Final Score: FC Edmonton 0-0 Pacific FC Goalscorers: N/A Game of the 2022 season: 13 CPL match: 264

Match in a minute or less

FC Edmonton continued to be tough to beat at home in CPL action this season, as they held the defending 2021 champions, Pacific FC, to a tough but resilient 0-0 draw in a Wednesday night clash at Clarke Stadium. Despite some great chances from both sides in the first half, as Mamadi Camara nearly put Edmonton ahead with a great chance early on, before Marco Bustos almost put his team in the lead right before half time, the second half wouldn’t yield much in terms of clear chances, as the goalkeepers and defenders would end up stealing the show for both sides on the day. As a result, that would lead to the first goalless draw of this young CPL season, one that despite being short on goals, certainly wasn’t short on action from the pair of Western-based sides, making for a solid midweek clash.

Three Observations

Pacific’s trio of #10s cause problems for Edmonton

It’s no secret what Pacific’s Marco Bustos brings to his team from the right wing position in his team’s 4-2-3-1. With his wicked left foot, his vision and his playmaking, he loves to cut inside when in possession, both allowing him to make things happen on the ball, while also opening up the possibility for Pacific to employ an overlapping threat beside him. Usually, though, Pacific likes to go for something different on the left-hand side. For example, Josh Heard, a regular option on the left side, prefers to really hug the touchline and get in behind defences. If not, Matteo Polisi looks like he’ll be asked to fill in as a capable replacement for the outgoing Terran Campbell in the ‘wide second striker’ role Pacific likes to employ, a role that Campbell mastered last year. In this game, however, Pacific elected to try something new on the wings - the dual #10s, as we saw Kamron Habibullah, a right-footed player with very similar characteristics to Bustos, deployed on the left-hand side in his first start with his new club. There, the 18-year-old Vancouver Whitecaps loanee brought something new to the Pacific attack, as his speed, touch and ability to operate in central channels gave the Edmonton defence a new challenge. Knowing that they had to deal with both Bustos and Habibullah out wide, as well as Pacific’s actual #10 (who really plays more as a box-to-box #8), Manny Aparicio, in the middle, it left them with a lot to do in that area of the pitch. As a result, it really allowed Pacific to make things happen via those three, who did a great job of finding space in dangerous areas offensively, both in possession and in transition. And that’s key. Seeing how Edmonton likes to defend, which is in a very compact 5-4-1 that tries to deny space in transition, it was especially important for Pacific to have players who could unlock that defence, and in their three #10s, they most certainly had that. Not only did they make things happen on the ball, either creating or finding themselves on the end of most of their team’s best chances, combining for two key passes and four shots between them, but they also did well to open up some crucial space for their teammates, too, especially out wide. Which given how crucial having that sort of versatility in the attack has proven to be for Pacific both this year and last, that’s crucial, especially in tough road environments such as this one. So now, it’ll be interesting to see if it’s a strategy that Pacific looks to employ more of going forward. As seen in their most recent match against Halifax, where despite a win, chances were hard to come by for Pacific, breaking down low blocks hasn’t always been easy for this side, yet they appear to have a potential solution with this new-look set-up. “Yeah, I think you saw some really nice combinations,” Pacific head coach, James Merriman, said of the trio afterwards. “They came alive and there was some very good movement between them in the first half, and they created great chances.” “We need to take our chances. We need to be more clinical, more ruthless in those areas. And I think the game looks different at the end (if we do).”

Mamadi Camara’s versatile presence boosts Edmonton midfield

So far through the first few games of this 2022 campaign, Edmonton has had to get quite creative with how they deploy their midfield. Short on depth in that area of the pitch, it’s led to a lot of rotation and experimenting there so far this season, as Edmonton head coach, Alan Koch, continues to try and find the right set-up in that area in each game. That’d be no exception in this game, either, as Edmonton rolled out a new-look midfield of Mamadi Camara, Gabriel Bitar and Azriel Gonzalez, looking to bring a good mix of technical skill and physicality in the middle. Which they’d certainly find a way to provide. A huge reason why? The insertion of Camara for the first time as a starter this season, as the former Halifax Wanderer slotted seamlessly into the Edmonton team, putting in a shift in his first start for his new team this year. A big frame, Camara showed that he’s so much more than that, showing great awareness in positioning on both sides of the ball, making him a versatile threat. On top of his strong technical ability, which allowed him to launch his team forward in many ways, be it via his passing or dribbling, that gave Edmonton a new look in the middle, as he, Bitar and Gonazlez combined nicely on several occasions. As a result, while they continued to struggle in terms of holding onto the ball, reflected in the fact that they held just 29% of possession, they really got a lot more control in midfield than they did in previous games, even though they were lined up against one of the best midfield units in the league in Pacific. Especially on the ball, where they’d help create some of their best chances, it made a huge difference for Edmonton, who had to rely less on individual brilliance from their forwards and set-pieces just to get chances, which was huge. Yet, that’s the sort of impact that Camara can have on a match. Having worked with Koch at the Colorado Switchbacks in the USL previously, where he was brought in by the coach right after he graduated from SFU, that familiarity proved to be key when the pair reunited in Edmonton this offseason. “He has progressed and grown so much as a man,” Koch said of Camara. “He's an amazing guy, and he continues to grow as a player. We asked him to do a job for us today, and I thought he was very, very good. So hopefully we'll continue to get better on this journey.” So as Edmonton tries to build their foundation, look to see a lot more of Camara here now, as he can certainly bring the attributes that his team needs more of in the middle of the park going forward, helping them progress as a side. “I feel like I did my job today, I did what I had to do,” Camara added. “Obviously, it was my first 90 minutes (of the year), I still feel like I'm not game fit just yet, but I feel like once I get game fit, I'll be able to provide a lot more to my team on both sides.” “And yeah, that's my role this year to sort of be that guy, who will be going back and forth, box-to-box and just be a presence in the midfield.”

Edmonton’s strong defensive block does well to hold on against wave of Pacific possession

Having yet to hold more than 37% of possession in a game this season, Edmonton was always unlikely to see much of the ball in this match, as they got set to take on a Pacific team that loves to play possession-oriented soccer. As a result, it was going to be interesting to see how Edmonton matched up with that, as while they’ve gotten a mixed bag of results even though they hardly held the ball in either of their previous three games, sitting with two draws and a loss, this Pacific side looked to be a different beast compared to anything they’ve faced so far. Yet, despite that, Edmonton would be unfazed by that, coming out strong in this game. As expected, they didn’t hold onto the ball much, finishing with a season-low 29% of possession, yet arguably they had their best game of the year, keeping one of the league’s offensive teams relatively quiet on the night. Even though they hardly saw the ball, they were extremely patient in how they defended, rarely lunging in and making any errors, mostly making for a frustrating night. Yes, there were some defensive breakdowns, including some that Pacific might rue missing, but overall, given that Edmonton held their guests to just 1.56 Expected Goals (xG) on 10 shots, they have a lot to like about how they defended. Yet, that’s been a lot about what Edmonton’s been about this season, as their strong defensive identity has quickly become an important talking point through the early days of the campaign. Plus, as they showed glimpses of in this game, they’re starting to find ways to make things happen offensively within that, as well, showing that they’re not looking to be a team that just sits back and defends all season, but also a team that can do some damage in transition, too. So overall, there was a lot for Edmonton to be pleased about in this game, as in their estimation they did about everything they wanted to do except score and win on the night, making for a decent day at the office. “The goal was to get a clean sheet and we achieved that against a team that's well oiled,” Koch said. He also added: “We just went toe-to-toe with the champions, who are undefeated and could have won the game. I think for who we are, and where we've come from, that’s a massive achievement.” On the other side, however, Pacific will be slightly more disappointed with how things went on their end. Of course, they’ll be happy with a tough road point, but at the same time, given how much they had the ball, and some of the chances that they had, they’ll feel like they deserved to win. At the same time, it’s a good learning lesson for them. So far through their first few games, they’ve been ruthless in attack, doing what they needed to do to win games. In this one, though, they just lacked that final product, but that shows that while you can create your chances, if you don’t finish them, that doesn’t mean anything. The good news for Pacific within that, however? They are more than aware of that, even seeing the opposite side of that in their most recent game, where they nabbed a 2-1 win over the HFX Wanderers despite hardly having any chances, so they’ll know where they need to improve, and look to bring that going forward. Over the course of a long season, nights like this happen, so as long as they don’t make it a habit, they should be more than alright, especially given some of the names that they have in the attack. “We created enough chances (tonight),” Merriman said. “We take those chances, I think it looks a little bit different, but we didn't and they continued to fight, they continued to defend and they made it difficult, and we couldn't find a way through.” “Today, it just didn't happen for us,” Pacific defender, Amer Didic, added. “We know that as a team we have the quality up top with every player coming off the bench, the guys starting, we have the quality to score goals.” Player of the Match

Mamadi Camara, FC Edmonton In his first start of the season for Edmonton, Camara had a big impact on both sides of the ball for his side in this one, finishing with one shot, adding a dribble, and completing 20 out of 21 of his passes (95%) offensively, while nabbing two tackles and winning six out of 10 of his duels defensively. Overall, that made for a tidy day at the office for Camara, who showed no signs of rust despite not being fully match-fit, per his own assertion post-game.

What’s next?

FC Edmonton have a big journey ahead of them this week, as they will travel to Halifax for the HFX Wanderers home opener, which will be at Wanderers Ground this Saturday, April 30 (12:00 p.m. MT/3:00 p.m. AT). Meanwhile, Pacific FC will also travel, but stay in Alberta, as they get set to head over to Calgary for Cavalry FC’s home opener, which comes this Sunday, May 1st, at Spruce Meadows (2:30 p.m. PT/3:30 p.m. MT). Watch all 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.

Continue reading...