Late heroics, resilient 2nd half help Pacific save season: ‘All about character and heart’

What goes through your mind when you score an 85th-minute winner to save your team’s season?

Nothing very coherent, according to Pacific FC hero Marco Bustos?

“Honestly I was lost for words, I didn’t know what to say,” he told reporters in the aftermath of PFC’s 2-1 win over FC Edmonton on Sunday.

“I just started screaming. It just gave me an extra energy in the last 10 minutes, I was running all over the place.”

The final match of round one at The Island Games produced one of the best moments of the competition so far; Bustos’ left-footed screamer changed Pacific from homeward bound to secure in the top four, as Pa-Modou Kah’s side battled back from a disappointing first half and a 59th-minute FCE go-ahead goal to keep their championship dreams alive.

Kah was understandably disappointed with his players at the interval, voicing his displeasure on OneSoccer after seeing Pacific create zero shots on target in the first half of a match where anything short of a win would send them packing.

The story did not end there, though.

“First half we didn’t show up, honestly,” Kah said post-game. “It’s understandable because it’s been long and grueling games for the boys, but the response that they gave us in the second half was amazing. Every single one of them gave it their all.”

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Kah pointed to his substitutes, such as Alejandro Díaz, Alessandro Hojabrpour, Zach Verhoven, and 19-year-old Sean Young, who injected energy into an extremely frustrated Tridents side after they went down a goal.

Pacific entered the game with a surprisingly changed lineup, as Bustos slid into a central role from his usual place on the right wing, while Welsh-Canadian Josh Heard made his first start in the front three.

“James (Merriman) and I had a lot of discussions about different ways to set up. We found that we saw that Edmonton leave their central areas open, and we thought a player like Marco could utilize it being in the central position more,” Kah revealed.

But, ultimately, things worked better with Bustos on the wing: “I think Bustos felt more comfortable out there with Kadin (Chung) on the side, and having Díaz in the lead up front.”

Of course, Kah also added that his tactics can only take a football club so far; the team’s success on Sunday can’t just be chalked up to coaching.

“As a coach you have no control,” he said. “Once the whistle starts it’s gone. Once the whistle starts it’s just up to the players, you can try to affect it as much as you can — that’s why halftime is very important, water breaks are important — but you prepare the boys, and once the whistle blows it’s up to the players.”

He added: “Being in these types of games, it’s all about character and heart.”

Bustos earned heaps of credit on Sunday, emerging as an early front-runner for an MVP nod at The Island Games. Kah had words of praise for his star attacker, lauding his quality and work ethic, but he also wanted to take the opportunity to give some attention to his young right fullback, whose combination with Bustos has been superb throughout the competitions.

“Everybody that’s not gonna come with the argument why Kadin Chung is the best right-back in this tournament, they don’t know football,” he said. “I think he’s on the doorstep to knock on the national team, because I want to see who’s a better right-back at this moment in Canada.

“Everything he does is so effortless, but this kid has been fantastic, and I’ve had the pleasure to know him for about six or seven years. What he does is just unbelievable.”

Chung made three tackles, won six duels, and led his team with an 85.5 per cent pass success rate, despite often being tasked with hitting difficult long balls and forward plays.

Pacific, now forced to recover quickly before they take on Cavalry FC on Wednesday evening, will be hoping that their emotional, season-saving victory can give them the momentum required to make an even deeper run in The Island Games.

Kah left reporters with a message for Pacific’s supporters back on Vancouver Island:

“As a club we made history, and I hope that everybody back home on the Island is proud of what we’re doing.”

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