Pa-Modou Kah’s departure from Pacific FC will be bittersweet for the CPL’s reigning Coach of the Year.
Not long after steering his side to a championship in December, Kah is opening a new chapter in his coaching career as he heads south of the border to take the helm of North Texas SC, the MLS Next Pro affiliate of FC Dallas.
Knowing the news would send ripples through the Canadian soccer community, Kah sat down with CanPL.ca’s Kristian Jack to explain it all in his own words, as well as to reflect on his two successful years on Vancouver Island.
By no means did Kah make such a decision lightly; of course, it’ll be difficult for him to leave Pacific at the height of their success. That said, perhaps departing on a high note is the best way to do it.
“It’s never easy to walk away from something we’ve built,” Kah admitted, “But sometimes you know that is the best way to also end — when you have been in a club and you’ve given your all, and you know, alright, you’re leaving with the head high, because I did what I promised them I will do, which is to win them a championship, not only for the club but also for Vancouver Island because we deserved it.
“Leaving on a high is always the best way, but sometimes you feel guilty because you think you’re leaving people behind and stuff like that. But for me, it was the right decision.”
Like many players in the CPL, Kah has never been shy about his personal ambition as a coach. Pacific was his first gig at the helm of a pro team, after a long and storied career as a player, but his sights are set on a top job in MLS — the league where he finished his playing career and began his coaching journey as a Vancouver Whitecaps assistant.
Plus, those who have known Kah long enough will know he’s always been keen on the idea of one day living in Texas; even as a visiting player with the Whitecaps or Portland Timbers, Kah always relished away days in Dallas.
Though the timing was perhaps faster than expected, the stars aligned in a way that Kah couldn’t ignore.
“I always said if I’m leaving Pacific, I’m leaving for something that for my own path and for my own development has got to be right,” he said. “Everybody knows that I have ambition, that I want to coach MLS, but I don’t want to coach it by all means; I need to go through my path that I need to go for my own self.”
Kah has spent plenty of time in the last week looking back on his time at Pacific FC — which began, officially, in early 2020, and culminated with the North Star Shield on December 5, 2021.
Thinking back to the very beginning, Kah’s plan was always to build something at the club that would outlast himself.
“We talked about a foundation being laid, for what kind of club we wanted to be here in Canada, and to be the second youngest team in the league and to win it, I think it’s a statement of the organization and the ownership group that spearheaded this dream of helping young Canadian players,” Kah said.
“When you’ve done your time and due diligence I think it’s also important that others can be given opportunities to carry on the torch, and I think overall I hope I’ve done the people of Vancouver Island proud.”
In all three years of their existence, Pacific have been built within the original philosophy that founders Rob Friend and Josh Simpson laid out: to give young Canadian players a chance. In 2021, they proved that such a strategy can, in fact, win championships as well as develop talent.
Putting it all together, though, was Kah’s triumph. He explained that, to him, Pacific’s 2021 championship was really won in 2020 — in the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, when his group put their heads down and worked toward his vision.
“That is where we won the championship, not this year,” he said. “We won the championship because of last year, with the pandemic. We had an extended period where we could truly go to work with the fundamental things that we could bring, and the things that I wanted to see out of the players, to see how is their commitment now the game has been taken away from you… Just to see the growth and the hard work that was put in there, that’s how we won the championship.”
Kah added: “I will never look at players as assets; for me a player is a human being, so if I understand the human being I know I will definitely get the best out of the player. Those things were very important to me, and the same went for my staff. My staff are not my coworkers, we’re family because to do something special like we did now, we’re bonded for life because of the work and the grind that we all put in, especially this past two years.”
Despite leaving the club, Kah will retain a soft spot for Pacific FC. He continues to refer to the club in the first person — “we,” not “they” — and he’s quick to try and soothe the fears of Vancouver Island fans who have now seen Kah join Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour on the list of names departing so far this off-season.
“The group is still intact,” he said. “For me, it was very important, knowing that sooner or later I would depart, because when you look at the CPL it’s a fantastic league for young coaches, players, to come showcase themselves and hopefully get opportunities to move on, which is what you want. Sometimes, a move internally can be what certain people want, and we’ve seen it now with our two players going to Forge.
“The CPL is going to continue to grow, it’s going to continue to get better. If I didn’t come to CPL, I would not have this opportunity, maybe, that I’m getting. So the CPL is also a very wonderful place for young and upcoming coaches that want to showcase and understand what it is to be in a leadership position.”
He leaves the club in the hands of James Merriman, a Van Isle native who has been around Pacific even longer than Kah (since year one, in fact), and Kah insists there will be enough continuity in the side to remain contenders in 2022.
With Merriman specifically, Pacific will be under the direction of a coach who understands the project and the players. Kah has spent many a morning chatting with Merriman and his fellow staff about their vision for the team, and there’s no doubt Merriman himself was a huge part of the club’s success.
“I saw him and I’m like, ‘Who is this pretty boy of a coach?'” Kah joked, recalling his first meeting with Merriman in Nanaimo, BC. “That was my first introduction with him; I always call him the most handsome coach in the CPL. But you can see that he loves the game… I think the foundation is laid, and for him, he’s a student of the game. I think there will not be much change; the only change is just me, but the foundation of the club will be there.
“He’s going to be brilliant, I have no doubt.”
With one final piece of laconic wisdom, Kah hopes to set Pacific FC fans at ease. Teasing some exciting new players coming to the club for 2022, he took a moment to remind them that their club is still on top of the Canadian Premier League.
“For Pacific fans, don’t worry,” he said. “We’re still the champions, and until people knock us out, we’re the champions.”