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Pacific FC hoping for CPL turnaround against red-hot Cavalry FC

In Canada’s time for fireworks, the biggest in soccer have recently been provided by Cavalry FC.
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Kunle Dada-Luke and Pacific FC host Cavalry FC on Thursday night. VIA TRISHA LEES, PACIFIC FC

In Canada’s time for fireworks, the biggest in soccer have recently been provided by Cavalry FC. The Calgary club brings its five-game winning streak and eight-game undefeated run into Starlight Stadium tonight at 6:30 to take on reeling Pacific FC.

Despite being 7-2-2 and the hottest team in the Canadian Premier League, the Calgary club is still stinging from two key 1-0 home losses last year to PFC that hang over the club. These teams have a history and it looms over every meeting. Pacific FC’s 2021 first-round Canadian Championship win over the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League soccer wouldn’t have meant as much if the Tridents hadn’t got past Cavalry FC in the ensuing quarter-final game, which PFC did to advance to a semifinal date at BMO Field against Toronto FC of MLS. Then came PFC’s dramatic victory over Cavalry FC in extra time in the CPL playoff semifinals to send the Tridents to Hamilton, where they beat two-time reigning champion Forge FC to become league champions.

While Tommy Wheeldon Jr.’s Cavalry club will use last season as inspiration, it must feel like ancient history to the Tridents (5-4-4), who are looking to stop a current spiral in which they have not won in seven games with four losses, including three in league and one in Canadian Championship play on penalty kicks, and three league draws.

“We know Cavalry is in good form, but we need to respond with our own actions,” said PFC head coach James ­Merriman, following training on ­Wednesday.

Of concern is that the ­Tridents have not scored in three games. That has stalled CPL-leading scorer Alejandro Diaz of PFC on six goals while former Canada U-17 player Aribim Pepple of Cavalry FC, a rising 19-year-old, has climbed into a second-place tie with five goals. Pepple scored twice in Cavalry’s last game, a 3-1 victory over FC Edmonton in the Alberta derby labelled Al Classico, and will bear watching today by a PFC defence that has shown a lack of cohesion in allowing three goals in two of its last three games.

“You can look at numbers and stats but we want to focus on the next match,” said Merriman.

After going down 2-0 in the first half last week at home, in a 3-0 loss to the HFX Wanderers of Halifax, Merriman said his team “didn’t even get to play in the game.” Well, the Tridents did literally play, but you get the metaphorical point.

PFC also fell behind 2-0 early in the first half against Forge FC in Hamilton three weeks ago in a 3-0 loss.

“We need to show up,” said Merriman. “We had a great crowd last game, that was with us right to the end despite the score, and we need to respond and play for them and never stop.”

That means being in the game as reflected on the scoreboard. Which means not falling behind by two goals in the first half.

Midfielder Manny Aparicio, who spearheaded so much of the swashbuckling and spirited early-season PFC attack before being injured, is ready to return and that is a boon to the Tridents. Aparicio was ready to be subbed in against HFX last week, but once the game became a blowout, there was no point in putting him in. Expect to see a lot of the quick and crafty Canada-capped veteran this evening. Merriman said Aparicio has “a great engine in the middle of the field and has been the heart of the attack [before the injury] and we have definitely missed him.“

Cavalry FC won the first match-up between the clubs this season, 2-0 in Calgary, and is 7-5-2 all-time in wins-losses-draws against PFC.

CORNER KICKS: PFC striker Kamron Habibullah, who was among the six CPL players with Canada in the CONCACAF U-20 qualifier in Honduras, scored the lone Canadian goal from the spot in extra time to tie the Round of 16 playoff game 1-1 at 100 minutes before Guatemala prevailed 4-3 on penalty kicks. Canada, which went 1-1-1 in group play, lost out on the four berths available into the 2023 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Indonesia and two berths into the 2024 Paris Olympics. Habibullah has returned but will not dress tonight due to the travel fatigue.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com