For years, James Merriman and Victor Blasco were like a pair of passing ships—now, at last, they’ve landed in the same place.
Both have joined Pacific FC, where Merriman is assistant coach and Blasco was recently announced as one of the club’s inaugural signings. And even though this is the first time they’ll officially work together, Merriman has already been an integral part of the Spanish-born attacker’s west-coast soccer adventure.
Blasco grew up training at La Masia, Barcelona’s renowned youth academy, before playing in the youth systems of Cornella and Mallorca. But as he hit his late teenage years, the economy collapsed in Spain and other European countries, leading to changes in plans and priorities for countless people across the continent.
Merriman first became aware of Blasco in 2013, when he was assistant coach at Simon Fraser University under Alan Koch. Both Merriman and Koch were impressed with the youngster’s technical abilities, and worked to bring him out to B.C.
“I found out his parents really wanted him to pursue the academic route because of the economy in Spain; that’s why he was throwing his name out there,” Merriman told CanPL.ca. “We did everything we could to get him to come to SFU.”
But there was a problem — his TOEFL score (a test of English-language proficiency) wasn’t good enough for admission to SFU. So Merriman decided it was time to “get creative”: he connected Blasco with his father Bill Merriman, head coach at Vancouver Island University, with the idea that Blasco could work on his English and keep playing in Nanaimo before eventually heading to SFU.
Blasco excelled at VIU, scoring 12 goals in 13 appearances and being named PacWest Player of the Year for the 2014-15 season. While that was happening, both Merriman and Koch moved to new positions with the Vancouver Whitecaps: Merriman as head coach of the under-15 Residency team, and Koch as head coach of Whitecaps 2 in the USL.
That gave them a new chance to reunite with Blasco—albeit, in a different situation than they’d originally envisioned. And once again, at Whitecaps 2, Blasco opened some eyes with his on-field play.
“He’s a very dynamic wide forward that loves to be in 1-v-1 situations,” said Merriman. “He can be a very clinical finisher as well.”
Though Blasco was “knocking on the door” of the Whitecaps’ first team, according to Merriman, he was released from the club for undisclosed reasons in 2016. He decided to head back to VIU, where he played for two more seasons under Merriman’s father—he even lived with Merriman’s parents for a year and a half during his time in Nanaimo.
Then, last August, when Merriman was named the first-ever assistant coach of Pacific FC, his thoughts turned to Blasco.
“I was curious about what Victor wanted to do,” said Merriman. “Was he going to continue to study in school or did he want to see what he could do in football and really go after being a professional again?”
Merriman reached out to Blasco and liked what he heard, prompting another meeting with PFC head coach Michael Silberbauer at the CPL-U SPORTS Draft in November. Blasco was formally unveiled as a Pacific FC player earlier this month.
“We know he has the talent and the potential, but I think he needed another opportunity,” said Merriman. “I really don’t think we’ve been able to see him at his best yet; I don’t think anybody has.”
Perhaps no one has a better idea than Merriman of just what heights Blasco could reach if given a consistent platform. But fans of Pacific FC and the entire Canadian Premier League will get a chance to find out in just a few short months.
“I’m motivated to see if I can help in getting him there,” said Merriman. “I’m excited to see what he can do.”