Pacific FC became the third club to hit the 2,000 U-21 minutes mark during Friday night’s match against HFX Wanderers FC, but the only one of those three clubs in the playoff picture. The Tridents currently sit second in the table after 23 matches played and are still very much in the hunt for the Canadian Premier League regular season title. Notably, part of what has powered this season’s title challenge has been the willingness to trust the club’s young players in big matches all season long.
In total, four players have helped Pacific break the 2,000 minute mark. Of those, Emil Gazdov has accumulated the most with 1,170 to date, while U SPORTS draft pick Eric Lajeunesse contributed 455 before returning to school for the fall. Centre-back Paul Amedume has accumulated 449 to date, and Abdul Binate has seen the pitch for 23 minutes while working his way back from a major injury last season.
On the pitch and in training, all four players have shown why Pacific has put faith in them to compete and thrive at the professional level at such young ages. All three of Gazdov, Amedume, and Lajeunesse play in defensive positions where experience perhaps plays a larger role in a coach’s decision-making than other positions, it’s also where mistakes can be more easily magnified. Still, all three played a role in the Tridents having one of the best defensive records, if not the best record, in the league all season long.
Starting with Gazdov in goal, Pacific showed how much they believe in the youngster prior to the start of the season when they signed him to a contract extension to 2026 and handed him the no. 1 jersey. Gazdov repaid that faith early on with a clean sheet in the opening match of the season against Vancouver FC in the first-ever Salish Sea Derby. A few days later, he showed off some penalty shootout heroics against Cavalry FC in the Preliminary Round of the Canadian Championship.
Since then, it’s been an up-and-down first season as a starter for Gazdov, but all throughout the ‘keeper has shown incredible poise, composure beyond his years, and has continued to grow as an individual. It’s not easy to play behind such an experienced backline – Amer Didic and Thomas Meilleur-Giguère are two of the best and most accomplished centre-backs in the CPL – and as such, trying to direct them and bark orders as a 19-year-old (Gazdov just turned 20 on Monday) can be a tricky proposition. Regardless, Gazdov has shown the incredible potential that makes him such an intriguing goalkeeping prospect, while also showing he’s already ready to compete.
For Amedume, this has been his first real season with Pacific after joining the club at the end of the 2021 season and going on loan to North Texas FC in 2022. However, the light-hearted 20-year-old has still shown the necessary bite to compete against seasoned pros in his first taste of a full CPL campaign. Amedume made a few short cameos to begin the 2023 season before making his full debut away to Valour FC in late May – a game in which he and Lajeunesse made up the centre-back pairing.
Following on from that, Amedume continued to work hard in training and since mid-July has made four starts including helping the club pick up a big clean sheet away to York United FC during that gruelling summer roadtrip. Most recently, two of those starts have come in the previous two matches as the Tridents showed a new shape in possession, with Amedume being asked to play as a left-back off the ball and as part of a back three in possession. The tactical flexibility and intuition shown by Amedume has been a major bright spot for the youngster this season, and points to a very astute footballer capable of continuing his upward trajectory the rest of the season and beyond.
Another part of Pacific’s young defensive group behind its experienced centre-back pairing was Lajeunesse. Picked sixth in the 2023 U SPORTS Draft out of the University of British Columbia, Lajeunesse immediately stood out in pre-season training camp thanks to his attitude, technical ability, and unflappable persona on the pitch. Thanks to the ability he showed before the season, Pacific FC head coach James Merriman had no qualms about giving the 20-year-old his professional debut in the second match of the new campaign (the Canadian Championship match against Cavalry) as a first-half injury substitute.
Lajeunesse would go on to make five starts in total for Pacific, never losing a single one of them in his first professional season. Like Amedume, Lajeunesse’s ability to play as both a centre-back or left-back provided the Tridents more flexibility at the back than expected. Lajeunesse returned to UBC in August for the start of the new U SPORTS season, but not without first making his mark in the U-21 minutes race as the highest-grossing U SPORTS player in the league with 455 minutes played.
Moving onto the attacking side of the game now, this has been the first real chance for Binate to get on the pitch with Pacific after joining the club prior to the start of the 2022 season. A rough knee injury kept Binate out of action for all of last season, as well as the start of this season, but the perseverance shown by the 20-year-old to get back to the high standard required at Pacific has been a sight to behold.
This hard work led to Binate making his professional debut during Pacific’s match against HFX Wanderers FC in July and was given another run out against Valour FC, this time in front of his home fans, in early September. While Binate continues to work behind the scenes and further develops as an attacking player, he represents another promising prospect given a chance by Pacific and will be looking to solidify his spot in the squad even further.
Looking back on where this idea all started, the motto of “Trust the Kids” came around during the inaugural Canadian Premier League season when Pacific immediately proved their ethos as a club was more than just a statement on paper. The Tridents put true meaning behind that phrase when they broke the CPL’s U-21 minute minimum (at the time it was 1,000) three games into the season. Since then, the Tridents have continued to show a unique faith in young Canadian players, especially those from the West Coast, highlighted most prominently by the Victoria-born Sean Young.
Throughout the years and into this current season, Pacific’s commitment to developing young players has not stopped just because the team is looking to win silverware. If anything, the standards expected when wearing PFC purple has brought the best out of many young Canadians and is a testament to the coaching staff, management, and entire club community who empower those youngsters to grow in a demanding but supportive setting.