The second match of the opening weekend of the Canadian Premier League is nearly upon us, with Pacific FC hosting HFX Wanderers FC at Westhills Stadium on Vancouver Island (available on OneSoccer, 4:00 p.m. PT/7:00 p.m. ET). Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer has kept his cards close to his vest throughout pre-season, giving fans of the Langford-based outfit their first look at how their team will shape up. Meanwhile, HFX bench boss Stephen Hart and his staff and players travelled almost 4,500 kilometres to take part in their first match in club history – that's the third-longest road trip in the world of soccer, by our count. While we don't have any precedent for lineups quite yet, here are three probable battles that could prove key in this match:
Chakib Hocine vs. Marcus Haber

Height is the main factor in this battle between 6-foot-2 central defender Chakib Hocine of HFX Wanderers FC and 6-foot-4 centre-forward Marcus Haber of Pacific FC, with the latter often turning to that physical trait to bang in goals with his head. Hocine doesn't have quite as much experience as his opposite, though you can imagine this battle between them won't be based on creativity ahead of physicality. Hocine will need to be quick on his toes to prevent Haber from getting on the end of crosses whipped in from the wings, or chances created when Pacific FC's centrally-inclined wide pair of Issey Nakajima-Farran and Ben Fisk cut in. Corner kicks, free kicks, set pieces? Haber's a massive threat on all of 'em, but Hocine has the aerial prowess and presence to match it.
Juan Diego Gutierrez vs. Hendrik Starostzik

For Canadians, by Canadians, sure – but this matchup is brought to us straight from Peru and Germany; Juan Diego Gutierrez, the wiley creative attacking midfielder in Hart's side, tended to drift to the right during pre-season, putting him on the radar of Pacific FC's bruising and experienced centre-back from Marburg, Hendrik Starostzik. To call Gutierrez an attacking threat is understating just how potent a player the Peruvian can be – his ability to pick apart backlines with a through pass turned heads in Punta Cana, and that's one of the elements of his game that Starostzik will need to be wary of as he works to neutralize his opposite. Of course, Gutierrez won't want to get too up-close and personal with his German marker – there is a significant height and weight difference between the two, after all.
Ben Fisk vs. Zachary Sukunda

Fisk could play as a No. 10 behind Nakajima-Farran and Haber, or he could play out wide on the left depending on how Silberbauer lines his team up – we saw both iterations in pre-season, so it's still unclear which formation the Danish tactician prefers. But, if Fisk is used out wide, he'll be put squarely against Zachary Sukunda. The HFX right-back is versatile enough to play out wide in midfield, due, in part, to his attacking instincts – as such, Fisk will need to put in double duty keeping track of Sukunda in transition, drawing him out of advantageous positions. Conversely, Sukunda will need to ensure that Fisk doesn't get behind his defensive line too frequently, as Pacific FC possesses a pair of strikers who rely on service and have a knack for fortuitous positioning ... whether or not by design. This battle will really be one of wits – will Sukunda have Fisk playing catch-up, or vice-versa? Check out the OneSoccer platform by MEDIAPRO Canada, the Official Broadcast Partner of the Canadian Premier League.

Continue reading...