PACIFIC FC 0 - CS HEREDIANO 1
They play the game, and referee it, a little differently in Central America, than they do in Canada.
Pacific FC found that out first hand on Tuesday night at Starlight Stadium in Langford.
The home team couldn’t solve the five-man back line of CS Herediano and the club from Costa Rica prevailed 1-0 in the first leg of their CONCACAF League Round of 16 match. The second leg goes Aug. 23 in Heredia, just outside San Jose, Costa Rica.
There must have been snipers set up around Starlight Stadium because every time there was a hint of contact between a Pacific FC player and a Herediano player, the visitor fell to the ground as if he had been shot, and the referee from Puerto Rico was buying everything Herediano was selling.
It’s how the game is played in Central America, but it didn’t sit well with the PFC players or the near-capacity crowd of 4,687.
“It was expected for sure, but I thought we stayed composed and did a good job of not getting frustrated and staying aggressive on the ball,” said Pacific FC head coach James Merriman after watching his team handed three yellow cards, compared with just one to Herediano.
Herediano, knowing full well Pacific FC, the defending Canadian Premier League champions, will be in tough to prevail in the second leg at the hostile 8,700-seat Estadio Eladio Rosabal Cordero, played most of the game with very little attempt to attack the PFC box.
But in the 83rd minute, the Costa Rican Primera Division champs capitalized on some sloppy defending by PFC and second-half substitute Jefferson Brenes got his head on a nifty cross and lifted it past a helpless Callum Irving in the PFC net. It was the first goal allowed by Irving in three CONCACAF League games.
“This is a tough one for our group to take,” Merriman said.
“We had some excellent chances in the first half that would have changed the game and did a good job of executing our game plan.
“But it comes down to little details and we’ll learn from this and be a better team [in the second leg].”
Herediano is off to a 3-1-1 start in league play this season, and displayed stretches of excellent possession, but maintained a solid structure in their own half on Tuesday.
“I think it’s a sign of respect that they showed us with their focus on their defensive game because they have some skilled players who attack very well and you didn’t see that on the attack from them tonight,” said Merriman.
“I also think we adapted very well and created several good chances.”
The Pacific FC-Herediano winner moves into a quarter-final matchup against the winner of Espana of Honduras and Cartagines of Costa Rica.
Like CS Herediano, Cartagines was also given a bye into the Round of 16. Espana won their opening round match against Real Esteli of Nicaragua to earn a Round of 16 spot. .
Before PFC heads south for the second leg, they will travel to Halifax on Saturday for a CPL match against HFX Wanderers.