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Away-goals rule puts Pacific FC under pressure in cup match against Atletico Ottawa

Canadian Championship quarter-final set for Wednesday night at Starlight Stadium
Eric Lajeunesse and Pacific FC are ready for another battle with Atletico Ottawa on Wednesday night. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The road to the Voyageurs Cup has had more twists and bending turns than the plot lines of the Usual Suspects, Crying Game and Sixth Sense combined as it barrels through Starlight Stadium tonight with the second leg of the Pacific FC and Atlético Ottawa quarter-final after the first game between the Canadian Premier League rivals ended scoreless in the nation’s capital.

PFC needed a goal at the death in injury time, and seven hairy rounds of penalty kicks, to survive an opening-round upset bid by the TSS Rovers of League1 B.C. just to be here. There was a major upset in the quarter-finals as Hamilton’s Forge FC of the CPL dispatched CF Montreal of Major League Soccer. Calgary’s Cavalry FC of the CPL blanked the Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS 1-0 at B.C. Place but the Whitecaps still advanced to the semifinals on the away-goals tiebreaker due to Vancouver’s 2-1 win in the first game in Calgary.

Canada is one of the few countries that still uses the archaic away-goals rule for its domestic cup championship, which has put PFC under the gun tonight. Because the opening game in Ottawa was scoreless, Atlético can advance to the semifinals with any scoring draw tonight. PFC can only advance in open play with a victory. A scoreless draw means the game will be decided on penalty kicks.

“Other competitions have got rid of the away-goals rule. I’m not sure why we have it,” said PFC head coach James ­Merriman.

“We know we need to win to advance. That’s part of it anyways. We want to win the match and get ourselves into the semifinals. We set out goals at the beginning of the season and Canadian Championship was a part of that.”

PFC midfielder Zak Bahous concurred: “Away goals is a rule that only we have in the Canadian Championship. No matter if it’s there or not, we all know we need to win. We will be on the front foot to get that victory and advance. League is completely different than cup games, which are played differently and the energy and atmosphere are different. This is totally different than if it was a league game.”

Ottawa is coming in following a 3-0 league victory over Forge FC while PFC has lost its last two league games in its first real bit of adversity this season.

“We have to respect the momentum Ottawa brings,” said Merriman.

“They had a big performance against Forge in league [after] Forge had a big performance against [MLS] Montreal in the cup. These games can come quick in this league and we know that. We know we have more in us and it’s going to be a great match [tonight].”

Former PFC impact-mainstays Manny Aparicio and Amer Didic are now in Atlético Ottawa colours. So is attacking Ollie Bassett, the slithery and elusive former U-19 Northern Ireland international, who was on PFC’s 2021 CPL championship team and went on to become league MVP in 2022 with Atlético. PFC’s Bahous, meanwhile, played two seasons for Ottawa.

“In the sixth year of the league there’s a lot of players who have played at different places,” said Bahous.

“It’s not a surprise or thing that is that important. What matters most is what we are trying to do as at team for this season. [Tonight] is just one more step for one of our goals this season.”

The re-shuffle draw for the semifinals will take place at half-time tonight of the PFC-Ottawa quarter-final. This year’s Canadian Championship winner will hoist the Voyageurs Cup and advance to the 2025 CONCACAF Champions Cup.

Meanwhile, PFC suffered a major blow with the loss for the rest of the season of pivotal defender Aly Ndom to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“Aly is a significant loss,” admitted Merriman.

Bahous described the veteran French import, who in 2017-18 helped Stade Reims win Ligue 2 to be promoted to Ligue 1, as: “A big part of the locker-room who, for me, has been a bit like an older brother. But strong teams come together when they need to. The loss of Aly is bringing all of us closer together.”

CORNER KICKS: Reon Moore and Steffen Yeates of Pacfic FC are among the five CPL ­players called up for Trinidad and ­Tobago’s 39-player provisional roster for 2026 World Cup qualifying games against Grenada on June 5 and Bahamas on June 8. The others are Malcolm Shaw from Cavalry FC and Andre Rampersad and Ryan Telfer from the HFX Wanderers.

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