(Photo Credit: Beau Chevalier/Vancouver FC)
In the opening weekend of the 2023 Canadian Premier League season, British Columbians are treated to an opening matchup to remember as 2021 Champions Pacific FC face-off against new-boys-in-town Vancouver FC at Starlight Stadium. With various changes for Pacific, and an air of mystery around this new Vancouver FC team, tomorrow’s match will likely set the tone for what we can expect from both of these teams for this upcoming season.
Pacific FC: A Chance at Redemption?
After being the only team to successfully dethrone Forge FC to the North Star Shield in 2021, Pacific FC had a tumultuous time in the CPL in 2022, finishing 4th in the table and being knocked out of the play-offs in the first round by Regular Season champs Atletico Ottawa. It was a season of change as they changed their coach at the beginning of the 2022 season from Pa-Modou Kah to James Merriman, as well as losing star forward Alejandro Diaz mid-season to a European club, Norway’s Sogndal. 2023 now offers to be a new opportunity for Pacific to reclaim their former glory, and challenge Forge FC once more as the true Kings of the North.
While they did lose various important assets like Marco Bustos, Gianni Dos Santos, and Callum Irving (who notably crossed the Georgie Strait to rivals Vancouver FC), they have brought in some fresh blood to truly mark a new chapter for the club. Perhaps their biggest off-season additions were the ever-clinical Easton Ongaro, and the electric and experienced Kekuta Manneh. Ongaro comes back into the league after one year hiatus, the latter of which was spent at Whitecaps FC 2, and looks to replicate his 2021 form where he scored 12 goals in 27 league appearances for the now-disbanded FC Edmonton. Manneh, on the other hand, comes in to great fanfare as one of the most experienced players in the league, having had over 150 MLS appearances in his career, and scoring 40 goals.
Trident fans will hope that these two can fill the holes left by Diaz and Bustos, their top scorer and top assister last season respectively, and bring back former glories to Starlight Stadium, beginning with this game home-opener against Vancouver FC.
Vancouver FC: Time to Make A Statement
Its always tough to determine whether a new expansion side is ready for the first game of the season, especially since this team has been built from the ground up these last few months. The club has already made statements off the pitch by having experienced manager Afshin Ghotbi as their head coach, and signing quality players like Callum Irving, Kadin Chung, and Gael Sandoval. But aside from some other familiar faces in Gabriel Bitar, Rocco Romeo, and Elliot and Marcus Simmons, most of this squad is new to the league.
While there is still a good, strong Canadian core to the team, many of these players are still quite young. The oldest player on the roster is captain Callum Irving, at 30 years old, meaning that the average age of the squad is only 23.5! Much will fall onto Irving and Ghotbi to guide this young team in such a physical and competitive environment. But on the flip side, the youth of the team allows Ghotbi to better mould his squad into playing the kind of vibrant football he likely wants to play.
A lot will also be expected of Gael Sandoval, as he comes in as one of the league’s most high-profile players. A once Liga MX Star, the Mexican magician now has the challenge of bringing a brand-new side to greater heights, while proving to everyone watching why he still has some of that flair that was present in his younger days.
VFC fans will be either turning up to Starlight Stadium or tuning in on OneSoccer with expectations high and excitement galore as they get their first real opportunity to see this team in full CPL action on Saturday. Hopefully it will mark the birth of something truly special.
Pacific FC vs Vancouver FC: CPL’s Newest Rivalry
In Saturday’s match-up, both sets of fans will have the added drama of hosting the league’s first ever BC Derby. With both teams hoping to start off with a bang, this coastal clash will be jam-packed with drama, physicality, and good old-fashioned derby-day antics.
Ahead of the match, Pacific FC head coach James Merriman was adamant on the fact that they need to capitalize on the home advantage against Vancouver FC.
“We know how we can play in front of our crowd, in front of our fans, the energy the stadium gives us,” Merriman told media on his prematch press conference. “We are very comfortable on our field, how we want to defend and attack, so its really up on how we start”.
“We need to start on the front foot, get the crowd behind us with good energy… [so] that’s exactly how we want to start the season tomorrow”.
With the challenge of facing a relatively unknown team, Merriman highlighted that their pre-season focus has been on how they play, rather than their opponents.
“The match tomorrow, the mentality for us is to focus on what we can do, what we do with the ball, and what we do without it,” Merriman added.
Meanwhile, Merriman’s opposite man in the dugout, Afshin Ghotbi, has the enormous test of bringing his side together for this crucial opening match. When asked what kind of football Vancouver FC were going to play, Afshin emphasized the fact that he wants to get a result while playing entertaining football that can get the fans involved and have a performance full of energy and passion that can inspire the fans.
“[Tomorrow] we are looking for high tempo, we are looking for a lot of energy, for structure at every moment of the game,” Ghotbi told media. “We are also looking for creativity that every player can bring, especially in the final third, that can create that breathless moment for fans.”
“I expect it to be a very entertaining and exciting match due to the intensity of both sides wanting to beat each other as this rivalry begins”.
Felipe Vallejo: 2-1 for Pacific
Michael McColl: 3-1 for Pacific
Zachary Meisenheimer: 3-2 (head says for Pacific, heart says for Vancouver FC)