Match in a minute or less
No Didić, Mukumbilwa, Daniels or Merriman? No problem for Pacific FC on Saturday, as they topped Valour FC 2-1 at Starlight Stadium to break a three-game losing streak in front of their home crowd.
The Tridents dominated possession from kickoff, but it took them until the 35th minute to open the scoring. The ball came through midfield to Manny Aparicio at the top of the box, who flicked the ball cleverly behind the backline for Adonijah Reid who picked it out of the air on the bounce to knock it past Darlington Murasiranwa and in.
After an extended period of Pacific dominance, though, Valour would make the hosts pay for not capitalizing on other chances. With just over 10 minutes to play, a cross came in for Matteo De Brienne, and the young fullback managed to get his foot on it to score his second of the year and stun the Tridents with an equalizer.
Pacific, however, did respond to the adversity. With about 85 minutes to go, Easton Ongaro curled a shot from the top of the box that smacked the corner of the crossbar, falling back into the path of fellow substitute Ayman Sellouf, who took it down well and fired into the goal to put his side back in front. That late marker would stand as the winner, as the Tridents saw out a victory that could be absolutely critical to their regular season title hopes.
Pacific’s much-needed home win not as comfortable as could’ve been; supersub Sellouf saves the day
In many ways, this would have been considered a must-win game for Pacific. Playing at home — with just two more home games left after this — against a team outside of the playoff picture, they’d always be favoured for a result, but they desperately needed one here after losing their last three matches (as well as their last three at Starlight Stadium).
This time, though, despite missing a handful of major contributors (more on that later) and head coach James Merriman — assistant Armando Sá took over on the touchline — Pacific looked fully in control for the heavy majority of the game. The Tridents certainly knew they’d have a lot of the ball in this match, such is usually the case for a home team when Valour go on the road, but it hasn’t been uncommon for Pacific this year to fail to do much with their possession.
Pacific seemed to arrive with the energy Merriman has been pleading for the last few weeks. They were hungry to retrieve the ball upon losing it by pressing — causing Valour to cough up the ball in their own half 34 times in the first 45 minutes alone. When the Tridents had the ball (which was most of the game), they were patient but deliberate with how they picked their way through Valour’s lines.
Ultimately, though, Pacific continued to be plagued by some of the issues that have precipitated this recent slide. Before conceding the equalizer, they’d created 12 shots for themselves with 30 touches in the Valour penalty area, but scored just once.
Matteo De Brienne’s equalizing goal was quite the gut punch for a Pacific team that would have felt pretty comfortable with the lead until that point, but it was evidence of how costly it can be to fail to capitalize on an advantage and kill off a game.
“We started very well, we dominated the game, we had many chances to score, and we go out of the first half winning, but we had more chances to score, maybe two- or three-nothing in the first half,” Sá said after the game.”
“The second half, the indecisive [moments] started to come again and this cannot happen, we need to be more consistent, make the first and second half at the same level. But I think in general we made a very good game and deserve this win, for sure.”
Ayman Sellouf came into the game in the 55th minute, and as he’s done repeatedly this season he changed the game. The Dutch winger scored what could go down as one of the most important goals of Pacific’s season to ensure they got away with conceding the earlier equalizer.
This was Sellouf’s 14th goal contribution of the season, and his eighth off the bench. He seems to be a not-so-secret weapon for Pacific, being able to make such an incredible impact late in games with his explosive ability on the ball.
Valour show fight after poor first half, but not enough for result
Valour are a club fighting for their playoff lives at the moment, but they’ll be extremely disappointed with how they came out of the gates on Saturday.
The loss leaves them at 12 points out of the playoff positions — before teams they’re chasing had even played this weekend — with only six games left to play.
Unfortunately for Valour, Pacific — who had also been in vulnerable form coming in, but were better able to channel their desperation in this game — were too much for them to handle this time. Valour have historically struggled in Langford, winning just once there in club history (all the way back in early 2019), but the first half of this match might’ve been their poorest yet at Starlight Stadium. They had just one shot and one touch in the box, with 38.2 per cent possession and only 115 accurate passes.
“You look at the first half, the way we dealt with pressure from the front, the way we allowed players to get on the ball and turn and choose their passes… the truth is the essence of football will always be what you do on the ball and when you have the ball, and I think [we made] too many easy giveaways,” coach Phillip Dos Santos said postmatch.
At the interval, Dos Santos made drastic changes with a triple substitution, with Andy Baquero, Ahinga Selemani and Pacifique Niyongabire coming in — not only adding fresh faces to the attacking line, but also allowing Valour to get Dante Campbell into midfield after starting at right-back. That particular change proved fruitful, with Campbell sliding out of a central position to receive the ball and deliver the cross for De Brienne’s goal.
“I wanted more fight,” Dos Santos said of the reasoning behind those changes.
“You need to know what you can expect from a player when you put him on the field… Things might not always go your way but when it comes to being connected with the game, with the team, there can’t be fluctuation. Players need to always be ready to come out and execute the task that is given to them. I felt that in the first half it wasn’t always the case, and when it’s like that and you’re down 1-0 in the score, you have to move things around. I’m not one to wait and see what’s going to happen; if I feel that the team needs help and the guys that are on the pitch need help, I’m going to make the changes.”
Still, it was really only for about a 20-minute stretch that Dos Santos got the response he was looking for from his team; they did very well to weather some more of Pacific’s storm and find a way back into the game, but Sellouf’s go-ahead goal pulled the wind back out of Valour’s sails.
De Brienne said after the game that it’ll now be on the Valour players to ensure they don’t quit and remain in the fight until they’re mathematically eliminated. They’ll be incredibly frustrated with how they began this match, but this is certainly a team with the capacity to fight; the onus will now be on them to show it next week.
It’ll be a Friday night fixture for both these sides next week on Sept. 8, as Valour head to play York United (7 p.m. ET), while Pacific remain at home to welcome Halifax Wanderers to Starlight Stadium (7 p.m. PT/10 p.m. ET).
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