Pacific FC players training in Punta Cana. (Photo: Armen Bedakian/CPL).
‘Become a brotherhood’: Chemistry, team unity the focus for Pacific FC
Martin Bauman, CanPL.ca contributor
Less than three weeks away from the Canadian Premier League debut and a few days into a cross-league preseason stretch in the Dominican Republic, Pacific FC finds itself with a challenge: how does a club create a culture from scratch?
New league. New coaches. New players. New city. New front office. How to start off on the right foot?
“It’s not an easy challenge,” says Rob Friend, co-owner of Pacific FC. “It’s getting all the pieces together. It’s bringing in the right players that want to represent this club and represent this region.”
Together with president and co-owner Josh Simpson, Friend has focused largely on local talent; as of April 5th, when PFC began their preseason stay in the Dominican, nine of Pacific FC’s fifteen signings have come from within British Columbia, and many have spent time within the Vancouver Whitecaps academy.
Midfielders Noah Verhoeven, Matthew Baldisimo, and Terran Campbell all arrive in Victoria after playing for Fresno FC, the Whitecaps’ USL affiliate; Ben Fisk, Kadin Chung, Jose Hernandez, Alessandro Hojabrpour, and Nolan Wirth are all former academy products.
“A lot of what we’re building here is a culmination of our conversations,” says Simpson, raised in Victoria and a former player for Canada’s men’s national team. “And oftentimes, it’s where are [Rob’s] values lying, and where they intersect with mine, is normally the direction we decide on.”
For Friend, a former teammate of Simpson’s on the Canadian national team, and a 2014 MLS Cup champion with the LA Galaxy, the focus has been on community.
“This is a club for this community — and that’s what football clubs are about, right?” he says. “Guys like Ben Fisk, Marcus Haber, Marcel de Jong, they’ve left their clubs to come here to play for this, and they’re part of this big project.”
Brought in as Pacific FC’s marquee signing, de Jong was expected to anchor the club’s defensive line in its inaugural season, but instead has found himself adapting to a new role after rupturing his Achilles tendon during the preseason. Now, the 32-year-old fullback is shifting his focus to becoming a more vocal presence.
“I’ve said to the guys, we need to become a brotherhood. I don’t want to be a teammate. We need to rely on each other off the field [and] on the field,” says de Jong, who arrived in Victoria with 56 caps for the Canadian men’s national team.
Pacific FC will count on the chemistry already shared between a number of its signings who have crossed paths on the pitch. For de Jong, the team’s preseason trip to Tofino offered another valuable chance to build rapport.
“After the trip, we knew exactly what kind of players we were, so that was good,” he says. “That definitely shaped us a little bit.”
With a wealth of playing experience between Friend and Simpson at historic German clubs like Borussia Monchengladbach, Hertha BSC, and FC Kaiserslautern, the two co-owners have plenty to draw from in thinking of the kind of culture they want to instil at Pacific FC. Ask Friend about where his sights are set, though, and he points closer to home.
“You look at every team that’s been added in the MLS right now, from Atlanta United, to LAFC, to Cincinnati this year, they’ve started from scratch.
“Atlanta started from scratch two years ago. LAFC, they have some of the best supporters. You’ve got clubs from Europe coming to the MLS now to see what they’re doing from a supporter culture. And great results,” Friend said. “With the CPL, we have now this opportunity to build a supporter culture.”
“It’s a long-term project,” he adds, “but we’re going to keep building the momentum.”