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Pacific FC beat Atlético Ottawa in Canadian Championship

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Ottawa’s unbeaten streak is over. 

For the first time in all competitions this season, Atlético Ottawa suffered a defeat. It came against Pacific FC in the quarterfinals of the Canadian Championship Wednesday. 

“Well (it was a) tough game,” said Ottawa head coach Carlos Gonzalez post-match. “We started slow, we didn’t match the energy they put in the first 30 minutes. I also think we took too much time to understand where the spaces were and where the pressure came from which creates a little bit of uncertainty.”

“After that, the details. A penalty that is a handball in a deflection, a ball that hits the post and comes back, and the injury of Maxime Tissot and Ballou (Tabla) which hurt us,” Gonzalez added.

“Although we weren’t at our best version, we were very near to going to the next round,” Gonzalez continued, saying the second-half performance was much better than the first half.

Ottawa is still undefeated in the Canadian Premier League with a record of 5-2-0, good enough to sit atop the CPL table on 17 points.

Atlético, who have never qualified for the Canadian Championship semifinals, will have to wait until at least next year to try again.

Ottawa goalkeeper Rayane Yesli said the result was disappointing. 

“We’re really disappointed (to not) qualify, I feel like it was the biggest game of the season for us… we wanted to go through but didn’t,” Yesli said post-game. “Congratulations to Pacific on qualifying, they played a great first half,” Yesli added.

Meanwhile, Pacific FC advances to the semifinal to play local MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps. Forge FC will play Toronto FC on the other side of the bracket.

Pacific FC was the better team offensively and defensively for most of the match; they deserved to win.

Pacific head coach James Merriman was thrilled with the result and his team’s performance after back to back losses in the league. 

“We have to give full credit to the players. We dealt with a lot of adversity, we have a lot of injuries to crucial players on our team right now. To deal with that the way we have, we have a disappointing performance (on the weekend) and then we come out very strong tonight, we show our potential, we show the quality we have and our togetherness and team spirit. Amazing performance from our players.

Pacific got on the board within half an hour when a Pacific corner kick was headed toward goal. Ottawa striker Ruben del Campo blocked the initial shot with his chest, but the rebound shot hit del Campo’s outstretched arm which gave Pacific a penalty. 

Pacific FC, Canadian Championship, Atletico Ottawa

Pacific FC (purple) beat Atlético Ottawa in the 2024 Canadian Championship in Victoria Wednesday, May 29, 2024. Photo courtesy Pacific FC

Ayman Sellouf calmly dispatched the penalty into the right corner, sending Rayane Yesli in the opposite direction. 

Six minutes later, Pacific doubled their advantage. Sellouf received a pass just outside the box, controlled it well, and unleashed a shot that beat Yesli but hit hard off the left post. Ottawa defender Luke Singh – who has been great all season– was caught ball-watching and as a result, the rebound fell perfectly to Josh Heard’s foot. He made no mistake, slotting it home from close range to give Pacific a 2-0 lead in 34 minutes.

Merriman complimented Heard’s performance, where he registered a goal, an assist and several key passes and successful duels.

“I thought he was excellent. I think Josh (Heard) brought that focus, the intensity, the energy, his presence in the lockerroom before the game and throughout the match, he was a captain, a leader, that’s what we need in difficult moments,” Merriman said. “We lose some players and he steps up and shows we don’t fear anyone.”

Ottawa grew into the game in the latter stages of the first half, but Pacific dominated in every statistical category at halftime.

Pacific outshot Ottawa 12-3 (6-0 on target) and had eight shots in the opposition box to Ottawa’s one. Pacific had 13 touches in the opposition box to Ottawa’s two and dominated the expected goals tally, 1.99 to 0.08. That is the lowest xG tally Atlético Ottawa has been held to in a single half all season.

Merriman said his team’s plan was to win the first half, which they clearly did.

“We wanted to attack the first half, put pressure on them without the ball, take away their buildup, we didn’t want to allow them to have space, we wanted to go forward quickly in transition, attack them and create good chances and that’s exactly what we did,” Merriman said.

In the second half, Ottawa played more on the front foot and created a handful of quality scoring chances, especially in the final half-hour. The entire team –especially Matteo de Brienne and Kris Twardek– defended very well, preventing numerous Pacific scoring chances and limiting the danger of several others. Ottawa attacked well in transition, creating much of their offense down both flanks with Manny Aparicio, Ollie Bassett, Ballou Tabla, and de Brienne. 

However, Pacific FC still dominated many of the statistics. Pacific outshot Ottawa 10-6 in the second half (5-3 on target) and had seven shots inside the box to Ottawa’s four. Pacific dominated the xG battle, creating 3.15 xG to Ottawa’s 0.66.

Pacific had numerous chances to put the game to bed early in the second half. In the 52 minute, Heard beat Singh down the flank before crossing it to Sellouf at the back post. Sellouf was wide open and had a gaping goal before him, but he hit the ball wide. Four minutes later, on another transition attack, Heard beat Singh down the right flank again before crossing it to Reon Moore whose powerful shot reverberated off the crossbar.

Yesli was arguably Atlético’s best player, making nine huge saves –four of which required acrobatic dives– to keep the game close and give his team a chance to make a comeback. 

In the 60th minute, the tides turned in Ottawa’s favour after some well-executed build-up play.

A brilliantly placed pass from Bassett split two defenders before finding Dani Morer. Morer swiftly controlled the pass, turned around, and chipped it forward to Samuel Salter, who fired a shot toward goal that slipped through the arm of Pacific goalkeeper Sean Melvin before rolling across the line for his first goal in 2024.

Pacific’s lead was cut to 2-1, given the away goal rule, all Ottawa needed was one more goal to advance to the semifinals on away goals. It made for a tense final half-hour.

Ottawa was the better team in the final half-hour, they controlled much of the possession and created a handful of dangerous scoring chances, however, Melvin made several key saves to maintain his side’s 2-1 lead.

It was a nervy end to the match, with Ottawa desperately trying to find the equalizer and the home supporters hoping the clock would move faster.

There was an appeal for a penalty in stoppage time when Aparicio was brought down in the box, but the ref did not give it and the match ended 2-1. 

Up next for Ottawa: a home clash against Halifax on June 2. 

Up next for Pacific, a home game against Cavalry on June 1.

Gonzalez said his team has to focus on how to bounce back from this loss.

“Of course, now we have to digest a little bit of frustration because we always want to win. It was an important competition for us, and we wanted to be in the semifinals, but now starting tomorrow, thinking about the next game, we want to maintain our good dynamic, focus on the details, and correct the mistakes we made so we play the best game we can on Sunday.”

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About Author

Adamo Marinelli is a multimedia freelance journalist who specializes in sports reporting. His writing, editing, and multimedia work has appeared in Total Soccer News, The Ottawa Citizen, Ottawa Sun, The Hockey News, The Canadian Baseball Network, 49 Sports, Ottawa Sports Pages, Capital Current, 613 Sports, and The Charlatan.

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