(Photo Credit: Canadian Premier League)
It was nearly another expert performance against Forge for Afshin Ghotbi’s Vancouver FC side, after taking four points out of a possible six in his last two meetings against them.
“This was our third match against Forge, and I think this was our best performance,” Ghotbi said after the match. But despite being neck and neck with the defending champs for 70 minutes, all it took was 90 seconds of switching off to give the home side two goals and the victory.
Resolute In Defense For The Opening 70 Minutes
Ghotbi decided to switch things up again with how his team lined-up, opting to take a page out of Forge’s book in their formation and playing in a sort of 4-3-3/4-3-2-1. Anthony White, who typically has played at centre-back this season, was deployed on the left side of the midfield three, alongside Renan Garcia and Elliot Simmons.
“Anthony [White] has played a lot of his youth career as a holding midfielder,” Ghotbi told media after the match. “We wanted to create a three against two in the middle of the park, so we brought Anthony into a holding midfield position on the left side.
“I think that allowed us to, in my opinion, close all the passing lanes and avoid the chances that we would normally take.”
For a good chunk of the game it seemed like that tactical tweak would pay off, as despite having most of the possession, Forge were not as incisive in their passing as they usually are in their matches. Vancouver came away from the first half only allowing one shot on target from Forge, who missed a golden chance from Terran Campbell just before half.
And in the second half, not only did they hold firm for 70 minutes, but they also created some golden chances against Forge. They arguably should have been a goal up before they switched off and allowed Forge to get two goals to kill the game.
Afterwards it was part-damage control and part catch up as Vancouver tried to get something out of a match in which they deserved more but to no avail.
Substitutes Make The Difference For Both Sides
It was a hot and humid match in the Hammer, as both sides worked tirelessly to try to gain the advantage. But it was Ghotbi who struck first with the substitutes, bringing on leading scorer Shaan Hundal and left-back Tyler Crawford in place of Mikael Cantave and Minjae Kwak in the 57th minute.
It was these substitutions that breathed new life into his Vancouver side, now attacking with more energy and with more purpose. Hundal was the real difference maker up front and arguably should have had two goals from the opportunities he was given if it was not for the heroics of Tristan Henry.
The first was a snap shot from the middle of the box from Hundal, that forced Henry to make an unorthodox save with his feet to keep it out. The second was a more difficult effort, as Alejandro Diaz fed Hundal in on the left past Manjrekar James and his first-time shot was saved first by Henry’s hand and then his face to deny Vancouver the lead.
Not to be outdone, Forge’s head coach Bobby Smyrniotis decided to make some changes as well, bringing on Woobens Pacius and Aboubacar Sissoko. It would not take long before these two players would have a major impact on the game.
Pacius, on the right flank of the attack, would lay off the ball for Sissoko in space around the 71st minute. Sissoko, with all the time in the world, would incredulously stroll into the box and trivella shot his effort past Callum Irving, under virtually no pressure. Renan Garcia was stuck in defence as Anthony White was dragged wide by Pacius, Simmons was caught ball-watching with Bitar coming back late to help out the team. It was a team-wide mistake that allowed Sissoko to come into so much space, with a run that he should have had no right to do.
“The turning point was really that one minute that we took two goals,” explained Ghotbi after the match. “The first one, we felt opened up and we didn’t close down as we should [have] and at that moment I think our heads went down and we took another goal.”
The second came virtually after kickoff, as a simple lofted ball from Campbell fed Kyle Bekker in on the left side, whose pinpoint driven cross found the sliding Pacius to tap into the back of the net. In virtually less than 5 minutes since coming on, Pacius had registered a goal and an assist to win the game. Talk about a super sub.
Is The Dream Over For Vancouver FC?
With this loss to Forge, Vancouver are now nine points behind HFX Wanderers, who sit in fifth in the last playoff place, having already played an extra game.
“I believe that for us to make the playoffs we need to win a minimum of seven out of the next 12 games,” said Ghotbi prior to the match. “It doesn’t matter what seven it is, whether it be the first seven, the last seven, or the middle seven. The task is to win seven.”
With this defeat to Forge, they now have to make it seven out of the next 11 for his prediction to come true. And with four of those next 11 against title chasers Pacific, Cavalry, and Forge, the task only grows more daunting for Vancouver.
They would need a spectacular turnaround now to be able to clinch the playoffs, but it would be a comeback for the ages if they do pull it off.
With some important pieces added to the squad, it now falls on the resolve, concentration, and determination of this team to try to achieve the improbable. But at this point, they’ve got nowhere to go but up.