Pacific FC will be hoping to begin building off a successful 2020 when they face HFX Wanderers in their opening game of the 2021 Canadian Premier League season Saturday.
The Vancouver Island club finished fifth in the CPL’s inaugural season and finished fourth in the 2021 CPL Island Games, the CPL’s 2020 shortened season.
Will Pacific FC take another step forward in 2021 and challenge for the CPL championship itself?
Kah’s second season
Pah-Modou Kah returns as manager for another season, though his job security was never in question.
The Victoria-based outfit performed well during the pandemic impacted 2020 season. The CPL will begin this season with a month’s worth of games in Winnipeg before plans of opening up the remainder of the 28-game season to all other home markets at the end of July or beginning of August.
But, it will be interesting to see how Kah gets on with his first, relatively, normal season.
De Jong, Verhoeven and Verhoven depart
One of the biggest pieces Pacific will miss is defensive stalwart and captain Marcel De Jong. The 34-year-old veteran left back retired in March, after a long career in the Bundesliga, Eredivisie, Major League Soccer and CPL.
The highest profile signing in CPL history at the time, De Jong joined Pacific in 2019 and instantly became the anchor the young team needed. His leadership and presence provided a solid defense and an attacking option down the left flank.
Pacific will try and build off their former captain’s influence, and the foundation he helped lay, even if he’s no longer with the club.
Noah Verhoeven has departed, joining York United this offseason. The 21-year-old central midfielder established himself as one of the most dynamic young players in the league, ranked tenth in chances created from open play.
He described the move as a change in scenery, and Pacific will miss his influence in the centre of the pitch.
The last major subtraction from the side would come in the form of Zach Verhoven, who was released on mutual consent by Pacific and signed a deal with Atletico Ottawa. Featuring in 33 matches during his time with the team, Verhoven requested to be released to find more playing time elsewhere.
It will be the first time he has played for a club outside of British Columbia, having come up through the Whitecaps Academy and featuring for TSS Rovers of the USL League Two (formerly PDL).
Aparacio headlines new signings
Pacific FC have been active in the transfer market, adding quite a lot of fresh faces.
Former York United Manny Aparicio headlines the new arrivals. A dynamic midfielder, his arrival on the island comes as a result of the roster rehaul York has undergone.
Pacific fans may remember his screamer of a goal in the 2019 season that made an ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 and will be keen to see more of that with Aparicio in purple and teal. The new acquisition also has one Canadian cap to his name.
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Another signing to keep an eye out for is Northern Ireland international Ollie Bassett. Having spent time in the heralded academy system of Southampton, the 23-year-old attacking midfielder brings a wealth of experience from not only English National League sides, but also the New Zealand Premiership.
Other signings include defenders Duran Lee and Jordan Haynes, midfielders Matteo Polisi and Sean Young, and attackers Josh Heard, Kunle Dada-Luke, and Gianni Dos Santos.
2021 Draft class
In the 2021 CPL U-Sports draft, Pacific opted to remain local, selecting UBC Thunderbirds Chris Lee and Victory Shumbusho fifth and twelfth overall respectively.
Lee primarily plays as a left fullback and is one to watch for the future, having just completed his first year in the School of Kinesiology. He is a product of the Whitecaps academy, and unfortunately has yet to make his debut for the Thunderbirds due to the cancellation of the Canada West season.
Already penning a U-Sports development contract, it seems that Kah has a place for Lee in his plans, fitting in with the young side’s mindset and tactics.
Shumbusho arrives at Pacific with quite the reputation in Canada West, where he struck fear in opposing defenders. The two time All-Canadian led the conference in goals with 10 in 14 appearances and was a key contributor to yet another UBC CanWest title.
The centre forward looks to chip in with instant offense, a nose for the net and an unshakeable drive from his past experiences.
Expectations for 2021 season
Kah’s Pacific FC side seems to be emphasizing continuity, keeping the core together and adding in new talents to bolster the side. It’s an exciting young team the manager has at his disposal.
Pacific management has prioritized the youth movement since day one. With Lee and Shumbusho added into the mix, the side looks to continue to build their identity and culture.
Attacking midfielder Marco Bustos will once again be the headliner – the 2020 league Player of the Season nominee sure to be the player many eyes focus on. His partnership with Kadin Chung on the right side proved a deadly combination. And Pacific fans will be hoping they can take the club to the next level in their second year together.
While the offseason departures hurt, the team seems to have found suitable replacements. Bassett and Aparicio seem to pack quite the creative punch in the middle of the pitch and provide Kah with options in his tactic selection.
Overall, this is the same core of players that finished fourth in the Island Games, but with some new young blood and exciting additions.
On paper, Pacific FC will be a must-watch team this season and could challenge Forge FC’s attempt at a three-peat.