July 14, 2024
  • July 14, 2024
Vancouver FC Elage Bah

Analysis: Eagles Rise From The Ashes To Beat Pacific In Victoria

By on June 28, 2024 0 549 Views

There is no better stage for a retribution than a derby match.

At least, that is what it must have felt like for Vancouver FC on Thursday as they came back from a horror-show performance against Halifax last weekend to defeat their BC Rivals Pacific FC 2-1 in their own backyard, seemingly getting their season back on track.

A Proof of Perserverance, Despite Slow Start

Vancouver FC head coach Afshin Ghotbi did not mince words last week. The performance against Halifax Wanderers was simply unacceptable, and he challenged his players to show him that they still wanted to live and die by the badge in both training this past week and in last night’s derby match. It came as a sort of blessing that the players had the opportunity to make amends swiftly with a quick turnaround on this match, although it did not start that way on Thursday.

Pacific dominated the opening proceedings and arguably should have been going into the break with three goals, let alone their one. The home side were truly wasteful, to say the least, as has been their issue for a large period of the season. Perhaps it was a good thing that the Tridents didn’t score earlier, however, as it was Thomas Meilleur-Giguere’s goal in the 38th minute that lit the fire under Vancouver FC to get back to their better selves. Before the goal, Vancouver FC were sloppy on the ball, giving away cheap possession and being too static in attacking areas. They played right into Pacific’s hands, and they got justly punished for it.

That goal seemed to awaken something in the players, as not 90 seconds after conceding, Alejandro Diaz flicked the ball into Pacific’s net for the equalizer. So sharp and fast was the contrast between the way the side were playing either side of that goal that it left many in the stadium shocked. Some home fans were still celebrating the earlier goal when it went it – but that was exactly the kind of response Ghotbi had been waiting for from his side for quite some time.

“It was unfortunate that we took that goal [in the first half] from that dead ball, as we just lost concentration and marking,” remarked Ghotbi after the match. “But you have to raise your hands and applaud the boys for the reaction within two minutes to score that kind of goal and respond like that in the second half…I’m so proud of every player.”

The second half proved to be more level, and it came down to Vancouver’s subs making the difference as Elage Bah got his first goal for the club, and ultimately the matchwinner. It was a welcome sight as last week the substitutes fell flat in their match against Halifax, but this week it felt like everyone managed to step up and prove themselves both in front of their coach and their fans.

Captain Callum Irving Does it Again

There was a decisive moment in the second half where things could have gone completely different for Vancouver FC had it played out another way. Defender Allan Enyou bundled into Pacific captain Josh Heard inside the box in the 55th minute, forcing the referee to point to the penalty spot. Up stepped the ever-reliable Sean Young, who has already scored once from a penalty spot this season against Valour.

Irving and Young have had plenty of history together as they were both part of that 2021 Pacific side that won the now-named North Star Cup. It was truly a game of nerves as they both tried to call each others bluffs with their mind games. Irving knew that Young favoured the left side. Young knew that Irving knew that. When it came down to it, Young went with his instinct and went to his tried and proven left side, only to find Irving’s outstreched hand to deny his shot. It was a moment of elation for Vancouver, as Rocco Romeo ran to his captain to celebrate with him. But ever the level-head, Irving was too busy giving instructions for the ensuing corner, already putting that save behind him to focus on the next task at hand.

It was Irving’s second-ever penalty save in his CPL career, and his first for his newfound club, something Ghotbi was very appreciative of him for as well as his goalkeeping staff.

“It was Callum [Irving’s] first save in my history with him for a penalty, and I owe my goalkeeper coaches a steak dinner now,” explained Ghotbi. “I told them if he [Irving] saves one, the first one, I’m buying steaks for the goalkeepers, so I’m kind of excited about this result.”

“I’m kind of used to it,” he added. “He [Irving] spoils me with these kinds of performances, but he brings it to work every day, every training, every week. I’m proud of him, and I think the universe always helps people with pure hearts and people that have that kind of soul like him.”

It is definitely some glowing praise from Ghotbi, but it comes warranted for a man who has been there since the very beginning, and has been an example for everyone since that very first day. It would be fitting then, should Vancouver get any silverware this season, that he should be the one to raise it as the club’s first Captain Fantastic.

Wero Diaz: Will He Stay an Eagle?

While the emphasis of this match was firmly squared on both the derby occasion and their bounce-back opportunity for the team, many eyes were also looking curiosly upon one particular player: Alejandro Diaz.

Diaz came into this side last July as that impact striker that would turn the clubs goalscoring fortunes around. However, despite a fast start where he scored two goals inside his first two matches, he wasn’t able to keep that form going as he failed to score in the rest of the 2023 season. This year, he has doubled his tally with scoring four goals overall after his equalizing goal last night, but it still feels like he has not hit the heights that were expected of him after his form in the league with Pacific FC.

Now with his loan expiring at the start of July and no word prior to this match on any extension, Diaz may be on his way out of the squad without truly reaching those goalscoring numbers that he, and everyone else around him, would have wanted. At least a crucial goal against his former side and Vancouver’s bitter rivals is a sound way to leave off in your last match for the club.

Or…perhaps not. Since, when this reporter asked Ghotbi about Diaz’s contract situation, he was met with some more uplifting and rather tangible news.

“Well, I hope to have good news for everyone soon,” declared Ghotbi on the matter. “Last week we didn’t start him because at that moment, we were not very close in the negotiations to keep him in the organization, but I think that we’re very, very close now.”

“He’s a fantastic professional, and as you can see, a class act. I’m hoping that, very soon, we will have him locked into our organization for hopefully a long time.”

If Vancouver do manage to get this deal across the line, then it will be a coup for both club and player. From the clubs perspective, they can keep a player whose quality and experience is still present – even if he doesn’t score many goals. And for the player, it allows him to truly settle in and perhaps turn on that confidence that he exuded when he first arrived, or from even back in his Pacific days. Either way, if Diaz can get back into the habit of scoring important goals once again, it will be a signing well worth the wait to make it permanent and official.

Header Image Photo Credit: Beau Chevalier

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