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Pacific FC edges HFX in coast-to-coast holiday Monday showdown

Pacific gets a 2-1 victory over Wanderers
Pacific FC defender Kunle Dada Luke tries to make a move around HFX Wanderers midfielder Wes Timoteo during CPL action at Wanderers Grounds in Halifax on Monday. TREVOR MacMILLAN, HFX WANDERERS

You want to make it count when you travel 5,803 kilometres from Victoria to Halifax to play a game — the third longest distance between teams in a pro soccer domestic Premiership league.

Pacific FC did just that with a holiday Monday 2-1 Canadian Premier League victory over the HFX Wanderers.

“These trips are never easy with the four-hour time difference and different [grass] surface,” said PFC striker Easton Ongaro.

“We knew it would take a team performance and everybody working together, and everybody worked well together today.”

Ongaro, the second-leading scorer in CPL history, helped account for the first goal when got to a bouncing ball in the crease in first-half injury time. Ongaro deftly tapped the ball across the face of the goal to charging defender Thomas Meilleur-Giguère, the former Canada U-20 and U-23 player, who kicked it high into the net from close in.

“I heard Thomas at the back post yelling and screaming,” said Ongaro.

The winner came at 54 minutes with midfielder Manny Aparicio, from wide near the sideline, finding a darting Josh Heard with a pinpoint cross for perhaps the sharpest assist of the season and the bang-bang play of the year as PFC captain Heard tallied his fourth goal.

“We talked about crossing before the game and those moments were really clean for us,” said PFC head coach James Merriman.

The six-foot-six Ongaro added: “Working on our ­crossing has been a focus for us in ­training.”

It certainly paid off Monday on the East Coast.

The Wanderers supporters numbered over 6,000 and many felt hard done by when a penalty kick was not awarded in the PFC box late in the first half. Instead, it was HFX forward Massimo Ferrin who got dinged with a yellow card for diving.

“The decision is what it is. They tend to even out,” said HFX player Daniel Nimick.

The fans finally got something to cheer about when the home side pulled to within one through pinching-defender Nimick’s header off a corner kick at 79 minutes.

Second-half sub Jordan Perruzza, a recent signee on loan from Toronto FC of Major League Soccer, provided some jump for HFX. But the Tridents held tight on defence to climb back into first place at 9-4-5 in wins-losses-draws and win for the second consecutive game after a lull last month.

“In the last two wins we’ve looked like ourselves with and without the ball,” said Merriman.

“It shows the character of this group that we didn’t drop our heads or feel sorry for ourselves in July.”

The Wanderers (6-5-7) came into the game with two consecutive victories and wins in three of their last four games. The Nova Scotia club had won five consecutive games at home before PFC halted the streak Monday.

“[PFC] but the ball in dangerous areas and we were not in the right areas on their goals,” said HFX’s Nimick, the first player from Newfoundland to play in the CPL.

“But we are still right in the title race and still believe we can do it. We’ve shown the league we are very much in the running for the league title.”

The CPL regular-season champion earns a berth into the 2024 CONCACAF ­Champions League along with the CPL ­playoff champion.

PFC is on 32 points, two ahead of Calgary’s Cavalry FC and three-ahead of defending champion Forge FC of Hamilton, Ont. HFX is in a three-way tie for fourth place on 25 points. Five teams will make the playoffs.

PFC returns home to face Atletico Ottawa on Sunday at Starlight Stadium.

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