Final Score: Pacific FC 1-2 Vancouver FC Goalscorers: Ongaro 53'; Bitar 28', Fry 35' Game of the 2023 season: 107 CPL match: 474​

Match in a minute or less

Vancouver FC claimed a second straight Salish Sea Derby win on Saturday, as they defeated rivals Pacific FC 2-1 at Starlight Stadium, pushing them to four wins in their last five games. With that, they also ensured that the innaugral season series between these two teams would be evenly split, too, after Pacific had won the first two meetings between these two sides. Perhaps motivated by that desire to level that series, however, Vancouver came out flying to start this game. As a result, they opened the scoring in the 28th minute through the in-form Gabriel Bitar, before adding a second in the 35th minute after Bitar found Vasco Fry for the midfielders first goal with the club. To their credit, Pacific made things interesting in the second half, as Easton Ongaro nodded home a set-piece goal in the 53rd minute, but they then came up short in their late bid to at least earn a point, as Vancouver's Callum Irving made several key stops against his former team to ensure his side would leave Starlight Stadium with all three points for the first time in club history.

Three Observations

Vancouver rides fast start to fourth win in five games:

It's been hard to keep the Eagles grounded as of late. Thanks to their win in this game, which put them up to 12 points in their last five games, there aren't many teams in better form than Vancouver right now. In fact, there's just one - current CPL Shield winners Cavalry, who have claimed 13 points over that span. Other than them, Vancouver have been the team to watch in the league at the moment, and they proved that in this win over Pacific. Despite facing off against a Pacific side that was looking to climb to second in the table with a win, Vancouver were unfazed by that challenge, as they came out eager to push their rivals in their foruth and final derby match of the season. Using the confidence that they've gained over their last few games, as they recently claimed back-to-back wins for the first time in club history, they knew that they had the capacity to surprise. Especially given that they'd claimed their last match against Pacific, in which they surprised their rivals with a late comeback win for their first-ever win against them, they had every reason to enter this game feeling confident, too. At the same time, while they weren't lacking in confidence, it was always going to be tough to maitnain that on the road against Pacific. Even if the Tridents have struggled more at home this season than usual, they're always tough to play at Starlight Stadium. That didn't faze Vancouver, however, as they got off to a flying start to this game. After weathering a bit of an early storm, in which goalkeeper Callum Irving made three key stops, Vancouver really started to take over the match after 15 minutes. In particular, Gabriel Bitar started to come alive on the ball, as he started to find space in between Pacific's defensive lines. Sensing that, his teammates did well to find him, too, and they really started to grow because of that. As a result, it was almost not surprising in a sense when Bitar would be the one to score the team's opener, as he did well to drift into a dangerous space after his team managed to win the ball high up the field. From there, that only seemed to boost his confidence, too, as shown in his assist on Vasco's Fry goal just minutes later. Yet, Bitar's confidence only seemed emblematic of the mood that his team was in as they tackled the first half. With Bitar pulling the strings, Fry pushing up alongside him, Alejandro Díaz leading the line and Mikaël Cantave stretching the field with his speed, Vancouver really started to express themselves on the ball, while keeping the door shut defensively. Through that, they were able to finish the first half up 2-0, and they could've easily been up more if not for some key stops from Pacific's Emil Gazdov. That's reflected statistically, too, as Vancouver outshot Pacific 5-4, generated 0.32 xG to their 0.1, while keeping the possession battle relatively even (Pacific slightly edged it 50.8% to 49.1%), reflecting their play on both sides of the ball in the first half. From there, that allowed them to get this victory over the line, even if Pacific did well to put them under pressure at the end. Usually, anytime you can pick up a lead like that early in a game, you're always going to give yourself a good chance to win, and Vancouver yielded the fruits of that in the end. "When you see our first half performance, how tactically sound we played, as well as how we created the openings, it was (great)," Vancouver's head coach, Afshin Ghotbi, noted. "We kept the ball well, took our two goals well, and even in the second half, when were under a lot of pressure, we managed that pressure quite well." Yet, that's why this Vancouver team is currently on the run of form that they're on at the moment. They're doing a much better job of riding the waves that naturally occur in games, be it their start in this game, or surving Pacific's late push. For example, there was one moment in the second half that really exemplified how far they've come - with Pacific pushing, and having made it 2-1 after mounting up a bunch of good chances to start the second half, it felt inevitable that the hosts were going to make it 2-2 soon after, and the home crowd seemed to sense that. Instead, Vancouver did well to settle down and take the sting out of the game for those fans, slowing down Pacific just enough to alter the momentum of the game, and that ended up being enough for them to claim the win in the end. A reflection of the maturity that this group has gained, that ended up being a key turning point of the game, as they did well to knuckle down the rest of the way to claim the victory. Earlier in the year, they likely would've struggled to do that, but their ability to clean up details like that just shows why they've been soaring as of late, as they've shown a lot more maturity in their performances over the past few weeks. "Football is a funny game," Irving added. "When you're winning, things may look good, and when you're losing things may look bad, but I don't think those two things are too different. I think through our tough streaks, we've still had a ton of really good performances, but we've been a bit unlucky, and I think now we're playing with a certain freedom that's allowed us to believe in ourselves a little bit more." "Plus, winning breeds a winning mentality, just like losing breeds a losing one, so when you get a couple in a row, you start to feel good (as we have)."

Pacific struggles to follow game plan in "unacceptable" first half showing:

Heading into this game, Pacific knew what was at stake for them. Because of that, they were eager to come out to a strong start, with an emphasis on being much more vertical in their attacking play than usual, especially without Manny Aparicio to pull the strings and pick apart Vancouver's defence in midfield as he rested with a knock. Given that they'd only scored first in three of their last eight games at Starlight Stadium (interestingly, they've had three wins in those games, compared to two draws and three losses in the five other matches), they knew that a fast start was a must, too. To their credit, they found that through the first 15 minutes, too - to begin the match, they were arguably the better team, and had three good looks at goal inside just fifteen minutes. As a result, fans had a reason to feel good, as Pacific seemed on track to score the first goal. Inexplicably, however, they then threw that all away. It started with the first goal they conceded, which came off a sloppy moment in possession, and from there, it felt like Pacific fought a rising tide for the rest of the half. For a team that knew how important this match was to them, as they could've climbed back into second place with a win, that was a big surprise, as these are usually the exact sort of games where Pacific typically loves to step up. Unsurprisingly, that led manager James Merriman to send a message to his team at half time - after heading to the locker room at the break looking visibly frustrated with his team, he made three changes to start the second half, which included taking off his captain Josh Heard - but by then it was too little, too late for them. To be fair, from that point on, they were mostly spotless, finally bringing the energy and verticality Merriman hoped for from them to start the game, as they generated 0.7 xG to Vancouver's 0.12 in the second half, struck the post once, and had several other glorious chances to score, but that's where Vancouver really stepped up and managed the end of the game expertly. "The first 10, 15 minutes, I thought we were good," Merriman mused. "We were there, we created good chances, forced three good saves, but then I don't know why we opened up so much after that, I don't know why we lost our way. At home, the way that we defended, the effort that we put to get behind the ball when we didn't have possession, that was not enough." "I think the changes were good at the half, we put pressure on them and had a good response in the second half, but it's an unacceptable first half from us at home in the first place." With that, it compounded what has been a frustrating recent stretch for Pacific, who have gone from title favourites to just trying to not fall any further than second place over the last couple of weeks. Sitting with a record of 2W-2D-5L over their last nine games, they know that's not good enough, especially not for a team with high title hopes. As they showed in this game, however, when you struggle with the simple details, such as following the game plan or starting matches slowly, it can lead to a stretch like this. Luckily for Pacific, they still remain in a good position in the table despite this slump - they're guaranteed to finish no lower than fourth, and can still finish in the top two and potentially host a final, but they've now got a big couple of weeks ahead if they're to claim their second playoff crown. That starts next week, when they'll head to Calgary to try and defeat the CPL Shield winners at ATCO Field for the first time in regular season play, and then they'll hope that can then continue into the playoffs, no matter where they end up finishing. "We knew we three points today could've pushed into that second spot, but I think we can still do it next weekend in Calgary," Pacific forward, Easton Ongaro, noted. If not, this slump could prove to be costly, especially when seeing how strong they started the season, spending much of the first half in first place. "It's frustrating that we didn't follow our plan because their goalkeeper made some big saves and got us frustrated," Merriman added. "We started to open up way too much, and we got away from what was working, and they came down and took their chances." "But we also need to be better in front of goal - I don't know how many total shots we had in the match, but we need to score goals to win games also, and we didn't do that."

New-look Vancouver offence shines in long-awaited return to the Island:

It's safe to say that a lot has changed for Vancouver since their last visit to the Island, in which they made the trek across the Salish Sea for their first-ever game as a professional team back on April 15th. For one, they entered this game with 26 games under their belt as a club, and even entered with several new players, as just six of the 11 starters from that first game started this match. Not only that, but they brought a whole new look identity, too, especially on the ball. Defensively, they actually looked quite similar, allowing just one goal while doing well to take away space from Pacific in possession, but offensively, they had some new tricks up their sleeve. In particular, they were really able to provide the width that they lacked in that first game, which ended up being a huge asset to them, especially in transition. Thanks to the presence of Cantave on one wing, as well as the overlapping threat of James Cameron on the other, Vancouver were really able to stretch out the field in key moments. That proved to be important, as that allowed them to really catch Pacific vulnerable in transition, while ensuring that the Tridents would not be able to pin them back for long stretches. You add in that Vancouver was able to also hold onto the ball for periods at a time, taking the pressure off their defenders, that was another bonus, as that allowed them to stay fresher as the game wore on. Yet, that arguably may be the biggest difference with this Vancouver team right now, as they've really grown a lot offensively as of late. For the most part, they've had good flashes defensively this season, but their attack has struggled for most of it, both to score goals and control stretches of play. Over the past month, however, Vancouver has changed that. Thanks to some new personnel, a formation tweak and the development of some key partnerships, they're showing that they've got the quality to hurt teams in different ways, be it in possession or in transition. That's providing value to different areas of their game, too, such as their ability to withstand more defensively, especially now that they know that they can hurt teams at the other end of the pitch. "For me personally, I'm seeing this every day in training, so I'm not surprised by this," Ghotbi admitted. "I think this group is capable of playing all of the teams in this league and beating them on any given day at the moment." "Unfortunately, the points are what they are in the table, and this run has come a little bit too late, but I think it's very encouraging to see how we've been able to build such a beautiful team, and I'm really excited about our last game and excited about how we build this team even further next season." This game was just another example of that, and that's fitting, representing an important full-circle moment for the club in their return to the site of their first-ever game. "Today was always going to be a chance for us to show how far we've come from the first game to now," Irving added. "We've had a chance now, with no playoffs on the horizon, to show what we're about, and what we've been working on for next year." "And we haven't wavered (in our belief), we haven't given up despite the fact that we easily could have, guys could have just started getting on each other, people could have just said that they don't want to be here." "Yet, every day in training, guys are trying, and through that, we've now been able to show up on the second last day of the season, when we're been mathematically out of the playoffs for a while, and put on a performance like this, and that just shows the character of the players and of our club as a whole, showing what we're trying to build, and I couldn't be prouder of the guys for that." Player of the Match

Callum Irving, Vancouver FC Irving looked fired up to play his old team today, and he showed it with his performance, too, as he had five saves in this victory. Not only that, but several of them were of the five-alarm variety, as well, helping his team see this victory over the line in the end.

What’s next?

Pacific will head out on the road for their regular-season finale, as they'll travel to Calgary to play Cavalry at ATCO Field on Saturday, October 7th (4:00 p.m. PT/5:00 p.m. MT), in which they'll look to climb up to second place with a victory and some help elsewhere. Meanwhile, Vancouver FC will finish off their season at home, as they get set to host York United at Langley's Willoughby Community Park on Friday, October 6th (7:30 p.m. PT/10:30 p.m. ET). Watch all CPL 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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