(Sheldon Mack/Pacific FC)
Every PFC Player’s Highlight of the Season: Defenders
After starting this “Highlights of the Season” series by looking at Pacific FC’s goalkeepers, we now move just in front of them to the defenders. In 2023, the Tridents showed an uncanny ability to get their defenders involved in the attack and ultimately on the scoresheet. At the end of the day though, a defenders job is to keep the ball of out their own net and Pacific were also excellent at doing just that this season.
Here is each PFC defender’s highlight of the season.
2. Georges Mukumbilwa
- Pacific supporters will be very pleased when news of Mukumbilwa signing a contract extension was announced during the season. Since joining the club in 2022, Mukumbilwa has grown into one of the most effective defenders in the Canadian Premier League – often playing as a defensive-minded left-back in the Tridents’ asymmetrical formation. In terms of highlights this season, the one that immediately comes to mind is Mukumbilwa’s match-winning penalty in the Canadian Championship penalty shootout win over Cavalry FC this April. A cold-blooded finish from the 24-year-old showed why he was trusted to take that all-important penalty. On top of that, Mukumbilwa’s performance against Atlético Ottawa in Pacific’s 4-1 was another memorable showing from the full-back this season.
3. Eric Lajeunesse
- Drafted sixth overall in the 2023 CPL U SPORTS Draft, Lajeunesse made a fantastic impact during his time on the Island. Despite returning to the University of British Columbia in August, Lajeunesse accumulated the most U-21 minutes of any U SPORTS player this season with 455. That in itself is a highlight enough, and in general the 20-year-old’s highlight isn’t exactly a specific moment or match, but more so the fact that Pacific never lost in the five matches Lajeunesse started. Impressive stuff from the first-year professional.
4. Paul Amedume
- Another young Pacific defender who shone when called upon this season was the 20-year-old Amedume. After a season spent on loan to North Texas SC in 2022, Amedume returned to Pacific in 2023 for his first full season with the club. All told, Amedume made 15 appearances overall this season often showing off the excellent potential he possesses at such a young age. When the centre-back really made his mark this year was during a three-game stretch in mid-September when he was called upon to play as both a centre-back and left-back and helped the Tridents steady the ship with a three-match unbeaten run. Amedume’s confidence on the ball and great reading of the game during that stretch and beyond will be an exciting note for PFC supporters to take into next season.
5. Bradley Vliet
- After joining from Cavalry in the offseason, Vliet offered a different look at left-back that the other options in that position this season. With top-class set piece delivery and the ability to get forward in possession to put in crosses, Vliet proved on many occasions why the Tridents brought him. In terms of the 25-year-old’s highlight of the season, there are two that could apply. Either the opening match of the season against Vancouver FC in the first-ever Salish Sea Derby where Vliet absolutely bossed the left side of the pitch both in and out of possession, or the picture-perfect assist he provided for Sean Young’s late winner against York on Father’s Day.
13. Kunle Dada-Luke
- The fan favourite Dada-Luke was his usual, electric self all season long for Pacific. Dynamic in attack, but able to produce incredible recovery tackles at speed, the 23-year-old was a constant force down the right flank. Dada-Luke’s durability was also evident this season through him missing just two games in all competitions. The high-flying right-back’s campaign was a steady stream of good-to-great performances, all of which crescendoed during the Tridents playoff run. Dada-Luke’s performances in both of Pacific’s 1-0 wins in the playoff were incredible to watch, highlighted by 12/15 tackles made and an absurd 24/30 duels won over the course of both 1-0 wins.
26. Thomas Meilleur-Giguère
- 2023 was the year Meilleur-Giguère turned into a very dangerous goalscorer. Although always a threat from set pieces in the past, Meilleur-Giguère had just one goal to his name during his three previous season’s on the Island – which came in the final match of the 2022 season. This season, however, Meilleur-Giguère finished with four goals – the same as centre-back partner Amer Didic – and generally became more of a finishing threat while in the opposition’s box. For the 25-year-old, the highlight of the season likely came during Pacific’s huge win in Halifax on August 7th during which he scored the opening goal and helped marshal the Tridents to a 2-1 victory in their second consecutive away match. The numerous clean sheets he helped lead the team too would also be a more than fair shout in this category.
55. Amer Didic
- Didic, the other half of Pacific’s centre-back duo, put in another top-class season in purple during his second on the Island. Known as a commanding presence in the air and in the tackle, Didic’s ability to dominate games from the back is second-to-none and meshes incredibly well with Meilleur-Giguère’s game. For Didic, there are more than a couple highlights to choose from this season. First, his goal to open the scoring against Vancouver FC just three minutes into the first Salish Sea Derby on the Mainland sticks out. As does his back-to-back performances in early/mid-May when the Tridents racked up consecutive 4-1 wins in the league with the six-foot-four centre-back scoring in each. For Didic, and Meilleur-Giguère, it wasn’t just the goals that stood out this season. The gutsy, backs-to-the-wall performances the pair put in for both of Pacific’s playoff victories also won’t soon be forgotten.
Pacific’s defensive unit was among the best in the Canadian Premier League again this campaign. With a good mix of experience and youth, the Tridents were able to frustrate teams off the ball and controlled the flow of the game even when out of possession. Thanks to the efforts of all the players listed above, as well as the rest of the squad, Pacific showed they could win in multiple different ways this season and were able to go on a deep run due to the defensive solidity the team played with.