Pacific FC pulled off a major upset in the Canadian Championship on Thursday, beating local rivals Vancouver Whitecaps 4-3 on a memorable night at Starlight Stadium.
The win moves them into the next round of Canada’s national championship, but will be remembered for so much more than that — a long-awaited first match in what appears to be a budding rivalry, and another example of how much soccer in Canada continues to rapidly grow.
The largely Pacific FC-supporting crowd on Thursday night was electric, and helped push the team forward from start to finish.
“When you have fans carrying the players, that is the 12th man,” said Pacific FC head coach Pa-Modou Kah after the match. “It is very important for us, from the very first minute we brought the intensity and urgency, and that carries on.
“Energy is contagious, and today was a beautiful thing to see. Vancouver is purple, and we have to carry on that way.”
Kah hopes that they can build on their momentum coming out of this match, on the pitch but also in the stands.
“Hopefully the people that were here can see that we’re building something on this Island,” said Kah. “This coming Sunday we have a game, and hopefully we’ll see it fully packed again because it would be massive for us as a club. We’re just three years old, and this is one of the games that we have been waiting for, and to go out and perform like the boys did, hopefully the crowd goes home and gets a feeling of ‘we want more’ and start showing up and supporting us.”
For a local player like Pacific forward Josh Heard — who scored a goal and assisted another in a Man of the Match-worthy performance — it means so much.
“I’m not just a BC guy, I grew up here in Victoria,” said Heard after the match. “It’s quite a special moment for me to be able to come here and play in front of packed crowds against the Whitecaps in front of my friends and family. It’s a special moment that not everybody gets, and I’m very grateful for it.
“It helps when you get the result like that as well, it was pretty exciting but hopefully we can move forward and we can keep getting these results in front of the fans like that.”
Pacific clearly fed on the energy produced by their home fans, and the Whitecaps didn’t do a good enough job at reacting to that, according to Whitecaps midfielder Ryan Gauld.
“We knew coming into the game that there was going to be a good atmosphere, and we had enough time to prepare ourselves for it,” said Gauld. “It seemed to give their players a lift, and we didn’t react well enough to it. They seemed more aggressive than us, and maybe the crowd pushed them on, but we need to find a way to deal with it, and unfortunately we couldn’t.”
A massive result — the underdog from the CPL defeating the favourites from Major League Soccer — has the potential to move the sport one step further as it continues to advance in Canada.
“It’s a massive, massive step,” said Kah. “I think it’s very important that the people of Canada that love soccer can open their eyes and see that this league is very important for the growth and development of domestic players. The CPL is very important to keep the development and growth of our young players, today was a testament to why the CPL is important, and why fans and people around Canada should support it and drive the growth.”
Kah added that before the CPL came about, players had to leave the country to find an opportunity to play professionally. He used Heard as an example of someone who had to travel abroad, and that Heard wanting to come back to Canada to play for Pacific is exactly why this league is important to develop talented players at a professional level.
Heard added in the press conference that Pacific’s mindset from start to finish is what set the two sides apart.
“We were tuned in from the first minute,” said Heard. “We really showed our cohesiveness out there and how much of a team we are. We battled from the first minute, all the way to the 90th, and you can tell.
The Tridents attacker scored his side’s third goal, running through the Whitecaps backline before beating Maxime Crépeau.
“Gianni (Dos Santos) came up to me and said ‘if you didn’t score, I was going to be mad because I was wide open’,” said Heard. “At that moment I wasn’t even looking at Gianni to be honest, I had a moment to shoot and I pulled the trigger. It all happened pretty quickly, and I’m glad I did because it ended up going in, but I owe G one then — next time.”
The Whitecaps scored three goals of their own, but as Whitecaps boss Marc Dos Santos said after the match, “you cannot win a game where you concede four goals.”
“The first 15-20 minutes we had such a rough time adjusting to the bounces, and trying to settle in in possession, and we never really never able to do it in the first half,” said Dos Santos. “They get the first goal and it changes the environment, us having to chase the result. Defensively we struggled a lot, we had the chance that hit the post, but at the end of the day you can’t win a game where you concede four goals.”
“I want to congratulate Pacific for their energy, for what they brought, and we were all aware of that,” said Dos Santos. “We knew it would be a scrappy game with first and second-ball battles, and they did a very good job at that. When you have a tough time matching that, it’s tough to win a game like this.”
The result was “frustrating” for Whitecaps midfielder Ryan Gauld, scorer of his side’s first two goals.
“It’s a game we really wanted to win, we really wanted to go far in the cup, so it’s frustrating to go out like that,” Gauld said. “These games are hard at the best of times, but I think we made it even harder for ourselves and unfortunately we weren’t able to come back from it.”