While derby days certainly are matches that bring thrills and spills, even the staunchest of supporters from both sides could not have predicted quite a match like the one we got Friday night. Nine goals, split six to three for Pacific, put this match as the highest-scoring CPL match in league history, on a night of broken records and record firsts. While it was one for the neutrals, Vancouver FC fans will be disappointed after a fighting performance capitulated in the last third of the match. It will be another tough lesson for this young team to learn and bounce back from.
Nightmare Start, Resilient Response
While there were many words spoken between the players and fans alike before this match about how the story was going to be different, it did not begin well for the Eagles as Amir Didic scored off a set-piece in the opening three minutes. It was a poor goal to concede from a defensive perspective, and one that set the pace for the match.
But to Vancouver’s credit, they responded exactly as Afshin Ghotbi would have wanted, getting back onto the front foot and equalizing not four minutes later through Minjae Kwak. Pacific then took the reins once more and scored their second in the 24th minute thanks to a wondergoal by captain Josh Heard, as he found the mark from way outside the box, curling it perfectly past his former teammate in Callum Irving.
But once again, Vancouver dug deep and stayed in the game all the way up until added time in the first half, where their resilience paid off once more and got their second equalizer of the match through youngster TJ Tahid.
While the defensive display was not up to par, Ghotbi can be proud of his team’s ability to comeback twice from going down, especially considering how young his squad is. At half, it looked like it could go either way. However, things quick unraveled in the last third of the match for Vancouver.
Emotions Run High & Lack Of Experience Rears It’s Ugly Head
From the off, the emotions of the derby were apparent in various players. Ibrahim Bakare and TJ Tahid got in some hard tackles on Pacific players, and we had a scrum between various players inside 15 minutes. The battle between Josh Heard and Bakare kept going until the former’s wondergoal, but the tension was building all over the pitch.
It was then perhaps why Vancouver suddenly switched off in the latter parts of the second half, as Pacific caught them in defensive transitions on multiple occasions. Bakare himself had a performance to forget as he seemed to lack concentration in key moments. One of his biggest issues, and the biggest game-changer in the second half, was the introduction of Ayman Sellouf, who came off the bench and got a goal, and assist, and won the penalty for the fifth. It was apparent that the depth in quality from Pacific was one of the biggest difference between the two sides, as Sellouf and Easton Ongaro killed the game off.
The other was the mental strength and focus, as Vancouver quickly unraveled after the third goal. You could tell from players’ faces that the frustration of going behind for a third time to a rival was playing on their minds, and Pacific soon became too comfortable. That comfort was embodied by the last Kekuta Manneh goal, in which Pacific were basically playing keep-away from Vancouver in their own 18-yard box before Scooter laced it in off the crossbar.
Ghotbi will be hoping that his team can get these ugly results out of the way early and instill the lessons from them as soon as possible so that his young team can grow stronger from these results.
TJ Tahid The Silver Lining
One of the best moments of the match from a Vancouver point of view was the crowning moment for 16-year-old TJ Tahid. The Maple-Ridge native started his second straight game, and once again showed his incredible maturity and temperament on the pitch to be able to play against consummate professionals like Josh Heard and Manny Aparicio. From the start, he was physical, dynamic, focused, and disciplined. He did well for the most part in his defensive duties, putting pressure on Heard and Lajeunesse on his side and staying in line with the defender behind him in Bakare.
His goal was also a work of art in itself, as he got the ball on the left side of the Pacific box, and had to carve out space for himself and shot past a sea of bodies to get that goal in, which he did spectacularly. It was a goal worthy of the record for youngest ever scorer in the CPL, and one he will likely remember for the rest of his professional career and beyond.
TJ is quickly becoming a fan favourite, and also becoming quite a “starboy” for Vancouver FC. His work-rate and determination is second to none, and will go a long way for his development as a superstar, which would not be surprising given his fast start. It might not be long before we see TJ in some different colours across the pond, and with many more fans screaming his name