Preview: CPL Playoffs Open With ‘Never-Say-Die’ York United Against Pacific
The first playoff match of the 2023 Canadian Premier League season will unfold tonight at Starlight Stadium.
The debut match of the league’s new playoff system will see a York United side that qualified on the final matchday hope to upset the club who went all the way in 2021. This year, Pacific were flying high and topped the table in the summer before a rough patch of form saw them drop all the way down to fourth by the season’s end – so both clubs will walk into Starlight Stadium tonight with a chip on their shoulder.
“None of us were really hoping or expecting to play [this match] especially given the way the season was going early on,” said Pacific head coach James Merriman. “We didn’t think we would be in this situation, but I think it is a good opportunity to see what we are made of and how we can pull through together as a team.”
The comradery urged by Merriman has been on display throughout the season, with the Pacific squad boasting no less than ten players who have scored multiple goals. His opposition coach, Martin Nash, knows Pacific has had York’s number this season: in their four matchups of the season, York has earned just one draw to three losses, two of them coming as 4-1 defeats.
Still, the Nine Stripes have won the only knockout match they’ve played at Starlight: a 5-6 penalty shootout win in the Canadian Championship last year. They’re also the best road team in the whole league.
“We just have to be confident in what we’re doing and approach the game as best we can,” said Martin Nash on tonight’s clash. “They’ve been very good at home traditionally, but we’ve just got to come with an open mind, work hard, and go for it.”
That’s a familiar never-say-die approach from the visitors, who got over the postseason line by the skin of their teeth after some heroics from Kevin Dos Santos sunk Atletico Ottawa before that fateful night in Langley pushed Martin Nash into postseason for the first time in green. While the club finished with a record number of points, it’s felt like a real rollercoaster over in Ontario.
The scrappy side is the only playoff team with a negative goal difference, coming in at -9 compared to Pacific’s +7. Goals have not come easily for the side, with two of their three strikers having three or less, with one of them is suspended tonight after mouthing off from the bench. Nobody in the league has hit the woodwork more times than Molham Babouli’s four times – it’s just been that kind of year.
Against Pacific, York has scored just three goals this year, while conceding nine. Yet, they’re coming in ready to snatch the win and prove they belong.
“We have not done great attacking against them, we know that,” admits Nash. “We’ve been looking at ways to break them down and create more chances. That will be a key, to create more chances, because we know obviously we need to score.”
“Neither team wants this to go to extra time especially with the travel trip for the winner afterwards,” he continues. “Both teams will come out flying and try to get the business done in ninety minutes.”
Whoever punches a ticket to the next round will face an uphill battle, travelling all the way out east to visit a well-rested Halifax Wanderers side in what will be their first-ever home playoff game. It’s a tantalizing prospect, and both sides will feel it’s within reach.
“We’ve just got to come with the right attitude and energy, which I think both teams will. I think both teams will want it as much as the other, so these games could be interesting,” concludes Nash.
York United has also confirmed that both Brem Soumaoro and Jonathan Grant will be available despite the international window, though a few players are nursing knocks. Pacific, meanwhile, have a clean bill of health heading into tonight’s match.
“I think they’ve done well on the road, but so have we,” acknowledged Merriman. “I’m not sure why they’ve had more success on the road over us at home but at the end of the day, this is a different type of match.”
He puts forth a simple statement that could have come from anyone from either squad, or any of the supporters who will pack into Langford tonight:
“We don’t want things to end.”
The winner of tonight’s bout will travel quickly to the east coast to face the Halifax Wanderers on Saturday.