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Post Match: Pacific FC outwork, outhustle MLS side

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Someone check Galiano Island for any strategy that fell overboard

MLS: Canadian Championship Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we played ourselves, didn’t we? And I’m not just talking about the Eighty-Six Forever staff who unanimously saw this match go in another direction.

The Vancouver Whitecaps, long of the MLS (relatively speaking), boasting an unheralded eight-game unbeaten streak (again, relatively speaking), would not lose to their baby brothers from the island; to Pacific FC, a club only part way through their third trip ‘round the sun, with a roster presently boasting no less than twelve players formerly affiliated with the Whitecaps, all of whom cut adrift at one point or another.

Another early knockout could not possibly come from the hands feet of a Canadian Premier League side, could it?

It can, and it did.

While Marc Dos Santos may have admitted to an obsession to win the Canadian Cup, the Pacific FC the ones who played like it, keeping their mainland, MLS counterparts on the backfoot for nearly the entire match Thursday night, punting their visitors back to the ferry by way of a 4-2 drubbing.

Make what you will of an unbeaten run comprised mainly of draws, but a largely regular starting eleven fielded by Dos Santos did not initially invoke too much worry (unless you’re the usual critic or contrarian, of course):

Given the admitted “obsession for the cup,” the three lineup changes were both odd and, strangely, not. It was inevitable for the celebrated Ryan Gauld to make a starting eleven, though arguably surprising given the previous discussions surrounding his match fitness and Ryan Raposo’s replacement of Deiber Caicedo on the wing may have come as a reward for his recent positive play late in matches. The only real surprise was Patrick Metcalfe making his second-ever start, alongside Janio Bikel as a deep-seated center mid.

Initially, the Whitecaps looked awfully comfortable playing out of the back, patiently working passes among their defenders and central midfielders. Normally, it’s safe to assume that such a game plan would work if the team could effectively out-possess their opponents, which the Whitecaps did: they held a 62/38 advantage by the end of the night. Be patient, find a passing lane, and advance the ball. It should work, right?

But the Whitecaps could never really afford to be patient. Most of the ensuing ninety minutes revolved around Pacific FC coach (and, naturally, former Whitecaps center back), Pa-Modou Kah, having his side contest every possession, throw themselves at every ball, and have go awry the best-laid plans of mice and Marc Dos Santos.

It was that hectic, unrelenting energy that would yield Pacific’s first goal of the night.

Off a long pass assumedly cleared to safety by the Whitecaps’ backline, Pacific midfielder Manuel Aparicio was left alone to regain possession and fire a shot on Max Crepeau, who uncharacteristically parried the into the path of Terran Campbell. But before a shot could be fired, a Jake Nerwinski tackle-from-behind fells the striker.

That’s right, ladies and gents: a penalty awarded, seven minutes in from kickoff. Campbell stepped up to take his earned PK and it was a no-doubter:

For what it’s worth, you can catch a replay of the tackle in the tweet above. Though the low-angle camera shot doesn’t do the viewer any favors, Nerwinski feasibly could have ended up with a DOGSO. Evidently, Juan Marquez never attended the Baldomero Toledo School for Angsty Referees.

As it turns out, that 1-0 lead was not long for this world...

In retrospect, the Whitecaps were fortunate to have this one go in their favor, as any ref could easily argue that Brian White backed into the incoming Callum Irving.

Were I to hazard a guess, however, I’d say Marquez saw White as an innocent here, with the striker being shielded from the ball and backed into by defender Lukas MacNaughton, as both players were launched into by the late-to-the-party Irving. The ball dropped to MacNaughton, who couldn’t clear before White poked the ball back to Gauld, allowing the midfielder to turn and chip into an open net while the Pacific keeper remained on the ground.

It would be one thing for the striker to meaningfully back into a leaping goaltender, but this was a case of White already having his back turned and unknowingly being shepherded into the path of the keeper. At least, that’s my theory behind Marquez’s rationale.

That 50/50 call, and drawing fouls at a pace of 14 to 4, was about all the good fortune the Whitecaps could muster in the first half. And Pacific FC? Well, they made their own luck:

That’s Aparicio at it again, pinging two misplayed balls off Whitecaps defenders, the second of which was dug out by Josh Heard and returned to the still-running Aparicio, who fired over a diving Crepeau to reclaim the lead.

The Whitecaps would largely see out the first with the same possessive style that rarely threatened in the final third and carry it straight into the second, with the only deviation being a marginal increase in possession for the home side.

To their credit, that slight uptick of possession for Pacific FC was enough to generate the first four efforts on net for either side in the second half. The first of those was a quality save by Crepeau, turning away a glancing header from Campbell that was destined for the far post.

The third effort, however, was arguably emblematic of the play for both teams on the night:

Heard corrals a chipped pass from Campbell, turns Javain Brown inside-out, and has an almost thirty-yard run from the sideline at Andy Rose (backing him all the way to the six!), before burying near post on Crepeau to extend the lead to 3-1.

And yet, like Pacific’s opener in the first half, this one to open the second was quickly met with a return salvo from Gauld:

I don’t want to be so bold as to say the newly signed Scot was single-handledly keeping the Whitecaps in this one, but I really, really want to.

His reading of the play, to drift into the box unmarked and casually nod home the cross from Cristian Dajome, truly belies how complicated and complex this match proved to be for the Whitecaps.

A moment of zen unto itself, surrounded by waves of chaos and disarray. And then there’s this:

Zonal Marking is at it again!

That’s four Pacific FC players to the Whitecaps’ one crashing the net on a whipped-in free kick from Aparicio, with the ball stalling just long enough for sub Alejandro Diaz to tap it in.

Full credit goes to Florian Jungwirth, as he’s the only one moving to the ball. Everyone else gets the Taylor Twellman gif, whether its for hanging out at the back post covering nobody, loitering above the penalty spot like a sixteen-year old outside the liquor store, or losing track of the ball once your effort to block the cross failed.

That fourth goal truly was the final coffin nail, even if Cristian Dajome tantalized with a shot pushed into the far post, before converting a meaningless penalty drawn at the death by Gauld, sealing this one officially as a 4-3 loss. In fairness, the fourth goal was needed, but would it have been if it were never scored in the first place? Don’t make me explain faulty cause and effect again.

Aside from Gauld, no Vancouver player had an answer for the drive and determination embodied by the players of Pacific FC, let alone come close to match it. The approach was assumptive, the tactics were stagnant, and the execution was asthmatic. The scoreline certain flatters the play of the Whitecaps, but as evident in another early exit from the Canadian Cup, flattery truly does get you nowhere.