After playing just a single Canadian Premier League match, Pacific FC begins its 2023 Canadian Championship journey on Thursday against Cavalry FC. PFC’s season opener was an awesome occasion all-around and the club will be looking to keep the good vibes rolling during this early season stretch of home matches.
This year’s quest for the Voyageurs Cup features an exciting potential rematch with Vancouver Whitecaps FC in the semi-final if both teams win the games in front of them. Excitingly for Pacific that path includes a full slate of home matches. So no matter how far the team advances, they’ll play their CanChamp matches in the friendly confines of Starlight Stadium this season.
Given this, the chance to lift the Voyageurs Cup on the Island is a real possibility this season and the journey to get there starts here. Don’t miss a single step of that cup run and be sure to join the action on Thursday.
Trends and Stats
One game into the new season, it’s a fools game to extrapolate any details from the opening fixture. At the same time, I’ve handcuffed myself a bit by including this section in my match previews so we’ll make it work here.
One eye-catching note from the opening weekend was Cavalry twice giving away the lead in their match against Forge FC, which is surprising given the usual makeup of the Cavalry FC team under Tommy Wheeldon jr. A rugged, physical team, the Cavs haven’t been easy to break down in the past and generally do a good job of seeing out leads. It’ll be interesting to track how and if this becomes a theme this season.
For Pacific, a noticeable stat from the opening weekend – and one that they will definitely look to keep up – is the amount of times they won possession in the final third. The Tridents won possession high up the pitch the most of any CPL club on the weekend, doing so seven times. It points to the style of play Merriman likes to play, and highlights Pacific’s high-pressing style.
These teams have perhaps more history in all competitions than any other two teams in CPL history. A heated history in the CPL is matched by some memorable ties in the Canadian Championship.
In 2019, Cavalry beat Pacific in the first Canadian Championship to feature CPL sides, then in 2021 the Tridents exacted revenge and beat Cavalry in the quarter-finals to set up a semi-final tie away to Toronto FC.
The all-time record between these two clubs stands at seven wins for Pacific, 10 wins for Cavalry, and three draws.
“I think all of the coaches would say they would like more time to prepare to play these matches, but it’s the same for every team. The players are excited to be back playing matches, and you always want to be playing in meaningful matches. A cup match is special because it’s a one-off, if you win you advance, and if we don’t we are out. The importance of the game, the intensity of the game, the focus, all of these things, I think every player wants to play in those matches.” – Pacific FC head coach James Merriman (h/t Canpl.ca)
“I don’t think we have ever left a Cavalry match saying ‘wow, that was easy’ or anything like that. I think it is always high-intensity games against them and that’s kind of what we are looking to bring here at home.” – Pacific FC midfielder Manny Aparicio (h/t Canpl.ca)
Players to Watch
Pacific FC – Emil Gazdov, Cavalry FC – Marco Carducci
A goalkeeper showdown between players at different stages of their CPL careers. Pacific’s Gazdov has three career starts to his name, and only just made his home debut in the season opener, where Carducci is one of the most seasoned vets in the league and has twice been named the CPL Goalkeeper of the Year.
Despite his inexperience on the pitch in professional football, Gazdov looked very, very comfortable in his home debut on Saturday. Adding in all the extra factors around that match – season opener, first-ever derby match with Vancouver FC, vocal away support near one of the goals, CPL Match of the Week – to see the confidence and poise Gazdov played with is incredibly impressive. Just 19 years old, Gazdov has a very bright future ahead of him but already looks prepared to grab the opportunity to be Pacific’s no. 1 this season with both hands.
Carducci on the other hand has made 93 appearances in all competitions for Cavalry, often wearing the captain’s armband as well. Last season’s CPL Goalkeeper of the Year is second in all-time clean sheets in the Canadian Premier League and is only really missing the North Star Shield from his trophy cabinet. An athletic, commanding shot-stopper, Carducci has shown the ability to literally single-handedly save Cavalry on many occasions, keeping them in matches they had no business winning.
Keys to Victory
Merriman and the squad talked a lot about playing their game against Vancouver FC in the lead in to that match. That wasn’t just talk, however, as the team followed through on that promise and kept their opponents from coming into Starlight and dictating how the game would play out. That task remains the same here (and every other home match this season) although there are elements of Cavalry’s style of play that must be kept in mind.
Cavalry’s reputation is that of a physically-demanding team that pressures you into losing your composure, after which they’ll take advantage and punish you. Pacific has done well to match their physicality without going over the top on many occasions and will need to do so again.
The full-backs will also be crucial to how Pacific defends Cavalry on Thursday. The Cavs love to use their width and isolate their wingers in the outside channels before putting the ball into the box for their strikers to attack. Against Forge FC in the opening game, Cavalry had Myers Bevan and Joe Mason up front with Ali Musse and Mikaël Cantave out wide; here’s Bevan’s opening goal where you can see this exact gameplan in action.
Match Facts to Know
- Pacific FC and Cavalry FC have met three times in the five years CPL teams have competed in the Canadian Championship: 2019, 2021, and now 2023.
- This is the earliest date on the calendar that Pacific FC have played a match in the Canadian Championship, with 2019’s match against Cavalry FC the previous marker on May 15th.
- This is the second season in a row where Pacific FC hosts an opponent in the Canadian Champion a few days before/after hosting that same team in the Canadian Premier League. In 2022, Pacific welcomed York United FC to the Island in CPL action four days before hosting them again in the Canadian Championship.