Pacific FC clinch a win against HFX Wanderers in the coast-to-coast derby

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Victoria, British Columbia (May 1, 2019) — The sun was out and the crowd boisterous as they filled up the stands of the Westhills stadium in this far corner of Canada. Final touches were still being applied to the hurried construction work on the stadium. Meanwhile, the stage was set for Pacific FC’s first game of the inaugural Canadian Premier League.

Pacific FC clinch a win against HFX Wanderers in the coast-to-coast derby

Hendrik Starostzik, the German centerback, scored off a Noah Verhoeven corner in the 22nd minute to give PFC the lead. Just a couple of minutes later, HFX had the ball in the net off a corner themselves. However, he was offside. With a quarter of the game still to go, Lukas MacNaughton got sent off for a second yellow card, but Pacific FC held on to record their first win in the CPL.

The man of the match was Hendrik Starostzik

Meanwhile, Marcus Haber endeared himself to Pacific FC fans and the Lakeside Buoys by shaving the PFC Logo into the back of his head

Buildup, Lineups and Tactical chatter:

Billed the “Coast-to-Coast Derby,” this fixture has all the hallmarks of building into a worthwhile derby on the CPL season calendar as it sees the visiting team make the third longest trip in any football fixture worldwide. This match certainly lived up to the billing. It was an end-to-end affair with a fair bit of aggression, class and even a red card to show for.

In the lead up to the first game, most teams in the CPL had shown off their players, training and tactics in media friendly settings — all except Pacific FC, who were something of an unknown. Where other squads were built with a liberal dose of local (regional and Canadian) and external talent, Pacific FC went for the local Vancouver-island and British Columbia talent with a few very high profile — given the scale of the league — headline signings.

That appears to have paid off, when Pacific FC lined up with a very young midfield, filled with energy and attacking verve, anchored by Matthew Baldisimo who had a terrific game in breaking down play and transitioning defense to attack.

Pacific FC lined up in a fluid 4-5-1 formation, with the pacy Kadin Chung at fullback bombing forward at moments and the burly star Marcus Haber up front. Halifax Wanderers went with a classic 4-4-2 featuring Andre Rampersad and Tomasz Skublak up top.

Full line ups and match statistics on the CPL highlights report can be found here.

How the game played out & what we learned about PFC & HFX

It was a high octane start from both sides with both sides pressing high and as the first game of the season motivation levels were off the charts.

First Half

Clear patterns of play emerged. Victor Blasco showed off his technical skills and was all over the pitch for the first 20 minutes. He used nifty dribbles to break the press. Meanwhile, Juan Diego Gutiérrez De las Casas and Akeem Garcia shone for HFX.

Young signing Terran Campbell made several promising runs to get between the lines and wreak havoc in the box. However, some heroic defending from Chrisnovic N’Sa kept HFX in the game. Pacific FC drew first blood from a corner with a delivery from Noah Verhoeven which was thumped in by Hendrik Starostzik. Starostzik had a free run into the box and was surprisingly left unmarked.

Just minutes later, HFX had the chance to go level, from their own corner. However, the goal was disallowed. It was initially unclear whether the decision was handball by the attacker or offside. It was later clarified as offside.

HFX had a pretty solid game defensively, except for the lapse from the corner. N’Sa and Ndzemdzela Langwa in particular had fantastic games as they kept Blasco and Campbell shackled. Marcus Haber was often forced wide, engaged in hold-up play while waiting for Verhoeven and the rest of the midfield to make runs to go through on goal.

As with most games, this one was decided in the midfield. Pacific FC wrested the initiative and simply smothered progression of play through the middle. The extra man in midfield plus the youthful energy ensured that HFX had to go wide or long to Skublak, who had a meek game.

Skublak, who looks capable of hold-up play, coughed up the ball far too often and was beaten to the ball by Lukas MacNaughton and the man of the match Hendrik Starostzik. This rendered HFX’s second striker ineffective as he received the ball in mostly wide areas and was unable to threaten the goal.

Second Half

Around the 55th minute, Nakajima Ferran replaced the visibly tiring Victor Blasco and HFX had to replace Skublak who went down injured. HFX brought Garcia up front as substitute Bona went to the right wing. This robbed them of a focal point in attack and made them even less threatening. Kadin Chung made a mazy run through the HFX defense and entered the box with the ball and should have taken the shot, but he elected to pass and the chance went amiss.

Michael Silberbauer showed some smart management in bringing on Jose Hernandez for Baldisimo who was on a yellow card. However, MacNaughton fouled HFX substitute Kodaii Iida to break up a fast break. This earned him a second yellow and he was sent off.

Meanwhile, Kodai Iida was influential for HFX and caused some real panic in the PFC defensive line with his pace and trickery. Pacific brought on Ryan McCurdy to add to the defense, replacing Terran Campbell. Meanwhile, Campbell had a tepid game after some initial promise.

The sharp heat favored Pacific FC in their 10-man rearguard action, as several HFX players started cramping up. The rest of Canada is still experiencing cold climes while the lower mainland is more than a month into spring. This factor is likely to help Pacific FC in the first half of the CPL season. Fans must keep an eye on the conditioning of teams in the league.

The final 20 minutes of the game followed predictable. There was repeating patterns of a HFX attack, ending in a wayward strike or a tame shot at Mark Village. Meanwhile, Marcus Haber brought his body into play and took the ball to the corner flag to waste time. The game ended 1-0 to Pacific FC. Now, they led the CPL table at the end of the first weekend of play. 

Next in the CPL for Pacific FC

Pacific FC welcome Rob Gale’s Valor FC on May 1 at 8 p.m. PDT while Wanderers will host Forge on May 4 at 10 a.m.

Valor FC present an intriguing challenge for Pacific FC, as Rob Gale boasts tremendous knowledge of the Canadian youth team setup and has a few aces up his sleeve. The red card to Lukas MacNaughton will see a Pacific squad, already light on defense, stretched even further. Ryan McCurdy is almost certain to partner Starostzik in the back line. Meanwhile,  Silberbauer will hope that his team can keep another clean sheet at home and make the WestHills stadium a fortress.

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