The Canadian Premier League’s fourth season kicked off this past weekend, ending with a heavyweight fixture between last season’s Playoff Final contenders. Despite Forge FC’s dominance in the match, Pacific FC pacified much of Forge’s central penetration, and were clinical in front of the goal in securing the win. Here is our match analysis.
BATTLE OF THE FAKE 4-3-3’S
The tactical battle between two of the league’s top teams turned out to be the battle of the 4-3-3’s that look much more like 4-1-4-1’s. Both teams defended in a 4-1-4-1 formation, particularly when in a mid-block, and attacked with various rotations that pushed one central midfielder forward as the other held a more reserved position. For Pacific FC, that reserved role was given to team captain Jamar Dixon, who dropped to the right of Amer Didic at the back, and pushed high-flying wing-back Olakunle Dada-Luke forward in the attack. Dada-Luke’s electric speed frustrated Forge throughout the match, with substitute Kwasi Poku having a difficult time handling his ninja-like prowess.
With Dixon wide right and Baldisimo low, Pacific built out from the back in a 2+3 shape, allowing the likes of Bustos, Aparicio, Heard and Diaz to drop in and out toward the ball, seeking space in between the lines. Matthew Baldisimo and Amer Didic were excellent in circulation stages at calming play down and allowing Pacific to secure a sense of control of the ball – something that they lacked the vast majority of the game. But their best moments came when using Dada-Luke’s pace out wide or the space seeking of Marco Bustos inverted on the right. While he excelled in most areas of the match, Amer Didic failed to truly connect with his teammates high up the pitch and enhance the situation through long passes, with Thomas Meilleur-Giguère instead standing out as the better progressor – completing 5/9 long passes on the day and only failing on one other pass throughout the ninety.
His best diagonal on the day was that exceptionally long green arrow you see at the bottom right, which was expertly picked up by Marco Bustos moments before winning a foul from Kwasi Poku. Poku’s momentary hold on Bustos ended up leading to the second goal of the game, a towering header from debutant Amer Didic, who unsurprisingly won all four of his aerial duels on the day. But despite his role in helping Pacific maintain some level of ball speed and control, a player like Thomas Meiller-Giguere will never steal the headlines on a day like this. Instead, the players further up the pitch, who rotated in and out of position brilliantly, will always standout – and for good reason.
FRONT FOUR CAUSING CHAOS
Merriman’s team were fantastic on the break and in transitional moments, making their best moments count seconds after winning back possession. Their first goal of the game didn’t come from a transition, but a clear intention to play forward after winning possession and work the right moment to shoot. About twenty seconds after Amer Didic calmly picked up the ball and worked a progressive pass to Manny Aparicio in between the lines, the ball again found its way forward to Alejandro Diaz to receive with his back to goal and return the ball for eventual assister – Josh Heard. The wide-man heard the stomping feet of the two Forge players trying to double team him, but had no issue breaking free of the pressure and finding Diaz in the box. In the process, Dom Samuel dropped too close to goal and allowed Diaz acres of space to punch the ball into the back of the net – where the Victorian club were able to soak up the sun (and pressure) from there.
Their second best moment of the first half came shortly thereafter, with Manny Aparicio applying a fantastic bit of pressure to win the ball back and again find Diaz in the box, but this time the Mexican’s finish was too close to the keeper. With all of the front three making themselves a complete and utter nuisance on the day, Diaz stood out in particular – contributing much more than just as a target man. He frequently roamed toward the ball on throw-ins to allow his team an undeniable first option, helped lead their press from the front, and often floated toward the ball when his wingers were in possession, helping to increase the overload against a team that so often dominate the wide channels.
Speaking of the wide channels, Pacific FC knew Forge’s game-plan in and out, almost as though they had studied it themselves. While they allowed switches of play and couldn’t stop Forge’s long diagonals from occurring, Merriman’s men were always quick to close down wide spaces in numbers. Both fullbacks won the majority of their 1v1 duels on the day, making for a very quiet afternoon for both David Choiniere and former Pacific man Terran Campbell. Even if Forge’s wide men found space in front of the centre-backs to receive, the excellent organization of Pacific’s back-line frustrated Smyrniotis’ side going forward, and they couldn’t find adequate avenues to work the half-spaces. But we cannot be all negative on Forge FC and their role in making this an entertaining match, as for long spells Smyrniotis’ side were excellent too.
FORGE’S INITIAL PLAN QUICKLY DISRUPTED
The opening minutes of the match signaled a clear intent from Forge to utilize the wide channels, particularly on long diagonal switches to Ashtone Morgan down the left. Despite Smyrniotis setting up with a back-four, Morgan played more like a wing-back down the flank, and frequently overlapped Terran Campbell as he drifted inside. Unfortunately for Forge, the plan only lasted the first twenty minutes before the former TFC man needed replacing, and Kwasi Poku was never able to adapt to the evolution of the match in the same manner.
WORKING THE WIDE AREAS
Despite the change of personnel, the over-arching ideologies behind the tactic stayed the same. Kyle Bekker held a more reserved role down the left-hand-side of the midfield, using his expert passing range to spray long passes forward. With Bekker and Achinioti-Jönsson holding, the Hammers built out from the back in a 3+2 shape, with a solid mix of patient possession and progressiveness into the wide channels. Alessandro Hojabrpour found himself in more of a free role down the right as a result, playing almost as a ‘number 10’ in attack and getting on the end of many of Forge’s best chances – in fact their two ‘big chances’ in the match. Despite our raving review on Pacific’s press, it also must be said that Samuel and Metusala held their own in circulation stages, confidently passing the ball around and in Metusala’s case – taking moments to carry the ball forward and break lines on his own (I love when he does this). Terran Campbell also played a role in inverting into left-half-spaces to facilitate the high position of the left-back, but never got up to full speed.
In the second half, Aboubacar Sissoko found himself more involved down the right-hand-side. Even after moving into a central midfield position, the Malian defender found himself drifting over to the right to pick up the ball, pushing Jonathan Grant further forward in the process. This Smyrniotis inspired substitution allowed Forge to continue prioritizing the wide areas, where toward the end of the game Abdou Samake had no choice but to knock Grant’s progressive pass toward Chris Nanco out for a corner kick. With Kyle Bekker on the dead-ball, Forge always have a chance of scoring – and that’s exactly what happened. Samake was caught flat-footed in Pacific’s zonal marking system, when Achinioti-Jönsson ran unmarked from back-post to near-post (Forge’s frequently targeted delivery zone from Bekker’s corners), to take full advantage and nod the ball into the back of the net. The goal capped off a brilliant individual performance from the Swedish midfielder, who we were thoroughly impressed with in both legs last month against Cruz Azul. Jönsson controlled the tempo of Forge’s possession in midfield, excellently screened the back-four and met six of his eight long-passes forward with ease. Despite Pacific’s dominance on the day, he was a genuine man of the match candidate yet again, highlighting his importance to this Forge team and one of the most prominent reasons for Hojabrpour’s advanced role in the match.
Although Forge FC will walk away from the match slightly disappointed, both teams can hold their head up high for how they performed on the day – each showcasing a high degree of quality. Bobby Smyrniotis’ decision to push Alessandro Hojabrpour into advanced attacking positions will be of interesting note in the matches ahead, but the young Canadian will need to be more clinical in front of goal in the future. Meanwhile, Smyrniotis’ team will need to continue to work on defending set-pieces, as they’ve now conceded a goal from a free kick in each of their three competitive fixtures so far in 2022. Pacific FC meanwhile have much to look forward to this season, with every single starting player impressing on the day. The sound defensive structures in place present Pacific to be a tough team to break down, and the colossal Amer Didic appears to be a perfect replacement for the TFC departed Lukas MacNaughton. Merriman’s big win perhaps even signals Pacific as early favourites, putting up the best performance of any team at the weekend – against the league’s fiercest opposition.
So there it is! Our match analysis of Pacific’s big 2-1 win over Forge. Be sure to check out all of our Matchday 1 analyses in our CPL Opening Weekend Tactical Review, and more on Canadian Soccer. Also be sure to follow @mastermindsite on Twitter to never miss an update, including more CPL content. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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