Pacific FC's championship dreams evaporate

Pacific dreams faded into the Atlantic mist Saturday in Charlottetown.

The chances for a Canadian Premier League championship were shattered for Pacific FC by a 2-0 playoff-round loss to Forge FC of Hamilton in the CPL tournament being played on Prince Edward Island.

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Defending-champion Forge has been there. PFC is trying to get there. That gap was evident as the Tridents controlled possession but the more-opportunistic, counter-punching Forge controlled the scoreboard.

“We created chances but could not find the back of the net,” said PFC captain Marcel de Jong.

“That sums up this tournament for us.”

The game turned on a controversial penalty kick awarded Forge at 35 minutes when PFC defender Kadin Chung was ruled to have pushed down a charging Jonathan Grant from behind in the box. PFC looked the better team up to that point. But Daniel Krutzen buried the ball from the spot to put Forge ahead.

“We were in control up to the penalty,” said de Jong, the former Bundesliga and MLS veteran, who was capped 56 times for Canada.

“That was not a penalty kick. That was really poor [call]. It kills the game, and it was such a big game, and then something like this happens. It was painful because we were ready for this fight. And then to go 1-0 down like that. It’s not why we lost. But I just want to put it out there.”

PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah also disagreed with the call.

“This penalty was no penalty,” said the widely travelled former pro, who was capped for Norway.

“We had a man [Grant] who was already going to the ground. If you can’t see it is embellishment then I don’t know. But that’s not a penalty.”

It was the sixth penalty kick overall given away by Pacific FC, the most in the tournament, and PFC has paid dearly for them.

“Six is too much,” said de Jong.

Kah concurred: “We’ve given too many penalties. It’s something that we have to work on.”

With PFC pushing players forward looking for the equalizer, and following a close chance by the Tridents, Anthony Novak scored on a darting counter-flow for Forge FC at 71 minutes to put the game away for the Hamilton squad.

“We knew play would open and we could hit them on the break,” said Novak.

The most glaring stat of the game, apart from the scoreline, was PFC’s possession advantage of 67. 4 percent to Forge’s 32.6 percent. But all that time on the ball amounted to naught for PFC. “We had the majority of the ball but you have to do something of purpose with it and we didn’t have the purpose,” said Kah.

“The quality level was down today. A little magic was missing.”

Even at that, PFC might have been tied or even ahead at the break with Victor Blasco and the Canada-capped pair of Jamar Dixon and Marco Bustos lurking menacingly and Alejandro Diaz skittering the ball just past the far post before halftime. “Pacific is a quality side, and is getting closer and closer, and in 2021 will be even better,” said Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis.

“Like us, they play a lot of football with a football-purist approach.” Those words of praise from the defending champions provided only a bit of salve as PFC looks to close out the four-team playoff group stage Tuesday at 5 p.m. against HFX Wanderers of Halifax. The game is meaningless for the Tridents but will be crucial for HFX. The Haligonians defeated Cavalry FC 2-1 Saturday after the Calgary squad had opened the playoff stage with a 3-1 victory over PFC. The Wanderers, who opened with a 1-1 draw against Forge FC, are in the thick of it with Forge and 2019 runner-up Cavalry for a spot in the CPL championship game next Saturday on CBC.

The CPL champion will advance to meet the top Canadian team from Major League Soccer for the Canadian Championship, this nation’s FA Cup-type title. The Vancouver Whitecaps, Montreal Impact and Toronto FC are currently playing in a Canada-only MLS tournament to decide who will advance against the CPL champion. The Canadian champion will represent the nation in the 2020-21 CONCACAF Champions tournament against the club champions from the U.S., Mexico, Central America and Caribbean.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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