It’s an odd thing to say about a team with the most high-profile playing personnel in the league, but as the opening weekend approaches, Pacific FC remain somewhat of a mystery to many across the rest of the league.
While the other six Canadian Premier League clubs were facing off against each other (and local outfit Inter DR) in the Dominican Republic, the Bastard Sons of Barney the Dinosaur spent their time furtively tiptoeing around, desperate to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
Not that I can blame them. I’d be a little sheepish about going out in public if I looked like a bar of Mint Oreo Dairy Milk, too.
Nonetheless, it was slightly strange of them to fly so purposefully under the radar. Unless Danish head-coach Michael Silberbauer has created a never-before-seen formation that will change the future of football, there doesn’t appear to be much benefit in hiding his team away so diligently.
As it is, what we do know about Pacific FC suggests a belief in having three to four high-profile, well-paid stars that can carry the more inexperienced members of the squad on their shoulders.
While I’m generally indifferent towards any discussion of salary caps, Pacific’s recruitment methods do stir up some interesting questions, namely: if you spend a large portion of your wage bill on MLS’ers and ex-Canadian internationals, how much is left for the rest of the squad?
On paper at least, this has led to Pacific having a fairly unbalanced roster. Their attack looks to be among the best in the league, but there are some major question marks further back.
The biggest task facing Michael Silberbauer this season will be developing a style of play that protects the more vulnerable areas of the pitch, of which there are several, while emphasizing their attacking strengths.
These strengths come in the form of Marcus Haber, Issey Nakajima-Farran and Ben Fisk. AKA The Diet Galaticos. AKA The 1%.
Leading the line will be Marcus Haber, arguably the most high-profile attacking signing made so far. The Canadian international, who never, ever skips neck day at the gym, is a burly, physical presence up-front. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Stephen Hart deploy Andre Bona at right-back for this game to counter Haber’s strength and reduce the risk of Pacific targeting our smaller full-backs with long balls from deep.
Despite his pedigree, the heavily promoted narrative of ‘Marcus Haber: Goalscorer’ is an unconvincing one. While playing over 300 professional games is nothing to be sniffed at, a return of 56 goals is underwhelming to say the least. It may be that Haber’s main attribute is the work he does for the attackers playing alongside him.
This will be the hope of Issey Nakajima-Farran and Ben Fisk, at least.
Issey, apparently The Most Interesting Man in the CPL because he owns a paintbrush, has 38 caps for the Canadian national team. With the league in its infancy, any player with international caps should be valued, but at 34 there will be question marks over how far his legs can take him this season, particularly given the amount of traveling Pacific will do.
Ben Fisk (pictured above in 2011!), on the other hand, has time on his side. Still only 26, the Vancouver-native is one of a dozen or so CPL players that can realistically entertain aspirations of a call-up to the national team. Fresh from a spell with Derry City FC in Northern Ireland, Fisk could well emerge as one of the most important players in this league, not just for Pacific but for the CPL as a whole. If a prime-years Ben Fisk succeeds, it will likely encourage some of the more apprehensive Canadians playing abroad to trust the league with their careers, too.
One area in which Pacific aren’t so impressive is in central midfield.
Fighting for a starting place in the middle of the park will be Noah Verhoeven, Matthew Baldisimo and… who else? Thomas Gardner? He hasn’t even signed yet. Ben Fisk? At a stretch he could drop in as a no.10, but what a waste of attacking talent that would be. Victor Blasco? Another winger who’d be playing out of position.
With these misgivings in mind, you have to suspect it’ll be an area that Stephen Hart targets on Sunday. It’s a very winnable battle, too. The tempo-setting Elliot Simmons, the experienced Elton John, and the G.O.A.T Juan Diego Gutierrez should be more than enough to dominate the midfield. That’s not to say these three will start (more on that later in the week), but whichever twosome or threesome Wanderers go with, you’d expect them to control things centrally.
In defence, Pacific look likely to line up with a back-four featuring Blake Smith at left-back, Hendrick Starostvik and Lukas MacNaughton at centre-back, and Kadin Chung (pictured below) at right-back.
It’s a fairly experienced back-line. Both full-backs have starred in the USL, with Smith also making 14 MLS appearances back in 2013/14. Starostvik (or A Poor Man’s Peter Schaale as he should be known) has played in the second and third tiers of German football, and at 28 will be expected to be a leader for Silberbauer’s side. Lukas MacNaughton is the least established of the group with only L1O and university experience under his belt, but with Starostvik by his side he should be fine, although Irishman Ryan McCurdy is well known to the coaching staff and could yet get the nod ahead of MacNaughton.
It is an area Wanderers may get some joy from, though. Luis Perea has the attributes to occupy the two centre-backs, leaving room for a combination of Guti, Garcia, Iida, Kourouma, Lamy and Aziz to buzz around their full-backs, prompting and probing until they find a way through.
Another concern for Pacific will be the lack of positional depth available to them. On the eve of the season opener their official squad size stands at 17 – and that’s including Marcel de Jong who is unlikely to feature this season. More bodies will be added over the coming days (and the likelihood is that others have already signed) but it still remains a worryingly low number.
Maybe I’m drunk and dizzy on the fumes of new season optimism, but I feel very confident going into the opening weekend for HFX’s chances. Wanderers – as I’ll write about later in the week – seem a much more settled group than Pacific, a team who at this stage appear to be a mirror image of their stadium: under construction and in a race against time to be ready.
The clock is ticking. There’s one week left.