Having survived the ultimate trap game last month, Canadian Premier League-leading Pacific FC (10-3-5) doesn’t view today’s fixture against last-place Atlético Ottawa in quite that same light.
Head coach Pa-Modou Kah said the 3-1 victory over Valour FC on Aug. 29, coming just three days after the historic 4-3 PFC upset of the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in the Canadian Championship, had the most potential for a letdown.
Kah labels that result over Valour a “turning point” even more than the win over the Vancouver Whitecaps just because there was no dip in effort, focus or enthusiasm after the heady high of knocking off an MLS team.
Kah said he expects no loss of concertation today against a plucky Atlético Ottawa side (3-11-4) that has stayed with most teams this season, but has been stung by several late losses.
Included in that tale of woe was a game against PFC in July, during the Winnipeg bubble portion of the season, when Ottawa took a 2-0 lead only to lose 4-2 to the Tridents as Alejandro Diaz recorded a natural hat-trick to pace the PFC rally. Pacific FC’s 2-0 record against Ottawa this year includes a 1-0 victory, also in the Winnipeg bubble, on a goal by Josh Heard.
“Ottawa has very good players, but things have not gone their way and they are trying to find their groove,” said Kah.
“We will have to earn every inch of space against them. If you are not careful, you can lose to any team in this league.”
The game will be a homecoming for Zach Verhoven, the 23-year-old midfielder who joined Atlético Ottawa this year after two seasons with PFC, in which he scored three goals in 31 appearances. He has a goal in 11 games this year in Ottawa.
“Zach wanted to play at a place where he could start and he knew our depth,” Kah said of the mutually consensual split.
The Ottawa team is owned by big-time La Liga club Atlético Madrid and held its training camp in Spain with the parent club.
Ottawa is coached by Miguel Angel Ferrer, popularly known as Mista, a former La Liga veteran player with Valencia who was twice capped for Spain.
Today’s conditions could be wet, but that doesn’t matter to Kah. “We never change our approach,” he said. “Weather and referees are two things you can’t control.”
Kah said PFC star Marco Bustos could be “ready to go next week” in a return from injury. Bustos’ attacking midfield role has been filled admirably by former Toronto FC MLS prospect Manny Aparicio.
“Manny is an ultra-professional who has brought intensity, desire and a will to win,” said Kah.
“With Bustos down, the expectation [around the league] was that we might slow down. But that was a moment to step up. Manny has been a driving force for us. Every coach needs players who can step up.”
With his lacerating outside shot, defenders have no choice but to play Aparicio high.
“That means spaces open up behind,” said Kah.
PFC has done well to not only use Aparicio as an outside threat, but to exploit the inside opportunities that creates.
Today’s game, at 2 p.m. at Starlight Stadium, is the last home fixture for Pacific FC until Oct. 16 against Valour.
A five-game away stretch begins with the Canadian Championship quarter-final Wednesday in Calgary against Cavalry FC, with the winner advancing to the semifinals of the Voyageurs Cup to meet the winner of the tie between Toronto FC of MLS and York United of the CPL.
That will be followed by a far-flung CPL road trip through Hamilton, Ont., against Forge FC next Saturday at Tim Hortons Field, to Winnipeg against Valour on Sept. 29, to FC Edmonton on Oct. 6 and cross-country to meet the HFX Wanderers in Halifax on Oct. 11.