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‘They’re hungry’: Pacific’s U-21 talent racking up minutes as key contributors
Canadian Premier League

VICTORIA – Perhaps the moment came in Pacific FC’s home opener against HFX Wanderers FC, when 19-year-old Noah Verhoeven curled in a corner kick to Hendrik Starostzik for the franchise’s first-ever goal.

Perhaps it came three days later, when 19-year-old Jose Hernandez found the back of the net for PFC’s lone goal against Valour FC. Perhaps it came in a hard-fought draw on the road against FC Edmonton in Week 3, when coach Michael Silberbauer gave a combined 555 minutes to his Under-21 players, starting six and bringing two more off the bench – including a 17-year-old Ahmed Alghamdi.

Or, perhaps, it’s been a build-up of all of those moments, and smaller ones, too.

As Pacific FC look back at the first half of the Spring portion of their 2019 CPL season, one number stands out above the rest: 2,351.

That’s how many minutes Silberbauer has entrusted to his U-21 players – tops among the Canadian Premier League, and over double the required 1,000 combined minutes that all CPL teams must guarantee to at least three young players on their rosters throughout the 2019 campaign.

Never mind the fact that the West Coast franchise surpassed that mark midway through their third match.

To peruse Pacific FC’s stat sheets through its first seven matches is to see the fingerprints of its young talent throughout. No CPL team boasts more youth on its roster, including in its Starting XI. Of PFC’s five goals thus far, four have either been scored or assisted by a U-21 player.

“They are good players, man,” attacking midfielder Victor Blasco told CanPL.ca. “They’re hungry, and they’re very technical. Very skillful. They want to learn, and they are aggressive, and they have personality.”

“(Coach Silberbauer) trusts us a lot,” added Hernandez, who has appeared in six matches for Pacific FC, with a goal and an assist to his name. “He sees what we do in training, and he knows what we can do in the games.”

“He’s been excellent with giving all of us young guys opportunities,” defender Kadin Chung told CanPL.ca. “And for the most part, I think a lot of us have taken those opportunities, and we’ve been rewarded for it.”

No young player on Pacific FC has been rewarded more than Chung, who – notwithstanding the second leg of their Canadian Championship series with Cavalry FC, when he was given the game off – has played in every minute of the team’s action thus far and won 86.7 percent of his tackles.

The 20-year-old from Port Coquitlam, British Columbia – Pacific’s first-ever signing, having arrived from 1. FC Kaiserslautern II in Germany – has proven to be among the most reliable options for coach Silberbauer, connecting on 84.3 percent of his passes and forming a potent attacking threat from the backfield.

“Kadin’s rapid. You get him in open space, he’s going to do you,” 21-year-old Matthew Baldisimo, who captained Canada’s Under-17 team in 2015, told CanPL.ca.

Chung, Baldisimo, and Verhoeven have emerged as the most consistent U-21 options for Silberbauer. All three have started in six of Pacific FC’s first seven matches, combining for 1,507 minutes. Verhoeven, who captained Canada’s Under-20 team just a year ago, is tied with midfielder Ben Fisk for the most scoring chances created through seven matches, with ten apiece—double the next-closest PFC teammate.

“(Noah)’s one of those players that you pay to watch,” Blasco told CanPL.ca.

“(He’s) one of the quickest, trickiest, most unpredictable players I’ve ever played with,” added Baldisimo, who spent time with Verhoeven at Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2.

The early success from PFC’s young talent is a welcome sight for Silberbauer.

“That’s what I truly wish (for this season),” he told CanPL.ca. “That some of these young players really get out of their shells and show what they’re capable of.”

Still, with just one win through their first five regular season matches, and an early exit from Canadian Championship contention, the coach and former Danish footballer is quick to follow any praise with a caveat.

“They’re now also in a men’s game,” said Silberbauer, “so we cannot hide behind their talent; they have to step up.”

Hernandez isn’t afraid of the responsibility.

“I think we just have to come out with confidence,” he told CanPL.ca. “(If) we play the way we’re able to play, then I believe that we’ll have a great season.”