The matchup fans on both sides of the Strait of Georgia have dreamt of since Victoria’s club was launched is finally here.
The Canadian Premier League’s Pacific FC hosts Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Starlight Stadium in the final first round game of the 2021 Canadian Championship Thursday. And it’s shaping up to be a salivating tilt.
Here are a few talking points heading into Thursday’s game.
Teams on two swings
If asked a week ago who would advance to the quarterfinals, I would have said Pacific ten out of ten times. However, it’s become a lot more complicated recently.
Starting with the men on the island, it’s been a tough go as of late. Though they currently sit atop the CPL table, their recent form has been a bit lacklustre. Pacific FC dropped points in a very winnable match against Edmonton, finishing in a 2-2 draw. Next they headed on the road against Cavalry where they drew against the second best side in the league, nil-nil this time. In their last four matches, the Tridents have only picked up one win. Most recently, they lost to Cavalry, falling behind early and succumbing 2-1 at home.
That’s not to say their play hasn’t been strong. Cavalry is the second best team in the league for a reason, thanks to their stingy defence and opportunistic goal scoring. However, Pacific has to expect Vancouver will prove to be a much tougher nut to crack.
Conversely, the Whitecaps have finally put together a run of good form in MLS. In their last five games, they’ve been able to draw three and win two. None of these victories meant more than Saturday’s game against LAFC at BC Place, the first at home in over a year due to pandemic. The Whitecaps showed hunger and tenacity that had been long missing for much of their 2021 campaign so far. Their return home was a triumphant one, picking up a 2-1 victory that electrified the capacity crowd.
With Pacific slightly stagnant and Vancouver finding their feet, the two teams head into Thursday riding two different waves. The Tridents will look to try and get back on track with an emphatic victory, while the Caps want to keep this party going for as long as they can.
Whitecaps new man among obstacles facing Pacific FC
The Whitecaps’ turn of fortune can be pinned on the arrival of one man: Ryan Gauld.
The ‘Scottish Messi’ has jolted a comatose team back to life, providing a much needed injection of energy and creativity. Though limited at first, Gauld forced Marc Dos Santos’s hand with his excellent play, and he has rewarded his manager with possibly his best showing against LAFC. He was active, he was quick, and the Scotsman finished off the night with a beautiful header from inside the box to give Vancouver their first home win.
If he plays, Gauld will be a major threat against Pacific as they look to keep their mainland neighbours off the scoresheet.
Speaking of keeping off the scoresheet, Canadian back-stopper Maxime Crepeau has been lights out for the Whitecaps. The one constant of this year, Crepeau has provided stability between the sticks and when called upon, has made dazzling save after dazzling save. For Pacific, he represents the wall they have to climb if they want to repeat what Cavalry FC did in 2019 by knocking out the Whitecaps.
Solid Marco Bustos among Pacific FC’s major threats
For the Tridents it will be more of the same. Marco Bustos has been as dependable as a rock while showing the CPL that he’s the real MVP. Pacific’s league leader in goals and assists will be looking for more of the same against his old team. Bustos came up through the Whitecaps academy, and it was the Vancouver side that gave him his professional debut. Surely, there’s a storybook ending to be written there.
Besides Bustos, Pacific’s Terran Campbell has really picked it up as of late. Another former Whitecaps product, he’s found the back of the net in three of his last four games, sharing the league scoring lead with Bustos at five.
Pacific FC has their own stalwart in goal in the form of Callum Irving. Though he wears number 13, he’s been number one in clean sheets among CPL keepers, a testament to his excellence. Though the Whitecaps are better competition that he faces regularly, Irving can be counted on to battle through whatever is thrown his way.
All about the fans
With the CPL returning to their home stadiums for the latter part of the season, Pacific FC’s loyal and loud fanbase have responded with style. The Lake Side Buoys have lended their voices in support throughout this fledgling team’s rise, and now it’s their time to truly show what the island’s soccer is all about. This matchup against Vancouver was something they could only dream of just three years ago, and now? It’s a reality. Though Starlight Stadium is currently still limited by COVID-19 restrictions, it’s a sure bet that on Thursday it will sound packed.
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As for Vancouver fans, they too look to this matchup with excitement. Not often does a team get a chance to assert regional supremacy against their little brother. Whitecaps supporters have been starved for live soccer, and the match against LAFC proved just how much the Caps have been missed. The Southsiders could be heard in Langley from the way they sang and sent chills down many when the team joined their fans in a stirring serenade of Stand By Me. Their return home has left fans wanting for more successes, and none can be more important that beating the team in your backyard. Look for Caps supporters to turn out in strong force in Victoria to back their team with their voices.
All in all, the first edition of the BC derby looks to be an exciting one. With both teams coming in with something to prove, it’ll be a hard fought match to progress to the next round of the Canadian Championship. There are storylines to be written throughout the match and many of these players have a chip on their shoulders to show their stuff. And, with fans back in the stands, soccer in Canada is truly in its element with this matchup, something that could be the spark of a special rivalry.
Now, with the stage set, will it be the Vancouver Whitecaps erasing the shame of 2019 with a statement victory? Or will it be Pacific FC donning the mantle of giant killers, and showing why they currently sit atop the CPL standings? Whatever the result, both sides are raring and ready to go for an epic provincial showdown.