Langford-based Pacific FC rallied Saturday after a stuttering start to draw 2-2 against Winnipeg-based Valour FC in their last home game before an away trip to eastern Canada.
Head coach James Merriman rung in the changes. Top-scorer Alejandro Diaz dropped to the bench and an entirely new trio started in midfield, including 19-year-old Portuguese midfielder Umaro Balde, who was making his first start for the team. Marco Bustos started the game after his crushing penalty miss on Tuesday (May 24) against York United, but was hauled off at half-time after his howler allowed Valour to break and score their first goal.
Bustos has yet to score this season, but Merriman defended the number 10’s recent performances in a post-match interview.
“He always shows up every day with an excellent attitude and a professionalism that others can learn from,” he said. “So I think it’s just a matter of maybe finding form or hitting his stride. I believe it’ll come with full confidence because of his day-to-day approach. So yeah, okay, it’s maybe a little bit difficult right now also – the (penalty kick) and the moment there that burns a little bit – but I’m not worried about him.”
The game was a little disjointed as PFC struggled to gel with the new-look lineup and Valour raced out to a2-0 lead. The first goal came on the breakaway from a PFC corner, as Bustos horribly sliced his attempted follow-up cross back towards his own goal and Valour’s Sean Rea ran onto the ball. Despite Gianni dos Santos chasing behind him, Rea had the presence of mind to look up, spot PFC keeper Callum Irving off his line and lob him from 40 yards-out with a miraculous strike.
Valour held that 1-0 lead into half-time and extended it shortly after, when PFC failed to clear from a corner – a problem Merriman had identified in the team’s last game – and Valour’s captain Darryl Fordyce tapped home after the ball was fired toward goal.
PFC needed something special to rally and they got it from dos Santos who made by 2-1 by sending a stunning effort into the top corner after Valour had struggled to clear from a PFC set-piece. The goal capped off a strong display for dos Santos in his first start this season, with him and Josh Heard on the other wing posing a constant threat.
With new striker Djenario Daniels – whom dos Santos described as a “little brother” – PFC were looking dynamic in attack and managed to tie the game-up with 20 minutes left as Luca Ricci found Heard in the box, who played the ball across to Alejandro Diaz to score his sixth goal of the season after coming on as a substitute.
Ultimately, the game ended 2-2, leaving Pacific FC top of the Canadian Premier League with 18 points from nine games.
The team heads to eastern Canada for a three-game away trip, first heading to Atletico Ottawa on June 5.
“We can do it at home we can do away,” said dos Santos. “We showed it a lot of times, so I don’t think away has to be a problem or why they always say in the news that we have troubles away. I don’t think that’s a problem for us because we’re doing good away.”