It was a signing met with optimism and hope but has become so much more.
Ollie Bassett’s arrival at Pacific FC in April has helped spark an incredible run, with the club currently sitting atop the Canadian Premier League (CPL) table.
Bassett was brought in as a potential star for the Tridents to help with Marco Bustos’ load, and he has lived up to his billing thus far. His first goal was the proper introduction of a player of his calibre, a blast from outside of the box in his debut.
Since then, he’s tallied another two assists and has become a staple in Pa-Modou Kah’s starting eleven. However, his story extends far beyond what’s seen on the pitch.
Long time in the making
The former Northern Ireland youth international’s transfer wasn’t something that was done at the drop of a hat. Ever since the Canadian Premier League was founded in 2019, Bassett had been keeping tabs.
“Once this league first got formed in the first season, I kind of had my eye on it,” Bassett said this week in a one-on-one interview. “I was actually working to try and get here with my agent for the inaugural season and then also the second season.”
When it launched in 2019, the CPL set out to become a fully professional soccer league. This appealed to Bassett, who was then playing in the New Zealand Premiership, a non-professional league.
“It wasn’t like a professional league, it wasn’t full time,” Bassett said, a change from the English football pyramid that he had played his entire career in up to that point. “So as soon as I found out that the CPL was being formed, and was a full-time league and as a professional league, I thought yeah, it’d be a good platform to hopefully, come and play in.”
Bassett was also a fan of the developmental aspect of the league.
“They’re giving chances to players to come and play professionally again and get their foot back in the door, which I think is a really good thing.”
Blazing into the bubble
With COVID-19 restrictions still in place at the start of the 2021 CPL season, the Kickoff bubble was the league’s solution to start off the year. Taking place in Winnipeg, it brought together all eight clubs for a month from June 26th to July 24th.
For Bassett, this was the introduction to the Canadian game.
“The bubble was obviously different. I hadn’t started the season in a bubble environment anytime in my whole career,” he said.
Though it wasn’t how he expected it to start, Bassett immediately established himself as a force in his very first match. His scorcher against HFX Wanderers set the tone of what to expect from him this year. Bassett’s strong performances and work rate quickly earned him many fans back home in Victoria.
The bubble also allowed him to get to know his teammates better and gave him some time for introspection, dealing with the challenges the current pandemic has had on his career.
“I learned a lot about myself during that time, as well.”
Though wrought with challenges, the Kickoff bubble aided in his arrival to the CPL. With July 24 fast approaching and the teams wrapping up, the Tridents returned home, setting up a long-awaited return into Starlight Stadium.
The transition home
This would be Ollie Bassett’s first taste of Canadian soccer as it was intended. It would also mark the first time he was on Vancouver Island since the training camp. However, English-born Bassett took it in stride.
“I’ve really, really enjoyed it so far. A little bit different than I’m used to back home, there’s a little bit more quiet and stuff,” Bassett said with a laugh. “Everyone’s made me feel really welcome and made sure that I’m all settled in as quickly as possible.”
Having had the chance to get himself acclimatized to the Victoria lifestyle, he kicked on with the season along with the rest of the team. The league having modified the schedule to reduce travel distance, Pacific continued with their strong form in their return, with Bassett playing a crucial role.
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He’s also had the opportunity to make his long-awaited home debut, to the cheers of fans wanting to see number 23 in the purple and teal in-person. Bassett has appreciated their presence as well.
“I think the fans, they always give you that extra sort of push, you know, when you’re on the pitch and when you’re at home.”
“It’s different to the UK a little bit. I think that the fans in the UK … they’re pretty intense,” Bassett said, though he was quick to add on to that. “Considering it’s still a new league … I think the support that we get in this league it’s actually, it’s really good to see.”
“I think that the home games that we’ve played, they’ve certainly helped us get over the line.”
The quality of the Canadian Premier League
Pundits in Canada tend to dismiss the standard of this newly founded league, but CPL teams have been putting the nation on notice. Bassett also emphasizes the quality of play that can be found in the matches.
“I’d say the standard is probably a lot better than what people might think for a league that’s only been going for three years,” he replied with a laugh when asked to compare his experiences here with other leagues he’s played in.
It wasn’t so long ago that Bassett was the youngest Yeovil Town player in history, making his English Football League Two debut at the age of 17. Even at the age of 23, he’s already made 48 league appearances in the fourth and fifth tiers of English football. Bassett thinks that the CPL isn’t all too far off.
“I think League Two is probably just a lot more physical and maybe their players a little bit more experienced and stuff, they’ve been around the professional game a long time. There’s some good players in the league that, if they keep their head down and keep working hard, you know, no doubt, they’re going to play a higher level.”
For someone that’s turned out for the prestigious Aston Villa and Southampton academies, it’s quite the high praise.
The Ferryside Derby and what comes next
Unable to take part in last week’s first-ever meeting between Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Pacific FC with an undisclosed injury, Bassett was still very much involved on the sidelines cheering on his teammates.
“It was a crazy night, to be honest, just watching the boys, just even the game itself it was back and forth,” he laughed, recounting his memories of the night. “We were comfortable being 3-1 up, and then you know, they go and score literally from kickoff to make it 3-2. I think we proved to ourselves as well how good we can actually be if we all work hard and we play the right way.”
Bassett was keen to mention though that while the victory was emphatic, it’s in the past.
“That game’s kind of done now. So we have to keep the focus on the rest of the season.”
Speaking of the rest of the season, he knows as well as anyone that the work is not yet finished.
Coming into this league, Bassett had been out of full-time professional soccer for a year. One of his primary goals for himself was getting back into the swing of things.
“I think personally, for me, it was just about getting back into playing full-time football, training full time, and trying to play as many games as I possibly can.”
He’s certainly been tested in that regard as well. Though he describes himself as an attacking midfielder, Kah has gone with a wide variety of deployments with Bassett, sliding him back as a defensive midfielder or slotting him on the wing.
Bassett hasn’t felt he was out of his depth though, and it gives him a chance to develop as well.
“I’m pretty comfortable anywhere in midfield, just anywhere that I can go and get on the board and stuff like that. So whether that’s as a six, as an eight, as a ten or out wide.”
But above all else, Ollie Bassett knows the end goal is the CPL title.
“Obviously, for the team, we want to win the league … we’ve said that right from the start.”
They’re in the right position at the halfway point of the year, top of the table, and looking good for a playoff spot.
“We’re happy with the start that we’ve had so far, but I think there’s still more to come,” said Bassett. “We’re not satisfied until the end of the season.”