“BC is purple.”
The words of Pacific FC manager Pa-Modou Kah emphatically underlined his club’s accomplishment Thursday night. A giant wasn’t just killed, it was dominated.
Pacific FC, of the Canadian Premier League, rolled to a 4-3 Canadian Championship victory over Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps FC in front of an ecstatic capacity home crowd. Victoria has the triumph they dreamt of, while Vancouver has many questions to answer.
The rainy Thursday was the perfect backdrop to the first Ferryside Derby, where rain is a constant fixture of the area. These teams have operated in two very different worlds since Pacific FC’s launch in 2019. However, Thursday they met on the same pitch, clashing in the first round of the Canadian Championship.
Pacific was without their best player in Marco Bustos, who was ruled out with a minor nagging lower body injury. Meanwhile, the Whitecaps fielded a near full strength side, featuring recent Scottish signing Ryan Gauld, wanting to challenge for the Canadian Championship. It seemed like it could be a long night.
Oh, and it was.
An electric start
A crowd of close to 5,000 packing into Starlight Stadium to witness Canadian soccer history. Right from the get-go, Pacific looked to be the sharper side. They launched attacks whenever they could, not backing down in the face of their bigger brothers from the mainland. The Tridents’ efforts were rewarded in the 8th minute, when PFC’s Terran Campbell was brought down in the box thanks to a clumsy tackle from behind by Jake Nerwinski. The inform man coolly slotted away his penalty in the bottom left corner to give Pacific the early advantage.
However, in the 14th minute, Vancouver pulled even with the hosts. Callum Irving came out like many times before this season, leaping for a ball before coming down in a heap. It was the new arrival that pounced on the confusion, chipping it by the defenders who were arguing for a foul. Kah received a yellow card for his protests from the sideline.
Not deterred by the equalizer, the Tridents continued to push. Consistently outworking the Caps for everything and anything, Manny Aparicio eventually found the ball off a broken play in the box, cutting across goal and firing one into the left side. Restoring Pacific’s one goal advantage in the 28th minute, the men in purple and teal were riding high.
At the break
They saw the half out with the 2-1 lead, and it had been everything Pacific fans could ask for and then some. Josh Heard, the Victoria native, was taking it to the Whitecaps defense, causing many issues and creating chances. The Tridents came out with purpose, playing hard and playing well, linking up their passes while always looking to attack.
Meanwhile, on the other side, the Whitecaps just looked flat. They played uninspired in the first half, letting themselves get outshot 5-2 while controlling 66% of the possession. Marc Dos Santos’ men were not looking at their best, and it felt at times that only Ryan Gauld showed up to play.
Before heading into the locker room for the break, the Caps were subject to a hard huddle talk. This was not looking so great for the MLS side.
The underdogs take flight
Jordan Haynes was released by Whitecaps FC 2 in 2017. He played for TSS Rovers in the USL League Two, before a stint with the UBC Thunderbirds got him a shot with Pacific FC. This was the man that laid his body on the line in the 54th minute, a beautiful block to break up a 4-on-3 Whitecaps rush.
Terran Campbell once featured for WFC2 for two years, but never earned a first team appearance. It was him who forced Canadian number one Max Crepeau, the only other Whitecap to show up for the match, into a brilliant save off the line in the 56th minute.
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Josh Heard was drafted by the Whitecaps in 2016. He bounced around the USL instead of ever making an appearance with Vancouver, before landing in Victoria for the 2020 season. Heard was the one that sliced through the Caps defense like butter, dicing his way into the box and tucking a goal in the bottom corner in the 63rd minute.
Pacific is made up of players who fought to be where they are today. Some may feel they had never quite been given a proper shot at the professional game before the Canadian Premier League was launched in 2019. Some perhaps may feel spurned, many of them by the Whitecaps. Like the league itself, the hosts were upstarts. Thursday, they decided that they were going to win.
Gauld pulled another magic trick in the 66th minute, a header into the net off of a cross by Christian Dajome. One man could not beat this side.
With time winding down
Manny Aparicio, the new signing from York United, was ever present throughout this game. He was buzzing offensively, optimistic with his chances even if some were far off the target. But having a go was better than anything the Whitecaps could say.
It was off of his free kick that Alejandro Diaz pounced, the loose ball sent past a sprawling Crepeau in the 75th, restoring a two goal lead. The Lakeside Buoys, who had not stopped chanting for a single moment of the game, finally could see the end. They could see the victory.
Arguably the CPL’s current top keeper, Callum Irving came up with a huge save in the 78th, robbing Dajome and tipping the ball just enough to squeak past the right post. He is another former Whitecaps Academy product, one who went undrafted in the MLS Superdraft.
A truly uninspired substitution by Marc Dos Santos in the 90th minute brought Russell Teibert on the pitch. It felt like the visitors had given up symbolically with this. A meaningless penalty in the 95th saw Vancouver make the scoreline more respectable, but the celebration had begun well and truly.
Going into this match with a stagnant atmosphere around them, Pacific truly have blown every expectation out of the water. They’ve not only come out with an electrifying victory, but momentum to carry forward into their season.
“The fans were carrying us like a 12th man,” said Pacific FC head coach Pa-Modou Kah after the game, and it is a theme for this supporters group on the island. The Lakeside Buoys were there from day one, from the inaugural match, to sending their players off at ungodly hours in the morning to the Island Games and the Kickoff bubble. The atmosphere they created tonight was truly something to behold. They’ve earned this win, just as much as the players have.
There is something exciting going on at Starlight Stadium. Kah’s game plan was optimistic and exciting, executed to perfection with the squad he had at his disposal. They played with heart, hunger and passion. Sitting atop the league table at the halfway point of the season, with a result like this there is no knowing what lies ahead for the Tridents.
As for the Whitecaps, there are some very tough questions that need to be asked. They’ve made infamous history as the first MLS side to drop two games to CPL teams. When only two players seemed to even want to be on the pitch, it’s hard for Vancouver fans to have any faith in MDS. In fact, the Caps manager has barely won over a quarter of his matches in charge since he took over in 2018.
It’s one thing to lose to Pacific FC. It’s another to be played off the pitch by them. His tactics, man management, all have to come into question now. But they avoided that tonight by completely ghosting the Vancouver press that journeyed out to watch them get humiliated. They’ll be hard pressed to take any positives to build for a run to the MLS Playoffs.
Whatever is the case on the mainland should not take away from the Trident’s monumental win. They were the better side, through and through. I swear I could hear Langford from Burnaby tonight. This team truly is special, and it will be exciting to watch how the rest of the season unfolds.
Pacific FC’s victory sees them through to the second round of the Canadian Championship, which pits them against familiar foes Cavalry FC. It’s been a close battle with the second best side in the CPL, and it will surely be another good match in Calgary.
As for Vancouver, they return home to BC Place, taking on Real Salt Lake on Sunday as they somehow look to bounce back from this defeat.
Langford hosts their next game August 29 as well, with Pacific hoping to continue with this momentum and take all three points from Valour FC. Now, brimming with confidence, the sky truly is the limit.