Final Score: Pacific FC 0-0 York United Goalscorers: None Game of the 2022 season: 26 CPL match: 277​

Match in a minute or less

In their first meeting of 2022, Pacific FC and York United didn’t leave much out on the pitch in a hard-fought battle, one where they eventually left to split the spoils in a 0-0 draw. Despite there being all sorts of attacking quality out on the turf at Starlight Stadium, the defenders ended up stealing the show in this game, with strong performances from both defensive units leading the way for both sides, leading to a deserved draw for each of them. So while it might not have been the most entertaining game for someone who likes goals, it was certainly still a solid game for a neutral, proving to be more of a chess match than a wide-open game of checkers.

Three Observations

Battle of top defence against top attack yields defensive contest:

Heading into this game, two stats stood out immediately when looking at these two teams - York’s defence, and Pacific’s offence. With York coming into this having conceded a league-low five goals, to go along with just 3.25 Expected Goals conceded (xG), and Pacific having scored a league-leading 10 goals, to go along with an impressive xG for of 13.01, one of those two stats was going to have to take a backseat to the other in this game. Given Pacific’s form this season, you felt that their offence would edge it, but at the same time, given York’s impressive numbers, you couldn’t help but wonder if Pacific’s offence had met their match. Which, as the game went along, ended up being true. Due to York’s sturdy defensive set-up, which came from their 4-2-3-1, they proved to be very tough to break down, especially when they got set. Led by Niko Giantsopoulos in goal, to the back four in front of him in Chrisnovic N’Sa, Jordan Wilson (later Roger Thompson), Dominick Zator and Diyaeddine Abzi, as well as their midfield-pivot of Noah Verhoeven and Cedric Toussaint, they were tough to break all over the pitch. Especially with Giantsopoulos, who despite finding out that he'll join the Vancouver Whitecaps for a few days on an emergency loan just before the game, putting together a particularly commanding performance, it paved the way for some textbook defending from the visitors, who looked organized and in control. Because of that, it made for a tough night offensively for York’s hosts. Instead of being able to flaunt their usual swashbuckling ways at home, Pacific generated just 0.52 xG on 10 shots, a far cry from their usual high volume numbers. Yet, that’s a credit to how solid York were defensively. Despite being on the road, in a tough environment, they stuck to their game plan, and were rewarded for it, finding a way to nab a crucial road point. “Credit to them,” Pacific head coach, James Merriman, said after the match. “They brought a lot of intensity and physicality to the match, and I thought we were maybe a little bit slow in the middle third and transition, at times, it could have gone a little bit quicker, we could have caught them out, but overall it was a high intensity, good game.” But that’s been head coach Martin Nash’s philosophy since day one. As he noted in the lead-up to this game, the teams that defend well in the CPL have tended to find success, so as York looked to lay the blueprint for this new season, being solid at the back was a must. That was fully on display in this game, one where they went toe-to-toe with the leaders and didn’t skip a beat, showing their credentials as a top team. So while there are areas of their game that still need work, especially offensively, their defence is in a great spot right now, and this game was a perfect example of that. “We didn't give them too much time and space,” Nash noted. “We (knew that) we had to close them down, you’ve got to as they have so many talented players on the pitch, they’re such a good football team. You can't give them time and space.” “And I thought we limited their time and space, which was big. We forced them to play negatively, and they couldn't, they weren't really finding the solution to get forward comfortably, so that was a bonus, and I think it was something that really helped us keep the clean sheet.” “It was a team effort today,” Giantsopoulos added. “It was really organized, and I think we tried to minimize the chances that they would have on goal, so we're happy with our defensive efforts.”

York’s switches of play helps unlock dangerous transitional threat:

Against a Pacific side that likes to hold the ball, especially at home, York were never expected to hold much possession in this game. Many teams who have come through Starlight Stadium this season have quickly come to learn that. Despite that, however, that didn’t change York’s approach. Knowing that they weren’t going to see much of the ball, they chose to disrupt Pacific’s attack, which as seen in the prior section, they did a really good job of doing. But while that would pay off for them defensively, that left them to have to be crafty in their offensive approach, knowing that they weren’t going to get to control much of the ball, making it imperative that they were efficient on the counter. Which, to give credit to them, they found a way to do. One big difference, however, was that the way in which they would do that was far from conventional, as instead of trying to catch Pacific on the counter with quick passes, or playing directly with the long ball, they employed something different - transitional switches of play. Usually a tactic to get teams in low blocks to shift in order to better break them down, it’s not often that teams who are counter-attacking try to make those big switches, as they can often slow play down, yet York found a way to make it work. How did they manage to do that? Instead of going for the big, looping switch, which can often slow things down, they decided to go for a laser-like switch, trying to unlock some of their dangerous wide threats with aggressive passing, with Zator, in particular, being quite proficient at that kind of ball. Through that, they were able to really get the likes of Diyaeddine Abzi, Lowell Wright, Sebastian Gutierrez and Osaze De Rosario into space, on the run, which is exactly where you want those kinds of players. So while York didn’t get the offence that they wanted out of such a tactic, finishing with zero shots on target and just 0.67 xG despite 13 attempts, there was no doubt that their big switches allowed them to be dangerous, as it put them in the areas that they wanted, with the final touch and final ball usually being the main reason why said plays didn’t work out. “We have dangerous players on their flanks,” Giantsopoulos noted. “Obviously, Abzi is probably one of the best attacking fullbacks in the league, so we want to get them (the attacking players) on the ball as much as we can.” Because of that, as York gets set to play Pacific again in just a few days' time, figuring out how to take advantage of that would be crucial for them ahead of that game. Against a team like Pacific, who is where they are in the table for a reason, you have to be able to make the most of the space and opportunity that they give you, with the more that you can create for yourself, the better. And through the big switch, York found that space, so seeing how it worked out for them here, no reason why they can’t build off of that more going forward. “The quality in the final third is going to come,” Nash noted. “We create, we get into those areas a lot and we have quality.”

“Hungry” Pacific left wanting more despite gained point:

Overall, it wasn’t a bad game for Pacific. To split the points in a hard-fought game, one against the league’s top defensive team - it’s not all doom-and-gloom despite what some might feel. Yet, the fact that there is even that feeling shows why Pacific are the defending champions, and currently sit atop the league table, as they hold themselves to a higher standard. So although a draw will go a long way for them at the end of the season, as all points in a gruelling campaign help, Pacific were still left feeling like they could’ve gotten more out of this one. “It just shows how hungry we are for success,” Pacific’s Amer Didic noted. “How good we want to be as a team. At home, you want to win, so it’s unfortunate with the tie, as it's always gonna sting because we know we have the quality and we know we have the firepower to score goals and put teams away.” At the same time, that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t anything to be pleased about. The gained point aside, they had a strong defensive performance, limiting York to less than one xG, meaning that they were hardly threatened all night. Considering that they lost three players to injury within the first half, with key players in Jordan Haynes, Manny Aparicio and Sean Young all having to leave with various problems, the fact that they kept their rhythm despite that is a positive. You add in some bright cameos from usual rotational players Kamron Habibullah, Gianni Dos Santos and Luca Ricci, who helped demonstrate Pacific’s solid depth, there was a lot to like with the hosts’ overall game. So although Pacific weren’t able to find the rhythm with which they usually play, that’s not always going to happen in games, but what’s important is how one plays when that happens, and as they showed in this game, they’ll at least be ready to roll up their sleeves and roll into the fight, no matter who they have on the pitch. “Overall, I'm happy with the performance,” Merriman said. “And I think what we gained as a team in our unity, in how we work for each other, and stick together, that goes a long, long way for us as a team, and for us for the rest of the season.” Player of the Match

Dominick Zator, York United Considering how solid his team was defensively, and the work that he did to unlock his teammates in transition, Zator stood out among the best in this game, putting up a dominant all-around performance. Finishing with an impressive one block, 11 clearances, two interceptions, seven ball recoveries and five out of 8 duels won defensively, to go along with a solid 38 out of 52 passes completed offensively, Zator did everything that he needed to on the night, certainly leaving his mark on the match.

What’s next?

Both teams won’t get much time to reflect on what they learned about the other in this game, as they’re both right back at it on Tuesday, May 24th, where they have a rematch with each other in the Canadian Championship, also at Starlight Stadium (19:00 p.m. PT/22:00 p.m. ET). After that, Pacific will stay on the Island for their next game, as they take on Valour to close out a Starlight Stadium homestand on Saturday, May 28th (16:00 p.m. PT/18:00 p.m. CT), while York will head back to Ontario, as they’ll host Cavalry FC at York Lions Stadium on Sunday, May 29th (12:00 p.m. MT/14:00 p.m. ET). 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.

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