Anatomy of a PFC Match: Pacific FC v Cavalry FC – November 20th 2021
October 20, 2023
Anatomy of a PFC Match is an extension of the series “Anatomy of a PFC Goal”. This series will focus on breaking down memorable or consequential matches in Pacific FC history.
It will look into the before, during, and after to describe how the match was won, and how it affected the season.
This series is best viewed horizontally or on a computer to view the photos more clearly.
The fourth entry into the Anatomy of a PFC __ series is also the first Anatomy of a PFC Match. This time, we’ll be re-watching a match from the 2021 season – which may provide some insight for the club’s fixture this coming Saturday in the Canadian Premier League Playoffs.
Before we get into the match itself, you can watch the shorten highlights below or, if you go to the OneSoccer website, you can find a full match replay of Pacific’s 2021 CPL Playoff Semi-Final against Cavalry FC in Calgary.
This match was the first of two playoff semi-final fixtures in a previous version of the CPL Playoff format. In 2021, the playoffs were set up where, at the end of the regular season, first place would host fourth and second would host third in a single-match knockout.
Pacific FC had experienced an incredible season to that point, but headed into the match having finished the regular season slightly out of form. Earlier in the year, the Tridents had beat Vancouver Whitecaps FC 4-3 at home in the Canadian Championship – a HISTORIC match in Canadian soccer, and had beaten the Cavs in Calgary in the next round to reach the semi-finals of that competition where they eventually bowed out to Toronto FC at BMO Field.
All told, Pacific had accumulated a lot of big game experience in the 2021 season alone, and had shown they can win away to Cavalry in knockout football. So while the recent form hadn’t been up the usual standard for the Tridents heading into the match we’re focusing on here, there was still a feeling around the club that they could put in a performance worthy of sending the team to its first-ever Canadian Premier League Final.
Also of note in the lead up to this game was the absence of two crucial players. First, star attacker Marco Bustos had been battling injuries for most of the second half of the season and was unavailable even from the bench, and joining him on the sideline was centre-back Lukas MacNaughton who had grown into one of the leaders of the team and was in the midst of a standout campaign, but missed out through suspension.
Now to get into the match itself.
Below is a look at the starting XI that head coach Pa-Modou Kah sent out to frustrate Cavalry on that cold November afternoon. Three of the starters are still with the Tridents in 2023: Manny Aparicio, Josh Heard and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère.
The first thing to note about the match itself was the state of the pitch once things got going.
Sean Young, who came off the bench in the second half against Cavalry that day, said of the game, “I remember them clearing snow off the field just before the game started. The field didn’t look like grass, it was dead grass. It wasn’t their usual nice green pitch.”
As soon as the game began, you could see players slipping on the grass and struggling to find their footing.
However, what also became immediately apparent was that Pacific’s counter-attacking set up was ready to cause the Cavs problems. It was less than a minute into the game that the Tridents had their first dangerous moment going forward when a counter attack ended in Terran Campbell firing a shot across goal that crashed off the bottom of the post and away from goal.
Remember what that counter attack looked like – Aparicio touching the ball past an oncoming Cavalry defender and setting the move in motion – because it will come back again later in the match.
After the match had settled into a little bit of a rhythm following that early chance, we could see how each team was looking to approach the game. For Pacific, the focus was on allowing the home side to have the ball inside their own half and jumping on any mistakes in possession to counter attack at speed. Given the state of the pitch, there wasn’t going to be any silky, tiki-taka football on display, so the match would likely be decided by who made fewer mistakes and who made their opponent pay for theirs.
Out of possession, the Tridents set up in a mid-block looking to cut off passing lanes into dangerous areas through the middle of the pitch. Out wide, however, it was a different story. All told, Pacific dominated the wide areas in this match. Whether it was without the ball – Pacific’s pressing trigger was when Cavalry’s full-backs or outside centre-backs (depending on the shape the team moved into) would receive the ball close the sideline. Or in possession, when the Tridents’ full-backs would send the ball forward quickly and with purpose when receiving the ball deeper or how the team would put in early crosses into the box when the full-backs or wingers received the ball inside Cavalry’s half.
The defensive shape Pacific played with worked wonders from the opening whistle and completely limited the home side until the 31st minute when Callum Irving was called upon for the first time and made a solid save. You can see the excellent shape the team maintained through the example below. See how each player is cutting off forward passes and allowing Cavalry to play the ball around the back until a pressing trigger is activated.
Just a few minutes later, in the 33rd minute, is when Pacific opened the scoring through Campbell. The chance came from Heard sending a cross into the box (see the note above about dominating the wide areas), and Aparicio getting above the six-foot-two Daan Klomp to win a header and lay the ball on a plate for Campbell to tuck away.
For the next 12+ minutes until halftime, it was more of the same for the Tridents: cut off routes forward for Cavalry, work harder on and off the ball, and win your duels.
When halftime came, the match remained 1-0 for Pacific who grew even more confident this game plan would pay off.
That confidence was dented just minutes into the second half when Cavalry equalized from a corner in the 47th minute. But the Pacific squad this season had been through too many big games to that point to let their heads drop in the moment.
Although the home side continued to push after grabbing their goal, Pacific held firm and kept grinding away. The Tridents were still first to loose balls, maintained their trademark intensity, and controlled the flow of the match impressively despite holding such a small share of possession.
The remainder of the second half played out much like the rest of the match had, and with neither team able to find a second goal, it was time for extra-time.
The opening half of the extra-time period began with more back-and-forth action as Pacific continued to battle against the Cavalry pressure and further restricted them from finding anything easy going forward.
Ultimately, the moment of the match, and the moment that will live on forever, came in the 105th minute – just before the break in extra-time.
Here is where we circle all the way back to the opening minute of the game when Aparicio reached a loose ball first and poked it past the on-rushing defender to set the counter attack in motion. Now, 104 minutes later, the Tridents’ indefatigable midfield dynamo still had the energy to reach a 50/50 ball first and poke it past the defender to bring the game to life.
After Aparicio’s touch reached Matteo Polisi, the former continued his lung-bursting run and received the ball back from Polisi down the left side. Aparicio then sent a searching, cross-field ball that Kunle Dada-Luke headed back towards Alejandro Diaz. Diaz brought the ball down inside the box and looked to fire a shot on goal but his attempt was blocked. After a scramble saw the ball start to head for the end-line, Dada-Luke used his electric acceleration to slide and reach the ball before it crossed the line and send it back towards goal.
If you’ve ever heard anyone mention, “play to the whistle” when it comes to this game, this moment is why.
While Dada-Luke hadn’t given up on the play, all of the Cavalry defenders and goalkeeper had. As such, Dada-Luke’s cross redirected off the goalkeeper’s foot and into the back of the net. The goal set off scenes of jubilant celebration on the PFC bench as the idea of a first-ever playoff final now felt within reach.
The second half of extra-time saw Pacific continue to battle and maintain their brilliant shape off the ball. Below you can see again how cohesive the group is out of possession, and how Dada-Luke, at the bottom of the image, starts to press when the full-back is on the ball and does so from an angle that forces him to play into an even tighter space along the sideline.
The Tridents were happy to suffer and grind for the remainder of the game until the final whistle finally blew. Once it did, the Island’s team had officially produced another statement victory in a season that featured so many others.
And the rest, as they say, is history. After Forge FC beat York United FC the following day, Pacific travelled to Hamilton for the CPL Final in early December and earned a 1-0 victory to lift the North Star Shield (as it was known at the time) and take home the first trophy in club history.
This match against Cavalry will forever be remembered in what promises to be a long rivalry between these two clubs, and chances are the upcoming semi-final match will live as long in the memory for whichever team comes out on top.
Thank you for reading the fourth entry in the Anatomy of a PFC __ series. If you missed the first few entries, which focused on PFC goals, you can find them here, here, and here.
Let’s hear from you! Comment on our social media post to give your take on this match. Did you see it in person? Was it as good as you remember?
And what are some of your favourite PFC goals or matches that you would like to see broken down next?
Be sure to tune into OneSoccer on Saturday to watch the Tridents take on Cavalry in another Playoff Semi-Final. There will also be an official PFC Watch Party at JR Slims downtown location, however, the event has sold out. Other locations showing the match include Darcy’s Pub Westshore and The Sticky Wicket.