Score: Pacific FC 1-0 Atlético Ottawa Goalscorers: Heard 8' Game of the 2022 season: 76 CPL match: 326
Match in a minute or lessPacific FC climbed further up the CPL standings into second place on Saturday afternoon, as they defeated Atlético Ottawa by a narrow 1-0 scoreline. Josh Heard opened the scoring just eight minutes in, as he got onto the end of a Nathan Mavila through ball, and that would ultimately be the only goal either side would find, as the Tridents spent the remainder of the match defending well to maintain a slim lead and claim all three point
Pacific strike with new-look attacking setupIn the wake of Alejandro Diaz's departure, Pacific coach James Merriman had difficult decisions to make when designing his side's attacking play for this match -- especially with would-be starting striker Djenairo Daniels suspended for this particular game. Merriman opted for an interesting setup with usual winger Josh Heard lining up at centre-forward, as Marco Bustos slotted into a position mostly on the right wing but occasionally further inside as a second striker. Kamron Habibullah was an important factor coming in from the left wing, and Kunle Dada-Luke played a sort of hybrid wingback role on the right just outside Bustos, as Pacific's backline shifted between a three and four-man setup with Abdou Samake drifting wide when Dada-Luke pushed forward. The new shape is clearly a work in progress for Pacific, who have a very difficult task in replacing Diaz's goalscoring ability, but Heard playing in the middle might be a sneakily clever move from Merriman. The Victoria native is a very direct player, who thrives on running onto vertical passes and running at defenders, which may suit him if he can link up with Bustos. The latter, one of the league's best creative players with the ball at his feet, has shown in the past that he has an excellent relationship with Heard, so the two will likely cause plenty of issues for opposing defenders as Heard runs between centre-backs and Bustos picks him out with incisive passes. Heard was rewarded for his directness quite early in the game, as it was he who made a smart run forward upon Nathan Mavila winning the ball in midfield, finding the right spot to receive a pass and then finishing well. It was exactly the sort of goal Merriman was likely hoping for when deploying Heard at the front of his lineup. Pacific may miss Heard's energy in the wide areas, but he can provide a lot of value to the club by running at centre-backs and forcing them backwards, which will create additional space above the penalty area for Manny Aparicio as an advanced attacking midfielder. "I think [Heard] was excellent," Merriman said of his forward on Saturday. "His positioning was good, he was making threatening movements in behind... He's given us a great option as a central striker. We know Josh, he can play on the left, he can play on the right, he can play as a second striker, he can lead our line. So just really happy, I thought he was excellent today." Heard himself affirmed that he enjoyed the different role, understanding his side needed a good performance particularly with Daniels suspended. "When the team needs somebody to step up in that situation, I'm happy for the challenge," he said. "Credit to the staff, we've been working on it all week. Obviously with [Daniels] being suspended they needed somebody to hop in, and it ended up being alright for me." He added, joking: "I'm thinking of changing over and taking Diaz's number nine shirt, I don't know." Certainly, Heard's ability in the middle might be very important for Pacific in the next few months.
Ottawa struggle to break down deep-lying defenceIt's always difficult to find a way back into a match after conceding early, and that was particularly evident in this game with Pacific being quite happy to defend and play with a lead after Josh Heard's eighth-minute goal. Pacific aren't a team that spend much time defending in a block, but with an early lead and a massive game coming up in short order -- that being their Concacaf League match on Tuesday -- it suited them to play a little more conservatively than normal. That proved to be Atleti's downfall, as they were not able to break down the well-organized Pacific side, especially in the second half. Ottawa manager Carlos Gonzalez confirmed postmatch that the early goal made things very difficult for his side, as he suggested that Pacific were more than happy to sit on the lead and defend for much of the game. "I feel that they were very comfortable once they scored the first goal," Gonzalez said. "They were trying to manage the rhythm of the game, delaying the speed of the game, playing a game with no big freedom... They needed a goal to be in front and then to manage the game, they did it quite well." Ottawa's plan also went out the window somewhat in the first half when midfielder Ben McKendry was forced off with injury. Gonzalez explained that, at that moment, he had no choice but to insert Keven Aleman into the game, which created a very different dynamic in the middle of the park, with Aleman being a more attack-minded player who wants the ball at his feet. "We wanted to play one type of game, and then we have to be a little bit braver with more offensive players in midfield," Gonzalez said. "But I also think that the midfielders were correct, they didn't have a bad game." This one may go down as one of those games for Ottawa, who were ultimately doomed by an early mistake and could not, from there, break down the block.
Second half shows Tridents' suffocating defensive acumenPacific are not often a team to sit back and defend, but they were called upon to do a lot of it in this game. After the early goal, they did continue to attack in certain phases, although it was largely transitional opportunities or counter-attacks rather than sustained pressure. The second half, though, was a marvel from the hosts. They took over a possession advantage after Ottawa had more of the ball in the first half, and they proceeded to, in essence, defend with possession, slowing down the tempo of the game by moving the ball comfortably between their defenders and midfield. Without the ball, Pacific were excellent. Sean Young in particular did well cutting off passes, with eight interceptions to his name. Abdou Samake did well breaking things up too, with four won tackles. Overall, however, Pacific won the game by suffocating their opponent in the second half, dictating the pace of play and keeping Ottawa pinned in the opposing half. James Merriman explained postmatch that he was not quite satisfied with his team's possession play in the first half, so his halftime team talk was focused on keeping the ball and seeing the game out. "We were disappointed in the first half with our possession and our quality on the ball," Merriman said. "We spoke about it at halftime, we needed to take better care of the ball when we were building, we needed to take better care of the ball in transition moments. "The boys did in the second half, we did a great job. It was much better on the ball, much more controlled -- a ton of work by all the players. We were very good in defensive transition to react and get pressure on the ball when we lost the ball. It was an excellent job from the group." Pacific will be very happy that they were able to play a more conservative second half in this game, knowing they have a massive Concacaf League tie coming up on Tuesday. Josh Heard said after the game that rest is the number one priority for the group on Saturday night and Sunday, and it may ultimately be very helpful for them that they were able to see out this pivotal game against Ottawa in this fashion.
CanPL.ca Player of the MatchJosh Heard, Pacific FC Playing in a different role to what he might be used to at Pacific, Heard was excellent in attack, making efficient use of limited touches and finishing like a centre-forward when asked to. Heard is often the engine of Pacific's forward play, and Saturday was no different despite his adjusted position.
What’s next?Pacific now turn their attention back to the Concacaf League, as their next appearance on the pitch will be at Starlight Stadium this Tuesday against Costa Rican side Herediano (7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET). In CPL play, they'll be back in action next Saturday, Aug. 20 when they travel east to take on HFX Wanderers FC. Atlético Ottawa's next contest will also be against the Wanderers, as the Nova Scotia side head to the capital this Wednesday, Aug. 17 to play Atleti at TD Place (7 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.