shown) to have that sixth gear and beyond this year, we can push the tempo of the game to a higher speed,”Vancouver’s head coach, Afshin Ghotbi, said of his team’s win. “We can immediately increase the pressure that we put on opponents, we can change the speed of the game, and that changed the outcome of the game (today).”

Photo Credit: Vancouver FC/James Glezos

Pacific not satisfied with mentality in second straight loss

After their loss against Atlético Ottawa last weekend, Pacific knew they had to respond in this game. While they’ll have been frustrated with how they lost that Ottawa game, in which seemingly everything that could’ve gone wrong did go wrong for them, meaning that this game represented a fresh slate for them.

Certainly, it wasn’t going to be easy for them, as they had to deal with the news that came out late in the week that Aly Ndom would be out for the season, which was a big blow given how important he’s been to the team this season, but with it being a derby match, they knew they had to put that behind them, quickly.

Because of that, it made it surprising to see them struggle to find their feet in this game, as they were unable to impose themselves on this matchup.

As a result, even though they grabbed an early lead, they were unable to hold on, as Vancouver willed their way back into the game after that.

Perhaps, Pacific’s early goal ended up being to their detriment, making them too comfortable early on, but one would’ve thought that would’ve been to their benefit.

Given that the goal they conceded against Ottawa was just the first they conceded in six CPL games this year, they had every reason to believe that grabbing an early lead was a recipe for them to grab at least a point, if not all three, seeing how good they’ve been defensively this year.

Yet, that’s the biggest worry they’ll now have from this game – not only did they concede two goals for the first time all year, but they allowed 2.21 xG on just 13 shots (an xG per shot of 0.17), after being one of the best teams in the league at keeping opponents’ shot quality low.

Of course, teams are allowed to have an off-night defensively, which Pacific certainly did, but that leads to their bigger worry, which was talked about a lot pre-game and manifested itself in this match – Pacific’s offence is struggling right now. They scored in this game, which they’ll be pleased to see, but it came via the penalty spot, meaning they now only have four non-penalty goals in seven CPL games.

With how perfect they’ve been defensively, that hasn’t hurt them too much, but in a game like this, it shows that they need to find their feet offensively sooner rather than later, or else it’s going to put a lot of pressure on their defence every game.

For what it’s worth, they do have some positive news to look forward to up front, as after a four-game absence with an injury, Ayman Sellouf made his return to the Pacific lineup for this game, earning a start in his first game back.

Given how crucial he was to the team’s attack last year, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists, he was sorely missed in his absence, and he will be expected to bring some life to the team offensively, as he’s shown by now scoring two goals (albeit penalties) in his limited minutes this year.

That was further shown with his deployment in this game, too, as he was asked to go 90 minutes, playing in a central role to get more touches, so look for him to be leaned on in a similar role going forward.

All of Ayman Sellouf’s actions from this game (OPTA)

Pacific’s going to need more than just Sellouf’s return to find their feet offensively, but him being back is a good start, as they’ll now hope that he can jumpstart some of their other attackers, helping them hit a new level offensively as a team.

Until then, however, they’ll look back on this game with frustration, as what worries them as much as the lack of goals is how they battled, which is always a hallmark of Pacific’s DNA. For a team that wants to play fluid, free-flowing soccer, their aggression and work rate is just as important to making their system tick, as Merriman noted after the game.

“Our mentality, our intensity – everything in our approach to this game was poor,” Merriman said. “The first half was very poor, so we challenged each other when we spoke at halftime, we looked for more of a reaction in the second half, but I think it was more of the same, so overall it’s a disappointing performance from us as a as a group, we expect so much more from ourselves.”

Dyer leads Vancouver attack with inspired performance

No doubt, Vancouver knew they were getting a talented attacker when they signed Moses Dyer. Having scored 19 goals across three CPL seasons for Valour from 2020 to 2022, and coming off a four goal and six assist season in the USL Championship with Tulsa in 2023, that much was never in doubt.

Yet, while Dyer’s offensive talent has been a big asset to this team, with his goal in this team now putting him up to three goals and two assists in seven CPL games this year (putting him on pace for 12 goals and eight assists in 2024), he’s brought so much more to the team.

Namely, he’s brought a certain kind of winning mentality to the team, and that was on full display in this game.

It might seem simple to say, but he just seemed to want the victory more than anyone on the pitch, and he was willing to battle tooth and nail to get it. He showed that early on, as he put in a tough tackle on Pacific’s Eric Lajeunesse, who he then had some words for, reminding the Pacific youngster that he needed to be ready for a battle.

What could’ve been a relatively insignificant moment otherwise, it ended up being a perfect representation of what his performance meant to his team in this game. His counting numbers were strong, and he was lively all night offensively, both with his passing and his shooting, but his willingness to go to battle for his team ended up giving his side a big boost.

Especially in the second half, as they looked to assert themselves on the match, Dyer led them into battle, be it with the intensity of his press, how he ensured to get stuck into tackles, or in his willingness to run off the ball when his team was in possession.

With that, he ended up being a key protagonist in this derby. Despite it being his first matchup, you would’ve thought he was a seasoned veteran in this battle, showing how much he stepped up.

That ended up being key for his teammates, who were able to rally around his effort, allowing them to get the win.

Of course, that’s also a credit to the overall mentality of this group, and why they now sit in second place in a CPL, with a big reason for that is the presence of players like Dyer.

To step up in big games, as Vancouver has done as of late with their recent draw against Atlético Ottawa or away win against Forge, it can help to have individuals who grow in these big moments, and Dyer has proven to be one of those players, and his mentality has rubbed off on others.

This Vancouver team wants to play big games, and they certainly showed that with their second half performance in this game.

“These are these are my favorite types of games to play,” Vancouver midfielder, Grady McDonnell, said after making his home debut off the bench in this match. “Physical games, rough games, it has my name all over it, and I’m used to that, these are favourite games to play.”

That’s why Ghotbi was eager to sign Dyer, noting that his mentality impressed him as much as his talent right away, and now Vancouver is reaping the rewards of that with how he’s fit into this group on and off the pitch.

Coming from a country that is known to produce players with a winning sporting mentality in New Zealand, as they’ve shown with their success in rugby, for example, Ghotbi’s felt that Dyer’s brought that spirit into this Vancouver side so far this year.

“It’s the sporting culture of their country and the region they come from,” Ghotbi said of Dyer.” When they’re younger, they train to win, they really live to win, and I love that spirit, I want that spirit here, and he breathes that every game, and that creates a winning culture in our locker room.”

Photo Credit: Vancouver FC/Beau Chevalier Player of the Match

Moses Dyer, Vancouver FC

As mentioned earlier, Dyer was an active presence up front for Vancouver, scoring a key equalizer as part of a big shift from him and his teammates.

That’s reflected in his numbers, too, as he finished with four shots, two chances created, one dribble, five passes into the final third, two tackles, one clearance, three recoveries, five out of 10 duels won and one foul drawn, marking a complete performance from the forward.

All of Moses Dyer’s actions from this game (OPTA)

What’s next?

Vancouver will head out on the road next week, as they’ll head out to Winnipeg for Valour’s home opener at Princess Auto Stadium on Sunday, June 2nd (2 p.m. PT/4 p.m. ET). Meanwhile, Pacific will have a busy week, as they get set to host Atlético Ottawa at Starlight Stadium for the second leg of their Canadian Championship quarter-final tie on Wednesday, May 29, before hosting Cavalry in CPL play on Saturday, June 1st (4 p.m. PT/5 p.m. MT).

Watch all CPL and Canadian Championship matches live on OneSoccer. In addition to its website and app, OneSoccer is now available on TELUS channel 980 and on Fubo TV. Call your local cable provider to ask for OneSoccer today.