It was, perhaps, one of the best moments so far of The Island Games.
Marco Bustos, in his first game for Pacific FC, scored to put his side up 2-1 over HFX Wanderers FC in the first half on Saturday, and he sprinted straight for coach Pa-Modou Kah — a former Vancouver Whitecaps 2 teammate of Bustos, also in his first game with the Tridents.
“To get your first goal for a new club, a new team in your first game is a great feeling,” Bustos told reporters post-match. “But it’s the passion that all the teammates, our whole squad shares. We’re that together, and it showed in that goal. Right away I had no other thought than going to celebrate with teammates.”
If his first thought was to run towards the Pacific bench area, Bustos’ second thought was that he might’ve been a hair offside — but he said that a look at the replay during the second-half hydration break assured him the goal was fine.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw with HFX was a heck of an emotional roller-coaster for the West Coast club. They battled back from an early penalty to equalize and then go ahead in the second half, before another spot kick for the Wanderers saw both sides settle — as every other CPL outfit has so far — for a single point.
“Football is about momentum, and I think the (first) penalty took away the momentum from us,” Kah said of João Morelli’s 12th-minute opening goal. “I give credit to the commitment and sticking together and coming back to tie the game and go in front, and again, unfortunately we gave away two penalties.
“The most important thing is we take a lesson from us, because we haven’t played in over 200-odd days. I was happy with the boys; it was more about us than it was about the opposition today.”
Kah is probably right that his side were the protagonists on Saturday. Pacific outshot the Wanderers 13 to nine, they made 155 more passes than their opponents, and they had a hair under 59 per cent possession.
The second half, in particular, was when Kah’s team came alive, with Zachary Verhoven, Josh Heard, and Jamar Dixon all having a massive impact.
It was Verhoven who first brought Pacific back into the game with his equalizer just four minutes after entering the game. He turned what looked like a dead chance into a superb goal, showing confidence to jump into the play and seize his opportunity.
“Zach was a perfect example of how depth works,” Bustos stated. “A guy that gets a chance to play, whether it’s 30 minutes, five minutes, you come on and make a difference. To me, all of the subs came in and made a difference.
“That’s what (Verhoven) did, obviously he came in, has the speed. He’s a great sub when defenders are tired and he’s coming on fresh, a fast guy like him, he came in and did a great job.”
Kah also pointed out that a few tactical adjustments helped boost Pacific’s attack, with Bustos dropping more into the number 10 pocket in the second half from his initial spot out on the right wing.
Of course, Kah isn’t happy to have dropped points in a game his side dictated, but he can’t help but be satisfied with what he saw from a rebuilt squad in its first game since last October.
“The substitutions were influential today, but it’s about rustiness,” Kah explained. “It’s about being sharp, just being focused, and a little bit of that cost us today. But after so many days not playing football, I will take that because the guys performed what we asked them to do.”
He added: “If you haven’t played in over 200-odd days, nobody will last 90 minutes. We’ve seen it in the Premier League, we’ve seen it in any other league, and we saw it in the last (CPL) game that was played. Atlético (Ottawa) was 2-0 up, then a man down, and York9 looked to come back for two, and it’s normal.
“The commitment that my team showed, and the willingness that they showed makes me proud, and I know it’s just gonna get better from here on.”
With Kah’s team next in action on Tuesday against the aforementioned Nine Stripes, he’ll be counting on Pacific to continue building on their initial foray into The Island Games.