With three consecutive away games looming, it’s a good thing for Pacific FC that it has historically played as well on the road as it has at home, and often better.
Starlight Stadium is the smallest pitch in the Canadian Premier League, which isn’t in the best service of PFC’s up-tempo, pressing style. The larger pitches on the road allow PFC to open up the throttle a bit more.
“We have dynamic players that need room to get in behind [defences],” said head coach James Merriman.
“When we go away, we’ve found some success on these bigger pitches. It’s something the players know and gives them confidence with some of the performances we’ve had on the road.”
The Tridents are in Ottawa today at 2:30 p.m. PT to play Atlético at TD Place Stadium, in the Greater Toronto Area on Sunday to meet York United and in Hamilton on Sept. 23 to play Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field. The regular season concludes with the B.C. derby Sept. 30 against Vancouver FC at Starlight Stadium and the cross-Rockies rivalry Oct. 7 in Calgary against Cavalry FC.
There is no room for error, home or away. With five games remaining, four of them on the road, the Tridents’ season can tip either way. PFC is equidistance from both winning the league regular-season championship or missing the playoffs — four points behind leading Cavalry yet only four points ahead of sixth-place Atlético Ottawa and York United. Five teams will make the post-season in the Page playoff system.
“I thought heading into this season, the fifth of the CPL, that it would be the most competitive season yet,” said Merriman.
That is how it has played out, with even seventh- and eighth-place Valour FC of Winnipeg and Vancouver FC mathematically staying in the playoff hunt with upset victories last weekend.
“I think we’re still going to see some surprises,” said Merriman.
“It’s going to come down to the last weekend. It’s incredible. Now it’s a critical point in the season where we need to be at our best. Our players embrace it.”
Now is not the time to blow points, as Atlético Ottawa has done in its last two games with wrenching 2-1 losses in injury time, including at 97 minutes at home to Cavalry FC on Sept. 2 and at 91 minutes last week in Langley against lowly VFC.
“The first thing we have to address is how to bounce back from a situation that is not positive, after a good dynamic, then to lose in the last minutes of the last two games,” Ottawa coach Carlos González told CPL.com.
“We have to be able to show courage now, and to show guts, to show a lot of things that can make us bounce back from this and continue with the dynamic we were in two weeks ago. The positions in the league, in the standings, are going to depend on one point or on goal difference.”
The season series between Pacific FC and Atlético Ottawa, owned by La Liga giant Atlético Madrid, is deadlocked 1-1-1. PFC leads the all-time series 5-4-4.
The clubs have a history, including Ottawa’s victory over PFC in the two-legged CPL playoff semifinal series last year. Also, four former PFC players are now with Atlético and will certainly be up for today’s game. They include Zach Verhoven, Noah Verhoeven, Cape Verde-capped Gianni dos Santos and Ollie Bassett, the latter the former Northern Ireland U-19 international who went from winning the CPL championship with the Tridents in 2021 to being named 2022 CPL MVP with Ottawa.
CORNER KICKS: Bassett is again flitting all over the pitch like a water-bug and leads the CPL with 11 goals as he looks to add the Golden Boot trophy to another potential MVP award. Another former Tridents player, Terran Campbell of Forge FC, is second with 10 goals. Breakout PFC striker and Dutch-import Ayman Sellouf is tied for third with seven goals. Sellouf is tied for the league lead in assists with seven along with 18-time Canada-capped Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker.