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Pacific FC set for key CPL match Sunday at York United

Familiarity between teams is not creating contempt, only respect
Pacific FC’s Georges Mukumbilwa fends off a tackle from York United’s Oussama Alou during action at York in July. DAVID CHANT, YORK UNITED FC

There are no secrets this deep into the Canadian Premier League season. Martin Nash, the Victoria-raised and 38-time Canada capped head coach of York United, knows what Pacific FC will throw at his club Sunday at 2 p.m. PT when they meet in the Greater Toronto Area. PFC gaffer James Merriman knows what Nash will bring against his Tridents.

“When you have eight teams and play each other four times, it can become difficult because you understand each other so well. You know how teams set up at home and how they set up away,” said Merriman.

That could be why so many CPL games have been so tight this season, something reflected in the equally taut league table.

“There is parity in the league and tactical battles that are happening across the league,” said Merriman.

But familiarity is not creating contempt, only respect.

“A lot of credit to the coaches. They play each other so many times that it does become tactical, very structured, very organized, and that’s why you have seen some of the [close] results and battles over the season,” said Merriman.

That will evolve, said the PFC bench boss. “There are eight teams in the league. As the league grows and we get more cities, you’re going to have more different types of managers and different types of teams and are going to see more change. As the league gets to 12 or 14 teams, you are going to see different tactics and more goals and different types of matches.”

PFC has four regular-season games remaining and is in second place, one point ahead of third-place Forge FC of Hamilton. York United is in sixth place, one point and one spot out of a playoff position, behind HFX Wanderers of Halifax and Atlético Ottawa. Yet there are only five points separating York United and PFC.

“We understand the moment we are in in the season. Every match is a playoff match. We need to win,” said Merriman.

“You see the intensity of the matches. They go right to the end. We need to be prepared for a 90-minute match.”

That intensity Merriman spoke of was evident in Wednesday’s PFC game in Ottawa when homegrown Victoria midfielder Sean Young laid out so hard to clear the ball off the line to preserve a 1-1 draw that he had to leave the game.

“It took everything to make that clearance off the line and Sean cramped his calf and his hamstring, cramped up the whole back of his leg,” said Merriman. “He’s had a bit of time and should have made a recovery for [today’s] match.”

PFC leads the season series against York United with two wins at Starlight Stadium and a scoreless draw the last time the Tridents forayed into the GTA. York United leads the all-time series 6-5-6 in wins-losses-draws.

The playoff scenarios are still myriad, but PFC can clinch one of the five playoff berths if it beats York United today and HFX beats Ottawa on Monday. The latter game was scheduled for Saturday in Halifax but postponed to Monday due to the expected impact of post-tropical storm Lee.

First place, however, looks to be out of reach after league-leading Cavalry FC moved nine points ahead of the Tridents following the Calgary club’s 2-1 victory Saturday over last-place Vancouver FC. The CPL regular-season champion, along with the league playoff champion, will advance to the 2024 CONCACAF Champions League.

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