VANISLE – Dressed in a white button-down, shirt-sleeves rolled up his forearms, Pacific FC’s director of soccer operations was frank with supporters at his club’s town hall event Wednesday evening.
“I understand. I’m frustrated. The fans are frustrated,” said Rob Friend, the 38-year-old former Canadian international and current Pacific co-owner. “We want to be winning every game, but we have to have patience. And it takes time.”
In front of a crowd of season ticket holders at Victoria’s Distrikt Nightclub, Friend took the stage alongside head coach Michael Silberbauer and executive vice-president of operations Brad Norris-Jones to field questions from the audience and provide a mid-season update on the Vancouver Island club, currently last in Canadian Premier League standings.
“Trust me, I want to win more than anyone. I want to be in this match right now,” said Friend, pointing at the row of televisions playing the Canadian Championship semifinal leg between Cavalry FC and Major League Soccer’s Montreal Impact. “But we decided to build a long-term vision, and that long-term vision is a three- to five-year plan.”
That plan, the former Borussia Mönchengladbach forward stressed to supporters, involves multiple milestones: Selling players to Europe. Contending in the Canadian Championship. Going far in the CONCACAF Champions League.
“If I wanted to win games today,” added Friend, “we would have signed a bunch of 30-year-olds that would’ve had to be replaced every single year.”
Patience seems to be the operative word on the West Coast these days. Call it island time, perhaps. Six matches into the CPL’s Fall season, Pacific has shown plenty of potential — the club leads the league with eleven goals scored – but the moments have come in fragments, occasional bursts of brilliance.
“I tell people, we’re at 20 percent,” Friend told season ticket-holders. “We had to start; we had to build a team, and we built a hell of a team. We have the youngest team in the CPL. And that takes courage.”
It is true, no Canadian Premier League team assigns more of its minutes to U-21 players than Pacific. The club’s bet to invest in youth has paid dividends for the likes of midfielder Noah Verhoeven, invited to Team Canada’s Gold Cup pre-camp in June, and striker Terran Campbell, tied with Forge FC’s Tristan Borges (another U-21 talent) for the league’s Golden Boot – even if one is left to wonder whether the roster’s inexperience has cost them at times.
Pacific has struggled with conceding goals from set-pieces and maintaining a lead. What seemed like a sure win against Valour FC on July 31 was squandered by a last-minute penalty.
“Realistically, we could (have) 10 to 15 points more than we (do),” said Friend. “We’re building for the future.”
To that end, the Pacific co-owner promised help is on the way in the form of two new signings, as yet unnamed. Although Friend was close-guarded with details, he did note that one of the signings was an 18-year-old with ten caps for his country — a side ranked higher in FIFA’s world rankings than Canada.
“They’re young. And again, it’s a club philosophy,” said Friend. “It’s pending their international transfer certificate. Unfortunately, they can’t get in the country (yet) … But we’ve signed those two players.”
It remains to be seen how the new additions will fit into Pacific’s roster.
The club is thinnest on the backline, where Hendrik Starostzik, Lukas MacNaughton, and Kadin Chung are still recovering from injury. Against FC Edmonton on August 10, Silberbauer relied on Zach Verhoven (normally a winger), Alessandro Hojabrpour (more comfortable as a defensive midfielder), and Matthew Baldisimo (ditto) to fill out his back four with stalwart Blake Smith. Some additional size would go a long way.
But the futures of Verhoven, a U SPORTS draft pick; and 17-year-old Ahmed Alghamdi, who just graduated high school, are still uncertain. Should they leave the club to attend university in the fall, Pacific would be left with two absences in the midfield.
Regardless of position, the midseason additions could prove pivotal for Pacific. Seven points back of FC Edmonton and Cavalry FC for the league lead, the window for contention has not yet closed for PFC – though it is shrinking fast.
Friend, though, insists on the long game.
“We’re going to build (these additions) onto our team,” he said, “and really, this team is for the future.”