It’s the Battle of British Columbia in the 2021 Canadian Championship.
Pacific FC will face off against MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Thursday in perhaps the biggest match in BC professional club football history (10 pm ET/7 pm PT, live on OneSoccer).
The Tridents – top of the CanPL standings – will take on their Vancouver opponents for the first time. Led by former Whitecaps players Pa-Modou Kah on the touchline and CanPL MVP candidate Marco Bustos, PFC are sure to give a passionate intra-provincial tilt.
Here’s what you need to know about the Whitecaps so far this season.
RELATED READING: Pacific FC primer: What you need to know before CanChamp tilt with Vancouver Whitecaps | PREVIEW: Pacific FC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC — Canadian Championship
2021 Whitecaps season in a snapshot
The 2021 Vancouver Whitecaps season is all about survival – and Marc Dos Santos’ group has been doing just fine. From playing home matches in Utah to big early-season defeats and the loss of key players, the ‘Caps have rebounded well – sitting on an eight-match unbeaten run. With the return home to BC Place and the arrival of long-rumoured designated player Ryan Gauld, things are looking up for the MLS Playoff bubble team.
Dos Santos’ side on a roll this Summer
Vancouver is unbeaten in eight MLS matches – though five of them were draws – in a difficult stretch (away to LA Galaxy and LAFC). They currently sit just three points out of a playoff spot with 14 league matches to go. They’ll return to Vancouver following the PFC tilt to take on Real Salt Lake at BC Place on Sunday. Vancouver has made the MLS Playoffs four times, last of which in 2017 when they bowed out to Seattle Sounders in the quarterfinals – their deepest playoff run since joining MLS in 2011. They have not made the playoffs since.
Vancouver’s season wasn’t always so rosy, perhaps due to the fact they weren’t actually based in Vancouver. The team played its home games in Sandy, Utah at Rio Tinto Stadium, home of Real Salt Lake, from March onwards due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. They were the last of the three Canadian MLS sides to formally return home when they hosted LAFC this past weekend – their first home game in 539 days, grabbing an emphatic win thanks to a late goal from brand new designated player Ryan Gauld – more on him later.
In short, Vancouver’s form is pretty good and will only get better with a bit of home cooking.
Speaking of which, what’s on the menu? Haggis?
Welcome, Scottish DP Ryan Gauld
Break out the Irn Bru, Starlight Stadium is set to welcome a Scottish star Thursday in 25-year-old attacker Ryan Gauld. Vancouver’s latest Designated Player signing is a slick, smart, technically-gifted no. 10 coming over from the Portuguese top flight by way of Dundee. His path is remarkable – and so is his career thus far in MLS, scoring the match-winning goal in the above-mentioned long-awaited home opener.
Whether Gauld, who has made just four appearances in MLS thus far, makes the trip across the Georgia Strait or not is unknown – but perhaps a substitute appearance would be reasonable. His second-half introduction vs. LAFC completely changed the dynamics of VWFC’s attack – could we see a similar super-sub scenario vs. PFC?
Whitecaps connections abound for Pacific FC
Nearly half of PFC’s roster have connections to the Whitecaps – a number that has actually diminished from 2019 and ‘20 levels – as they’re mostly products of the ‘Caps residency program. Marco Butsos, PFC’s Player of the Year frontrunner attacker, is the only one to have featured for the ‘Caps in MLS, making a handful of appearances before returning to Whitecaps 2 – the club’s USL side that featured Tridents players Terran Campbell, Kadin Chung, and Victor Blasco.
There’s also the Baldisimo brothers – Michael with Vancouver, Matthew with Pacific FC. The duo were together in the Whitecaps’ setup until the elder Matthew made the move to PFC for CanPL’s inaugural season in 2019.
Michael has been enjoying a good run of playing time over the past year-or-so, scoring his first professional goal last Summer while Matthew watched from PEI at the Island Games – though Matthew was sleeping through it… more on that here.
Both head coach Pa-Modou Kah and assistant James Merriman have some deep connections to the team. Kah played two seasons for the ‘Caps before transitioning into coaching while Merriman spent the better part of a decade with the Whitecaps residency program. Both developed some of the players on their PFC roster set to face VWFC. Kah spoke highly of Carl Robinson, the ‘Caps former coach, in the latest episode of Beyond the Pitch with Kristian Jack. Listen to that discussion here.
RELATED READING: Beyond the Pitch: Pacific FC’s Pa-Modou Kah | Pa-Modou Kah opens up on journey to Pacific FC, coaching philosophy:’You’ve got to have belief’
Canadian contingent turnover: Who will we see?
Vancouver’s squad may look a little different for the CanPL and Canadian men’s national team fans that don’t catch MLS matches regularly. National team standout striker Lucas Cavallini has been sidelined for six weeks with an injury to his left knee. He has scored nine times for the ‘Caps since joining last season, netting three times and adding an assist in 2021. Derek Cornelius, a highly-rated centre back in John Herdman’s setup, has been sent out on an extended loan to Greek club Panetolikos FC and isn’t expected back until the end of 2022. Striker Theo Bair, rumoured to land in CanPL, has been assigned to Norwegian club Hamarkameratene on loan for the season. Speaking of Canadians, Dos Santos added young defender and Canadian Olympic squad member Marcus Godinho to their roster last week.
On top of this, the club parted with three-year DP Ali Adnan, with the 27-year-old left-back coming to a mutual agreement with the club to terminate his deal.
Other players to watch
Colombian forward Cristian Dájome is undoubtedly Vancouver’s dangerman having scored eight goals in 19 appearances this season. His compatriot attacker Déiber Caicedo, tied with former Portuguese youth international defensive midfielder Janio Bikel with 20 appearances thus far, is another noteworthy name in attack. Elsewhere, tried-and-true Whitecaps midfielder Russell Teibert remains a likely name called on for Thursday – so is former League1 Ontario standout winger Ryan Raposo who has carved out a starting role this year – two seasons after being selected fourth overall in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft.