It’s the Battle of British Columbia in the 2021 Canadian Championship.
Pacific FC will face off against MLS side Vancouver Whitecaps at Starlight Stadium in Langford on Thursday in the biggest match in BC professional club football history.
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 Pacific so far this season.
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2021 Pacific season in a snapshot
Carrying the momentum of a strong showing at last year’s Island Games into 2021, Pacific has taken it to the next level in their second season under Kah. Nobody has collected more points (25) or scored more goals (22) than the Tridents as the CPL reaches the midway point of the campaign.
Bringing back the majority of its core from 2020, PFC have made key additions to the midfield in Manuel Aparicio, Ollie Bassett and Matteo Polisi to provide further depth and flexibility in the middle of the park, while newcomer Gianni dos Santos gives the attack another added dynamic.
Star centre-back Thomas Meilleur-Giguère has missed plenty of time in the early goings of the schedule but the emergence of Lukas MacNaughton as one of the league’s best defenders and the solidity of Abdou Samake beside him has made the absence of TMG much less of a headache for Kah and Co. With all three now fit and available, Pacific has the quality at the back to match the firepower up front they’ve gained a reputation for.
Tridents focusing on themselves ahead of highly anticipated cup tie
Since starting the season at ‘The Kickoff’, an eight-match bubble setting at Winnipeg’s IG Field, Pacific have lost just one of their last six matches since all teams have returned to their respective home markets — their most recent match, a 2-1 loss to second place Cavalry FC last Friday night with a relatively rotated side.
Although Kah did not specifically say the decision to leave the likes of winger Marco Bustos and defender Lukas MacNaughton out of the team against the Cavs was to keep the pair fresh for the Whitecaps match, both are available for selection on Thursday night the Tridents head coach confirmed to the media on Wednesday.
Given just how big an occasion this clash with the Caps is for Pacific, it’s fair to assume Kah might have had an eye on the Canadian Championship tie when he opted to keep Bustos and MacNaughton (among others) out of the team: “This is the biggest game in our club history,” Kah told reporters on Wednesday. “We’re playing Vancouver Whitecaps which is in MLS, people look at them as the big brother, with (us) the little brother.”
Despite the perceived dynamic between the two clubs from an outsiders perspective, the former Vancouver player and coach also added his approach to the game itself doesn’t change regardless of the opposition: “For me, the game is the game. The only difference is they play in MLS and we play in the CPL, that’s all it is… when you step onto the pitch, it’s 11 v. 11 n the game. So for my boys and myself, what we concentrate on is ourselves.”
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Countless Whitecaps connections in Pacific side
Geographical location is far from the only thing these two teams have in common as Pacific is littered with ex-Whitecaps players and coaches on the touchline and on the team sheet.
Having both come up through the Vancouver academy, the Baldisimo brothers — Matthew and Michael, now find themselves on opposite sides of this BC clash. Older brother Matthew has been with the Tridents since 2019, while Michael has become something of a regular in the Whitecaps first team under Marc Dos Santos despite being still just 21 years old.
The Pacific coaching staff has strong ties to the MLS outfits as well with head coach Pa-Modou Kah having played two seasons for the ‘Caps before joining the club in a coaching role, while assistant coach James Merriman has nearly a decade of prior experience with the Whitecaps residency program.
While nearly half of the PFC squad has some form of tie with their opposition on Thursday, perhaps nobody in a Purple shirt will be more motivated for this match than Marco Bustos. In an interview last month with Kristian Jack for CanPL.ca’s “Beyond the Pitch” segment, Bustos chose BC Place against this Vancouver team as the venue across the globe in which he’d most like to score (you can find the full interview here). Although Thursday’s match will be in Langford at Starlight Stadium, the occasion will be one the Tridents right winger will surely have had circled on the calendar since the CanChamp fixture list came out.
Other players to watch
While Bustos’ brilliance often steals headlines surrounding this team, there’s plenty of quality across the board with Pacific FC.
Both Terran Campbell and Alejandro Diaz have four goals in league play in 2021, providing extra potency in the attack and trailing club teammate Bustos for the CPL scoring race by one.
Kadin Chung, another Whitecaps academy product, is arguably the CPL’s best player in its deepest position at right back and is a constant threat going forward — Chung’s advanced presence in wide areas and Bustos’ directness as an inverted winger makes this Tridents right flank as dangerous as any in the league.
Something of an unsung hero in a side filled with plenty of flair, goalkeeper Callum Irving has been steady in between the sticks for Pacific in his second season with the club, keeping a clean sheet in seven of his 12 appearances so far in 2021. A Vancouver native and a former Whitecaps youth player, Irving should have plenty of motivation for arguably his biggest test yet with the team.