RECAP + HIGHLIGHTS: Pacific FC bow out of Concacaf League after shootout heartbreak
Pacific FC’s maiden Concacaf League voyage came to a heartbreaking end on Tuesday evening, as they played a remarkable 90 minutes in San José, Costa Rica, but ultimately had their dreams dashed in this second leg of the round of 16 by CS Herediano in a nail-biting penalty shootout.
Knowing his team needed at least a goal to turn the tie in Pacific’s favour, coach James Merriman deployed a starting lineup packed with starpower, as Josh Heard and Marco Bustos lined up in the forward line with a four-man midfield of Manny Aparicio, Sean Young, Cédric Toussaint, and Jamar Dixon. Herediano, meanwhile, were more content to play defensively, opting for the same back-five formation they used in the first leg a week ago.
The game was quite open from kickoff, as both teams found their way in behind the opposing defence a couple times within the first 15 minutes. Pacific goalkeeper Callum Irving was called into action early to make a few good saves, and Heard came close to setting up Bustos in the box at the other end but his pass was cut out by a Herediano defender just in time.
The two sides seemed to take turns enjoying extended periods of possession; Herediano moved the ball methodically for a while after the 20-minute mark, but Pacific took over about 10 minutes later, as they too patiently advanced up the pitch and looked for gaps in the well-organized opposing defence.
Herediano suffered an early blow just half an hour in, when captain Yeltsin Tejeda went down with injury, forcing the experienced midfielder off the pitch as coach Hernán Medford had no choice but to take him out of the game.
The first half would ultimately be fairly uneventful, as both teams settled in after the rapid first 15 minutes and the attacking tempo dipped. Pacific would end the first frame with a heavy advantage in possession (about 57%), but no shots, as they continued looking for a way through.
Pacific began the second half very brightly, holding onto the ball but advancing further into the attacking half. Ten minutes after the break, though, their task become much more difficult. Captain Jamar Dixon became entangled with Herediano’s Douglas López and his arm struck the back of the opposing attacker’s head, prompting a heated confrontation. Referee Bryan López, after consulting with his fellow officials, deemed Dixon’s actions to be worthy of a sending-off, so he showed the Pacific skipper a straight red card.
Still, the Tridents looked for opportunities to attack. The greatest chance either side had yet mustered came for Pacific in the 70th minute, as Aparicio played an aggressive long ball to Gianni Dos Santos on the counter-attack. Dos Santos brought it down next to the box and threaded a perfect pass into the feet of Bustos, who managed to turn the ball powerfully goalward but he was denied by an excellent save from Esteban Alvarado.
Merriman brought some more attacking firepower into his lineup in the late stages, adding the aforementioned Dos Santos as well as Djenairo Daniels — both of them in place of midfielders — as Pacific desperately sought an opportunity to strike in transition.
Bustos came close to being the hero yet again in the 87th minute, as he received the ball at the top of the box and weaved between a collection of defenders before flicking it toward the far post — only for Alvarado to make another excellent save and deny a goal that would send the game to penalties.
Soon after that, though, the Tridents did finally have their moment, in the 89th minute. An ambitious long ball from goalkeeper Irving took a flick toward the defence from Heard, and it seemed to have been cleared by a Herediano centre-back, but the header fell right into the path of Dos Santos. The Pacific attacker took a touch before delivering a perfectly-placed shot low to the keeper’s left, sneaking it in by the goalpost and sending the visiting bench into a frenzy.
With just two minutes of stoppage time added, neither side would have another chance. So, the contest proceeded to penalties — Pacific’s second of the 2022 season, after their loss to York United in the Canadian Championship.
Pacific went first, and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère started things off well for his side with a shot that beat the keeper despite him getting a hand to it. Things truly turned Pacific’s way with Herediano’s first taker, as Miguel Basulto put his effort wide of the left goalpost to give the visitors an advantage immediately. Each side scored their next two, however, until Djenairo Daniels stepped up for Pacific. He saw his shot stopped by a very good diving effort from Alvarado, and the shootout carried into sudden death rounds.
Amer Didic would ultimately be the one to take the decisive penalty. He was Pacific’s seventh taker, but the centre-back had his powerful effort parried by Alvarado. Ariel Soto buried the next spot kick for Herediano, and the emotional evening ended in heartbreak for the Tridents.
89′ — Gianni Dos Santos (Pacific FC)
54′ — Yellow: Douglas López (Herediano)
54′ — Red: Jamar Dixon (Pacific FC)
78′ — Yellow: Abdou Samaké (Pacific FC)
85′ — Yellow: Djenairo Daniels (Pacific FC)
90′ — Yellow: Gianni Dos Santos (Pacific FC)
90+1′ — Yellow: Jefferson Brenes (Herediano)