PREVIEW: Toronto FC vs. Pacific FC — 2021 Canadian Championship

2021 Canadian Championship — Semifinal
Toronto FC vs. Pacific FC
November 3, 2021 at 7:30 pm ET
BMO Field in Toronto, Ontario
Watch Live: // Tickets available here

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Pacific FC will look to continue their magical run in the Canadian Championship on Wednesday night, as they travel across the country for a date at BMO Field with Toronto FC — with a ticket to the Voyageurs Cup final on the line.

The Tridents will be playing their third match of this year’s tournament, and their second against an opponent from Major League Soccer. In the first round back in August, Pacific took on a provincial foe in the Vancouver Whitecaps on home turf at Starlight Stadium, and they won in a thrilling 4-3 encounter to deliver perhaps their most magical night in club history.

They’d quite like to add another chapter to this season’s extensive lore; this will be Pacific’s first road trip to an MLS stadium, and it comes at quite a significant moment toward the end of the season.

Toronto FC, the most successful of the Canadian MLS clubs with a trophy cabinet that includes seven Voyageurs Cups, will be quite desperate to lift the trophy an eighth time this year. They’ve had a tumultuous season so far, sitting second to last in MLS with six wins, 10 draws, and 17 losses in 2021 and just one league match left to play. TFC — currently under the guidance of interim coach Javier Perez, who took over coaching duties from Chris Armas in July — have been slightly better recently, with a current run of three consecutive draws and a 3-6-3 record since returning to BMO Field in July.

So, this semifinal really is all TFC have left to play for this season. They entered this year’s competition at the quarterfinal stage, where they hosted CPL outfit York United and won 4-0, despite a close first half. The Reds are sure to approach this semifinal in similar fashion, putting out their strongest possible XI.

“You always want a team you’re playing against to put their best players on the pitch,” Pacific coach Pa-Modou Kah said on Tuesday. “For us it’s a measuring stick to where we are as a group… Some of our boys obviously have aspirations to be where this team is at, to play at their level, so there’s no better chance or greater game than facing them tomorrow and showcasing our capabilities as a whole group.”

RELATED READING: Pacific’s Bustos on ’emotional’ recovery journey before game vs. Toronto FC: ‘I needed to make sure I came back’

Over the weekend, TFC boosted their morale a little with a 1-1 draw on the road against Atlanta United, in which they rotated their squad significantly to give minutes to some of their academy players. High-profile designated players Jozy Altidore and Alejandro Pozuelo both exited the game at halftime as well, most likely in an effort to keep them fresh for Wednesday, and captain Michael Bradley didn’t play at all — nor did Canadian men’s national team regulars Jonathan Osorio or Richie Laryea.

Perez told the media on Tuesday that the only players ruled out for his team are attacker Yeferson Soteldo, defender Eriq Zavaleta, and goalkeeper Alex Bono.

Pacific, meanwhile, will have a mostly full squad — with the exception of Terran Campbell, who will miss out on account of his two yellow cards in previous Canadian Championship games this year. One key element this time that they were missing against the Whitecaps, though, is star winger Marco Bustos, who recently returned to the squad and should be fit to start this massive cup tie.

With Pacific sitting in first place in the CPL standings, they still have some enormous matches left on their own league schedule, and they’ll be particularly fired up after Saturday’s 2-1 loss at home to York United. An opportunity to continue proving themselves against MLS opposition is not something that comes along often, though.

They already did it once this year by knocking out the Whitecaps, and they earned themselves another crack at an MLS side by defeating Cavalry FC in the quarterfinal. TFC coach Javier Perez gave a lot of credit to the Vancouver Island side in his prematch press conference, explaining that he learned a few things from that Pacific-Vancouver match:

“The main lesson is that there is no small team when you go into a knockout round,” Perez said. “You have to take very seriously the games… We saw that as well in the game with Forge and Montreal; I think the home team is slightly at an advantage. I think the lesson is there is no small enemy.”

Can Pacific make history on Wednesday and become the first CPL team to play in the Canadian Championship final? Or will TFC dominate once again?

All CPL and Canadian Championship matches are available to stream on OneSoccer, or on TELUS Optik TV Channel 980. 


  • TFC connections at Pacific: As is the case with pretty much every CPL club, Pacific’s squad certainly has a handful of players familiar with Toronto FC and BMO Field. Manny Aparicio, Kunle Dada-Luke, Robert Boskovic, and Jordan Haynes all spent varying amounts of time in the TFC academy, and both Jamar Dixon and Thomas Meilleur-Giguere played against the club at BMO in previous Canadian Championship ties during their time with the Ottawa Fury (as did coach Pa-Modou Kah while with the Vancouver Whitecaps). Interestingly, Mexican striker Alejandro Diaz has also encountered TFC before, playing 45 minutes for Club America in the 2018 Concacaf Champions League semifinal at Estadio Azteca. Those sorts of connections probably don’t mean all that much, but nonetheless there’s always at least several layers of narrative whenever a CPL club takes on an MLS team. Dixon revealed on Tuesday that he’s spoken to some of his teammates about the occasion and shared some of his experiences at BMO Field, but explained it’s nothing for Pacific to be overwhelmed by: “It’s a different environment, yes, but it’s still two goals, it’s still a normal sized pitch. Again, we have to focus on ourselves; we can’t let the occasion get to us.”
  • Toronto doing homework for season-defining tie: No two ways about it: Wednesday night is Toronto FC’s season. The Canadian Championship is TFC’s last hope of salvaging something from this difficult year, and winning the Voyageurs Cup is almost an expectation each year for this club’s supporters. They haven’t failed to advance to the final since 2015, and they’ve played in seven of the nine championship games since the tournament moved to a knockout format. So, Javier Perez and his staff have scouted Pacific extensively to ensure they’re well-prepared for this game. “We have to scout them a little bit more in depth than any other team in MLS because MLS teams we play all the time and we know them quite well. Pacific, we were not so familiar with them. It’s a very interesting team, they play a 4-3-3 slash 4-2-3-1, with that number 10 or eight that goes back and forth… I think it’s a team that’s going to be faithful to their style. They like to be aggressive, they’re good in transition.”
  • Pacific look to rekindle spark of VWFC win: Watching Pacific play against the Vancouver Whitecaps back in August really was remarkable, with the CPL team coming out on the front foot and putting their opponent under pressure from minute one to 90. They’ll need a similar kind of effort to beat TFC, which may be even more challenging considering they won’t have the raucous support they enjoyed at home. Still, it would be very unlike Pacific to bunker down or alter the way they play — give or take a few curveballs, perhaps. “We don’t change who we are,” Kah told reporters on Tuesday. “We play the game that we believe should be played in our own way; as I say, for us we have to focus on what we have to do, we don’t have time to worry about who we’re facing… Let the opposition worry about us.”


First meeting between these teams.


“For me, it’s the biggest game externally. But for the boys it’s just another 90 minute game, and that’s where our focus is. We know football, we’re here to play the game. We’re not here to play the occasion. The occasion is for everybody else, we just focus on what we need to do.” — Pacific FC coach Pa-Modou Kah

“Overall, we are going to find a team that is very offensive. This is their game of the season, or maybe the game of their careers, and it’s going to be the game of the season for us as well, so we’re going to have to play at our best if we want to knock them out of the semifinals.” — Toronto FC coach Javier Perez