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Pacific FC advances to Canadian Premier League final

PFC head coach Pa Modou-Kah said the winning play was reflective of his team’s overall effort: “Our guys fought and fought and fought, and our team’s character showed.”
Pacific FC's Kunle Dada-Luke, right, shows Jose Escalante of Cavalry FC a clean set of heels. VIA TRISHA LEES, PACIFIC FC

PACIFIC FC 2 - CAVALRY FC 1 after extra time

 It is becoming the quite the deft Canadian soccer manoeuvre, one known as pulling an Alphonso. Which is what ever-hustling Kunle Dada-Luke did, by saving the ball from going out, then banking it in off the goalkeeper in extra time to give Pacific FC a dramatic 2-1 victory against Cavalry FC in the Canadian Premier League playoff semifinal game in Calgary on Saturday.

Canadian national team star Alphonso Davies scored against Panama last month in World Cup qualifying play after barely saving the ball from rolling over the touchline.

“You never stop. You’ve got to keep playing and playing,” PFC head coach Pa Modou-Kah said of versatile fullback/forward Dada-Luke’s determination to keep the ball in play as it looked to be rolling out.

Kah said the winning play was reflective of his team’s overall effort: “We showed resilience. Our guys fought and fought and fought, and our team’s character showed.”

The winning goal was hotly contested, with Cavalry FC coaches and players arguing that the ball rolled out before Dada-Luke banked it home off the legs of Cavalry goalkeeper and fellow former Canada Under-20 player Marco Carducci.

“It was a contentious decision,” said Cavalry FC head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr.

“But the linesman is the only one that matters. We can’t change calls until VAR comes in. I would rather focus on our guys until the officiating improves. A call here or a bounce there and we’re off to the final. It’s numbing, to be honest. Our dressing room is very quiet.”

PFC will advance to play the winner of today’s semifinal in Hamilton, Ont., between the top seed and two-time defending champion Forge FC and fourth seed York United. If Forge FC wins, it will host the CPL championship game against PFC on Dec. 5 at Tim Hortons Field. If York United pulls the upset, PFC will host York in the final next weekend at Starlight Stadium in Langford.

“The biggest thing is we want to win the championship, whether that’s at home or away — that’s what we want to do for our fans,” said PFC goalkeeper Callum Irving.

“It was all on the line [Saturday]. We knew the winner was going to the final, and for the loser, it would be the end of the season. We fought and scraped and got a win, and the guys gave it their all for 120-plus minutes. We’re exhausted, but happy. I’m proud of the guys.”

There was deflation in the Calgary team’s room, especially regarding the winning goal.

“It hurts knowing how it all unfolded,” said Cavalry FC captain Mason Trafford.

“It’s a tough one to take. Nine times out of 10 that doesn’t happen or it gets called out. I thought there was a chance they would overturn it. But that didn’t happen. Then the ball goes to the centre line and you just have to get on with it. I haven’t seen a definite replay yet. The discussion about VAR is above my pay grade. But everybody would love to see VAR.

“In the end, randomness plays a role in a one-game playoff more than it does over the 28 games of the regular season.

“It felt like this was the year for us to become champions. It still feels like it. It hasn’t sunk in yet. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that we would win this game. Even after that goal, I felt certain we would tie it again.”

Always-lurking PFC striker Terran Campbell hit the post in the opening minute. Manny Aparicio, on a cross from Josh Heard, expertly headed the ball to the foot of Campbell to give PFC a 1-0 lead at 33 minutes. Karifa Yao, on loan from CF Montreal of Major League Soccer, levelled for Cavalry with a header from a corner at 47 minutes.

“It was a great game for the league. It was not pretty, but it was playoff football and a great advertisement for tough, gritty Canadian football,” said Wheeldon. He got no argument from the PFC bench boss.

“The CPL needs games like this and rivalries like this. Calgary is a top-class organization” said Kah.

“Football is a game of small margins. Today, the margins were on our side. And we are happy to get them and go to the final. This group is never satisfied and wants to reach another level.”

PFC will get that chance.