August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) - - Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

Press Release – Canadian Premier League. / Images – ISN


Pacific FC was minutes away from heading to Costa Rica on equal footing with regional giants C.S. Herediano after a strong performance in the first leg of their Concacaf League round of 16 tie at Starlight Stadium.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

A late goal from Jefferson Brenes, however, would undo most of that good work as Pacific now find themselves down 1-0 on aggregate and in away goals to boot.

They now visit Costa Rica next week not only needing to find a way to score a goal themselves, but also how to keep an Herediano side that proved they only need a handful of chances to make one count from finding further goals.

Three Observations

Late goal from Herediano a gut punch after solid Pacific performance 

Against a side with as much experience and technical ability as Herediano, it took Pacific a bit of time to grow into the match against the Costa Rican side. The hosts, who are usually so assured and confident on the ball conceded possession to Herediano for large parts of the match and spent most of the first half allowing the visitors to dictate the tempo.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

But as the match wore on, Pacific adapted to the speed and quality of their opponents, finding ways to disrupt their rythym and create chances and moments of possession themselves. As the game neared its conclusion, the Tridents were largely on the front foot, spurred on by another excellent crowd at Starlight Stadium.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

With just seven minutes left to play in the 90, however, Herediano took advantage of one of their few chances of the match to score the game’s lone goal. All of the sudden, instead of going to Costa Rica with a draw, Pacific now trail on both aggregate and away goals.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

“That’s the frustration within the group, because we know, we felt it, we felt we executed our match plan, everyone worked, everyone put in the work and continued to stay disciplined,” said Merriman. “Defensively we were sound, we had a couple of great chances in the first half.”

“But we also spoke about it it, and it is going to come down to the details and these are the games that help us grow, this game will improve us 100%. I’m frustrated and I feel for the players because I didn’t think we deserved [to concede late]. We could have finished with a draw or maybe we take one of our chances but again, it is going to come down to the details. So it is tough, it is a tough one for us.”

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

Djenairo Daniels, in particular, had some very good chances to find the back of the net for Pacific. He hit the post from a header late in the second half, the closest the Trident would come on the night. They had seven shots of Herediano’s four over the course of the match.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

They also led significantly in another statistical category: fouls. Pacific often intentionally did so in order to disrupt moments of transition, but also had to keep their cool during a few officiating moments that left them frustrated — and with 19 fouls charged against them to just six for Herediano. After picking up a yellow card just 18 minutes into the match, Daniels, in particular, did a good job of maintaining his feisty play while still not picking up a second booking.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

“We stayed calm, the players were mature and stayed composed and they didn’t get caught up in it,” said Merriman. “I thought we handled ourselves very well.”

Pacific adds an extra central midfielder as they adopt organized defensive lineup 

Winning at home in Concacaf is critical. But in any two-legged tie so is not conceding any away goals. For a Pacific side that has established their seven-game unbeaten run largely on the back of adopting a more offensive lineup, Merriman opted for a more defensive approach, adding an extra midfielder to provide more coverage centrally.

Recent matches have mostly seen a central midfield pairing of Manny Aparicio and Sean Young, but on the narrow Starlight Stadium pitch, captain Jamar Dixon was added to the mix as well. As a result, the well-organized Pacific side made it really difficult for Herediano to move the ball through the middle of the park.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

Dixon, who generally played slightly deeper than Young and Aparicio during the match, also provided another passing option. This allowed Pacific to more comfortably break the Herediano press and make sure they did not lose the ball in dangerous areas. In transitional moments, there was also an extra player to cover should one or two of the other midfielders be caught far up the pitch.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

The hosts had to shift their approach at least slightly from the original plan as they were anticipating Herediano would line up in a more attacking 4-4-2. Instead, the visitors opted for five at the back, a more defensive approach that Merriman saw as a sign of respect but also seemed to catch Pacific off guard especially to start the match.

“Didn’t expect it, but I thought we adapted and stayed true to our match plan and it didn’t cause us too many problems,” said Merriman.

Another key aspect of Pacific’s game plan was making sure that Herediano talisman Yeltsin Tejeda was watched at all times. Young did a good job of this for most of the match, while Pacific debutant Cédric Toussaint, on loan from York United, inherited the difficult role midway through the second half.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

Offensively, adding an extra midfielder also freed up Marco Bustos in particular to be a little more creative offensively. Being able to drift into different pockets around the field, Bustos was Pacific’s main danger man over the course of 90 minutes, and the source of the vast majority of their dangerous chances.

The good news for Pacific is that this looks to be a style that they could successfully replicate down in Costa Rica next week. In a hostile environment, they will once again need to be solid and organized defensively, and the extra central midfielder helped to establish that style.

Plenty of positives to take into leg two as everything still to play for down in Costa Rica 

While the job only gets harder for Pacific from here, they are now fully aware of the level at which they will have to play in order to get something out of this tie. They can also take confidence in the fact that they quickly stepped up to that level and were able to adjust to their opponent’s tactics and level of talent.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

This will only get more difficult to do in an uncomfortable environment and perhaps with added fatigue after a trip to Halifax this weekend in CPL action. But Pacific’s performance today should give them plenty of reason to believe that there is still plenty to play for in the second leg.

“We can be aggressive, and we will go in with confidence,” said Merriman of his team’s approach. “We can try to create problems for them and play fearless and go into a difficult environment, and we need to expect that. But I think we take confidence from our performance today and we will grow, we will learn, we will be better prepared and we will look to get something out of that game.”

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

Perhaps if there is any lesson to take down to Costa Rica, it is exactly what Merriman mentioned earlier: details. Against a side like Herediano Pacific executed nearly perfectly for 90 minutes, but once lapse might have cost them dearly.

The road will only add to that difficulty, as three of their four losses this year in CPL action have come away from Starlight Stadium. Critically, in a match where they will need a goal to get back in the tie they have averaged just 1.1 goals per game away from Starlight Stadium in all competitions compared to 1.9 at home.

August 16, 2022 Langford, BC (ISN ) – – Erich Eichhorn photo ( )

Having conceded an away goal tonight, the simplest scenario for Pacific would be to score once and not concede to send the tie to penalties, or two while conceding one or fewer goals to win outright. This will require an even more complete performance than they showed tonight. But they also demonstrated that they deserve to be on the same pitch as Herediano, whether that pitch is in Victoria or Heredia. Player of the Match

Keysher Fuller, C.S. Herediano 

The Costa Rican international fullback showed his experience as he did an excellent job of locking down Josh Heard throughout the match. He also did well going forward, helping Herediano to find the breakthrough, as it was his cross that Brenes headed home for the match’s lone goal.

What’s next?

Pacific has the daunting task of travelling down to Costa Rica to take on Herediano on the road at the Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero next Tuesday, August 23 (5:15 p.m. PT/8:15 p.m. ET). First, however, they have a trip to Halifax in Canadian Premier League action on Saturday, August 20 (10:30 a.m. PT / 1:30 p.m. ET). Halifax is the last team that managed to beat Pacific in CPL action, a 3-0 loss at Starlight Stadium on June 25.