TORONTO – When James Merriman heard whispers of a Canadian Premier League team forming on the west coast, he thought little of it. He was, after all, comfortably working with the Vancouver Whitecaps as a residency coach.
But when the Vancouver Island native – now assistant coach to Michael Silberbauer at Pacific FC – heard one particular fellow Islander would be involved in bringing a CPL club to the area, he knew he had to join as well.
“I was curious, and I admit, I was interested, because I love what the league’s doing,” Merriman told CanPL.ca during the first coaches summit in Toronto. “But when I heard Josh Simpson was going to be involved – and I know who he is, how he is – it was something that I had to be a part of, too. Then when I found out it was going to be on Vancouver Island, obviously, too many things were aligning for me not to become interested in that move.”
Josh Simpson, the former Canadian international-turned president of Pacific FC, is a player who Merriman knows quite well. Two years his junior, Merriman grew up chasing in Simpson’s footsteps, as did most of the budding young soccer players on Vancouver Island.
“He was the standard,” Merriman said, of Simpson. “He was the one going to play away from the Island, so we were looking up to him.
“Same thing with the national training pool, with the youth Canada groups, he was always the one from Victoria that was going and getting called up with the youth national teams, so he was somebody that we were all chasing.
“Who Josh is, and what he was able to accomplish as a player and as a person, if he’s going to put his time and build this project, that gave me a lot of confidence in the project.”
Born in Nanaimo, B.C. and raised in Cedar, Merriman credits his father and brother for also playing a big role in forming his love of soccer. But the idea of coaching as a career came to Merriman during a period in his life where he both picked up a serious injury and lost his grandfather, leaving his father – then tasked with the head coach role at Vancouver Island University – requiring his assistance.
Merriman explained that he initially agreed to help out for the team’s preseason camp, but loved the experience so much that he spent the 2010 and 2011 seasons with the school side. After picking up another injury, Merriman joined now-FC Cincinnati head coach Alan Koch at Simon Fraser University, but soon transitioned to working with the Vancouver Whitecaps.
As Simpson and fellow Canadian international Rob Friend got Pacific FC’s ball rolling, Merriman started asking about the club, careful not to seem too eager, despite his interest in a role.
“Slowly, over time, I just kind of dropped it in amongst other conversations, catching up as friends, and then obviously I was interested for sure, I just didn’t know if it was actually going to come to the table, if it was really going to go ahead, or when it was going to go ahead,” Merriman explained. “I was in a good position with the Whitecaps but once things became a lot more real, you know, they got approved for the stadium, the league is growing, that’s when Josh and Rob reached out.”
Indeed, they did, and Merriman was brought on to work with Danish tactician Silberbauer, helping bring domestic experience to the Pacific FC coaching staff while also fostering the growth of more talent from the Island.
“Speaking with Michael, we’re very similar in vision – we want to see a really young, dynamic team with a lot of potential,” Merriman said. “We want to develop that potential, and we’re going to be patient, but we want to be competitive straight away. It’s not the most important thing, but we want to give that potential time to develop, and do things the right way.
“We’d like to have a lot of players in the first team from the Island, homegrown and obviously from Vancouver as well, but really from the Island if we can get there, and inspire that next generation to pop through. That would be great, and if a young player comes in and experiences being called up to the national team? That would be perfect.”