Final Score: FC Edmonton 1-1 Pacific FC Goalscorers: Ongaro 57'; MacNaughton 90+2' Game of the 2021 season: 70 CPL match: 205
Match in a minute or lessJust as FC Edmonton thought they might hang on for their second win in a row, Pacific FC found their goal right at the end of the contest to salvage a draw and split the points. The Eddies had led since the 57-minute mark, when Easton Ongaro found the net thanks in large part to a perfect cross by Tobias Warschewski, and it looked as though it might be Edmonton's night as they continued to press. Deep into stoppage time, though, with Pacific taking another set-piece after a few last-ditch clearances from the Eddies, it was Lukas MacNaughton who played the hero for the visitors as he volleyed home his own rebound to make it 1-1.
MORE COVERAGE: HIGHLIGHTS: MacNaughton scores late equalizer for Pacific in 1-1 draw with FC Edmonton | Sights & Sounds: FC Edmonton 1-1 Pacific FC
Eddies press in right moments, play with urgency, directnessComing off a huge 3-0 win over Valour -- plus a week's preparation time -- FC Edmonton put in another performance they were proud of on Tuesday night. Edmonton's strategy might not necessarily be described as an out-and-out high press in this game, but they definitely used energy and pressure to their advantage. The Eddies would, smartly, pull back into their shape once Pacific began to set up and play out of the back, but with every heavy touch or slightly frantic moment came a blue shirt looking to cause problems and force an error. The front three of Easton Ongaro, Azriel Gonzalez, and Tobias Warschewski were -- as always -- at their most dangerous when the game became more spontaneous and fast-paced, picking the right moments to press (that is, not when Pacific were set up and could easily play a quick pass beyond a pressing attacker). Upon winning the ball, Edmonton always moved it forward as quickly as possible. The urgency in their direct play came from players either dribbling forward through the lines themselves, or playing the ball forward to an open man and running into space for the give-and-go. That kind of directness led to Edmonton's opening goal -- Warschewski ran onto a forward pass from Fraser Aird along the flank, and sent his cross in quickly to Ongaro for the finish. Directly from fullback to winger to striker. Although Pacific were unimpressed with how Edmonton approached the contest -- their coach, Pa-Modou Kah, suggested postmatch that he felt only one of the two sides wanted to play, with the Eddies spending some time sitting back -- the side in blue were pleased with the effort. Alan Koch certainly saw things very differently to his coaching counterpart (and former Vancouver Whitecaps colleague), commending his side's character and effort against the first-placed team in the CPL. "We're coming here to play," he said. "Different teams play in different ways, we should show respect to how different people go about creating the identity and what they're trying to do. We showed our intent, we go into every game with the intent of trying to get three points, we tried to do it again tonight." Differences of opinion aside, the Eddies finished with 10 shots to Pacific's 12, despite making 154 fewer passes and having just 40.5% possession -- indicators, perhaps of Edmonton's efficiency in getting the ball forward and attacking before the opponents could get back into their defensive shape.
Pacific stays patient, resilient in possessionThis is not the first time the Tridents have fought back and picked up their result in the later stages of a game -- even though a fair few of their wins have been driven by first-half onslaughts where they've pulled ahead first. Still, even dating back to the Island Games in 2020, they're typically a side that's always been able to stay in the game if trailing. Pacific showed a lot of patience in this affair, on a night when they made 475 passes -- 151 of them connecting between players in the back four -- as they tried to methodically work it out of the back and stretch out the Eddies. With Alessandro Hojabrpour typically sitting right in front of the centre-backs, they had a strong link between everyone on the pitch as they sought to control the ball and dictate the pace of the game -- which they did, except for the occasions when Edmonton picked off the ball and put them under pressure going backward. Tactically, the visitors tried a number of different approaches to break down Edmonton; they started the game with Josh Heard on his usual left side and Terran Campbell on the right, but midway through the second half the two swapped wings, and Heard in particular looked good as an inverted winger cutting in from the right. All-in-all, though, it was just a matter of sticking to the plan for Pacific, who found they weren't necessarily able to find the net from open play, but those chances still typically resulted in second opportunities: They had 11 corner kicks in the game, and they scored on the last one to earn the result. "We controlled the game, and there was only one team who wanted to play," Pa-Modou Kah opined postmatch."But for me, what I saw was great resilience and character shown by our boys, we can see that even 1-0 down we're going for the win." Lukas MacNaughton added: "We want three points every single game, and to do that you've got to score. So if we concede early, as a defender I'm not too concerned; I know the front line will produce and if they don't there's games where we have to step up as a back line and produce for them, but as a whole we will score goals. I think we're in first place for a reason."
Battle of centre-backs decides end-to-end contestBoth teams saw massive contributions from their stalwart central defenders in this game, with so many of the attacking opportunities coming quickly from transitional moments. At Pacific's end, Lukas MacNaughton did an incredible job dictating his side's play out of the back, with a team-high 98 passes and 113 touches, but he was also called upon time and again to make key defensive actions -- four clearances and two blocks -- and he, as usual, picked the right opportunities to get forward with the ball, with his team covering well for him. MacNaughton actually led his team with three shots, really looking to cause problems by jumping up into the play -- and, of course, one of those shots was the last-minute equalizer. "We've been training since after the bubble in PEI on our movement, and the guys know each other very well," MacNaughton said of his eagerness to get forward. "(Pa-Modou Kah) mentioned my partnership with Ali Hojabrpour, if I step up, he covers me very well; when Kadin (Chung) goes high, Jordan (Haynes) is tucking in. The movement's there and we know each other well... We have trust going forward, trust defending, and trust in our movement and everything that we're creating." Praise is also, of course, due to Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, who was quietly solid next to MacNaughton in just his fourth start of the season after a lengthy injury layoff. On the other side of the coin, Edmonton needed a very strong effort from centre-backs Ramon Soria and, in particular, Amer Didic, especially while defending the lead. Didic made one tremendous tackle late in the game to stop what looked like a clear-cut shooting opportunity for Alejandro Diaz, and that was just one of a staggering 14 defensive actions for the Edmonton native (including 10 clearances). Didic was good, as ever, in the air, and although Edmonton didn't try to play out of the back as much as Pacific, he was sharp with a few long-range switches of play and diagonal balls into space to help launch early counter-attacks. In fact, MacNaughton and Didic were so good on Tuesday that both of their coaches said, respectively, that their key defender rates at the top of the CPL's centre-back class. Pa-Modou Kah offered: "Lukas for us has been a huge, huge piece of our game this year and I think for me, right now he's the best centre-back in the league. Defensively and offensively he's been fantastic and for him to come up with a late equalizer for us is terrific." Alan Koch, speaking in praise of Didic, countered: "He's a quality centre-back; he's one of the best if not the best in this league. But I also don't think he's peaked, and I don't think he's reached a ceiling yet. We want to continue to see him grow, we want to see him get better, we want to see him put in man of the match performances every game. Obviously in games like tonight, you need players to step up, and I think Amer stepped up again." Certainly, both managers are fiercely -- and vocally -- proud of their players. On a night like Tuesday, where both teams had double-digit shots, the centre-backs are going to play a huge role, and all four were excellent for their teams in this game.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchLukas MacNaughton, Pacific FC The dynamic defender made huge contributions at both ends of the pitch, with his late equalizing goal coming after 90-plus minutes of strong defensive football. Coach Pa-Modou Kah called him, once again, the best centre-back in the CPL on Tuesday, and there's a case to be made that MacNaughton might have been the side's most valuable player in 2021 so far. That said, Edmonton's Amer Didic is close competition -- he's an honourable mention for this nod.
What’s next?Pacific will return home after this one, returning to Starlight Stadium this Sunday, September 19 when they'll take on Atlético Ottawa (5 pm ET/2 pm PT). Edmonton, meanwhile, have some time off before they head on the road to the East Coast where they'll play HFX Wanderers FC on Saturday, September 25 (2 pm ET/3 pm AT). Watch all matches live on OneSoccer.