Pacific FC’s quest to repeat as Canadian Premier League champions in peril

Pacific FC’s Kamron Habibullah started in an unfamiliar false nine role against Atletico Ottawa in playoff action at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)Pacific FC’s Kamron Habibullah started in an unfamiliar false nine role against Atletico Ottawa in playoff action at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)
Pacific FC’s Nathan Mavila makes the pass against Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)Pacific FC’s Nathan Mavila makes the pass against Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)
Marco Bustos takes on water during Pacific FC’s playoff game against Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)Marco Bustos takes on water during Pacific FC’s playoff game against Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)
Pacific FC’s Manny Aparicio takes a tumble against Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)Pacific FC’s Manny Aparicio takes a tumble against Atletico Ottawa at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Saturday (Oct. 15). (Simon Fearn/Black Press Media)

Langford-based Pacific FC took a couple of gut punches in their quest to repeat as champions as Atletico Ottawa won 2-0 in front of a dismayed Starlight Stadium on Saturday (Oct. 15).

PFC now faces a tough task to keep their season alive by playing on the road in Ottawa.

Ottawa looked to sit deep and absorb pressure as PFC controlled 65 per cent of possession. But the home team lacked the clinical edge, as head coach James Merriman said after the game.

“This result is on us,” he said. “It’s not that Ottawa did something, it’s on us. So we beat ourselves.”

PFC lined up slightly unconventionally with Kamron Habibullah leading the line in a false nine role as Djenairo Daniels was not fit for the game. Merriman said that both Daniels and dos Santos had been struggling with knocks in training and it was not clear whether they’d be available for the return leg in Ottawa on Oct. 23.

If the Tridents had more of the ball, Ottawa had the best early chance as Ballou Jean-Yves Tabla broke in behind before playing the ball across to Abdoul Sissoko, who cannoned a low shot against the post.

PFC wouldn’t get a clear sight of goal until the second half as Marco Bustos twice came close. He first dribbled in behind, only to see Ottawa goalkeeper Nathan Ingham push his low shot onto the post seconds into the second half. Ingham then foiled Bustos again, after he had rifled a shot from the edge of the box.

PFC appeared to be knocking on the door until Ottawa flipped the script.

A ball over the top caught PFC flat-footed. Goalkeeper Callum Irving rushed out of his net, leaving it exposed. Tabla took advantage, lofting the ball over Irving give Ottawa the lead with 11 minutes left in the game.

Pacific looked to rally quickly, when Jordan Brown controlled Manny Aparicio’s cross and shot low. But Ingham again came to Ottawa’s rescue.

As the clock ticked down, PFC’s hopes of a comeback hit the rocks as Ottawa broke and worked the ball to Zach Verhoven, whose shot deflected off Nathan Mavila into the top corner with seconds left.

“You have to have a stroke of luck,” said Mavila. “He shot the ball and it just hit me, there’s not much you can do. You can’t move out of the way as a defender, you’ve got to try and block it. Nine times out of 10 it hits you and it goes out and that one time it goes in the top corner.”

Pacific face Ottawa again in the second leg in Canada’s capital on Oct. 23 and needs a big win to keep its season alive. Both Merriman and Mavila said the team’s experience in the CONCACAF League would help them.

“Same as what we’ve done in Heredinao, Costa Rica,” said Mavila. “It was turbulent. You had no one cheering for us. But we just have to have each other’s backs. That’s all we have and that’s what we’ve got to utilize. I feel like if we do that, and we mix that with hard work, sky’s the limit.”

READ MORE: Pacific FC to face Atletico Ottawa in playoffs

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