The task, in theory, is simple for Pacific FC on Tuesday night in Leg 2 of their Concacaf League preliminary tie. A win of any type over Jamaican side Waterhouse FC would be enough to see them through to the round of 16.
The Tridents find themselves in this position for the home fixture of this two-legged tie after last week’s game down in Jamaica ended 0-0 at Sabina Park. So, perhaps it’s advantage home side, as Pacific look to get the job done in front of a strong Starlight Stadium crowd. That said, the away goals rule does mean Pacific will have to be particularly careful not to concede after not scoring in the first leg.
“In this tournament you have to take care of the defensive duties because every moment counts,” Pacific captain Jamar Dixon said on Monday. “I told the boys I know we wanted a win [in Jamaica], but a 0-0 result is still beneficial for us coming back home. We know when we’re here, playing in front of our fans and family and friends, they’re like the 12th man so we’ve got to use that motivation.”
Since that game down in Kingston, Pacific added another three points to their total back in Canadian Premier League action on Saturday. They fell behind early in Winnipeg against Valour FC, but a pair of second-half goals within two minutes of each other from Alejandro Díaz were enough to reverse the deficit and claim a 2-1 victory.
Pacific briefly returned to the top of the table after that game, although Forge FC’s win on Sunday night put the Hammers slightly back in front on the wins tiebreaker, with both sides now on 32 points.
Waterhouse, meanwhile, have been fully focused on this second leg all week long, with their domestic season having wrapped up at the end of June. The club are traditional heavyweights in Jamaica, having topped the table the past three seasons (although they haven’t quite succeeded in the playoffs to lift the trophy). They score more goals than any side in Jamaica, and they concede fewer.
Plus, the Jamaican side does have recent experience in the Concacaf League, having been to the tournament’s quarterfinals in 2019 and the round of 16 in 2020. As such, they’ll have slightly more experience than Pacific in these knife’s-edge continental ties.
Still, there’s an abundance of confidence on Vancouver Island at the moment, with the club flying high in league play and knowing all they need is a win to advance to the next round of this tournament, where Costa Rican giants Herediano await.
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3 THINGS TO WATCH
- Away goals rule in play: One peculiarity of this competition, with which Pacific won’t be overly familiar, is the away goals rule — which is in effect for all rounds of the Concacaf League minus the final. After last week’s 0-0 draw in Leg 1, Pacific are in pretty good position, but they must be wary of conceding, since any draw other than 0-0 would mean Waterhouse advance. In effect, if the visitors score, Pacific must score twice, since a 1-1 result wouldn’t be enough for them. All that is to say: defence will be key for the Tridents. If they can keep a clean sheet, then the worst possible outcome is a penalty shootout. They haven’t necessarily been the tightest at the back this year — their 25 goals conceded is second most in the CPL — but they have the talent necessary to lock it down more. “We’re aware, but it doesn’t change way that we’re gonna play, it doesn’t change our approach to this match,” said James Merriman when asked about the away goals wrinkle. “We’re playing to win this match, and we’re going to play our way.”
- Pacific look to capitalize on home turf: After last week’s difficult trip down to Jamaica, which featured multiple travel delays and unfamiliar situations for Pacific, the Canadian side is hoping that they’ll be able to exercise some form of home advantage in this return leg. Certainly, it’ll be a long trip to Vancouver Island from Kingston for both teams (though Pacific had to go to Winnipeg before returning home), but lengthy travel is likely less familiar to the Jamaican team, who wouldn’t have any domestic road trips nearly as far as Pacific might travel to Halifax for CPL games. The other major factor working in Pacific’s favour is the artificial turf pitch at Starlight Stadium. Waterhouse coach Marcel Gayle pointed that out immediately after leg one in his postmatch comments, admitting that his team doesn’t have much experience playing on turf. With his side arriving on Vancouver Island on Monday, it’s unlikely they’ll get more than one chance to test out the surface before the game begins on Tuesday night — similarly to the uneven grass pitch in Jamaica, on which Pacific struggled at times. Still, it’s up to Pacific in this game to try and play the expansive football they have often done on that pitch at home.
- ‘Embracing the occasion’ important in big-game atmosphere: Pacific boss James Merriman said on Monday that this contest might well be one of the most important home matches his side has played — perhaps even on par with last year’s Vancouver Whitecaps game in the Canadian Championship. So, he explained that he’ll be imploring his team not to get lost in the occasion, but to embrace it. With a strong crowd expected at Starlight Stadium under the lights, this is sure to have the atmosphere of a big continental match; Pacific will therefore hope to harness that energy to fuel their pressing and attacking play, as it did against the Whitecaps. The Tridents have done well under pressure in big games before, including not only that Voyageurs’ Cup tie but also both the semifinal and final of the CPL playoffs last season. Said Merriman: “We need to embrace the occasion, embrace the energy of the crowd. Arguably our biggest match at home for us as a club, so we need to embrace that. We have great fans here, great support here, and our players know that, they’re looking forward to that. We have to keep our focus and keep our concentration on ourselves and our performance, and the plan we want to execute.”
Pacific FC wins: 0 || Waterhouse FC wins: 0 || Draws: 1
July 26, 2022 — Waterhouse 0-0 Pacific
“They’re dynamic. They’ve got speed and power, and they like to play in those transition moments and caused problems some problems. They’re quite organized in their defensive shape as well. That’s part of a first leg, we learned a lot about them, about who we’re playing and what we need to do.” — Pacific FC head coach James Merriman
“It’s gonna take a lot of teamwork. It’s very simple from us, we know we need to keep goals out of the net, and we need to put a lot in on them, it’s as simple as that. We’ve done well in Jamaica to keep it level.” — Pacific FC captain Jamar Dixon