‘Pride on the line’: BC Derby between Vancouver FC and Pacific to open 2023 CPL season

History will be made during the Canadian Premier League’s 2023 opening weekend, as expansion club Vancouver FC takes to the field for the first time.

They travel to Vancouver Island, where they will face provincial rivals Pacific FC at Starlight Stadium on the first day of the league’s 2023 season on Saturday, April 15 (4 p.m. PT / 7 p.m. ET). It will be a big day for the sport in British Columbia, as the first time two sides from the province have met in a Canadian Premier League match.

“I know the fans will like it, I know we’ll get up for it and I’m sure Vancouver will as well,” said Pacific FC winger Josh Heard. “It will be exciting.”

After lifting the North Star Shield in 2021, Pacific’s title defence ended in last year’s semifinals against Atlético Ottawa. Bolstered by new signings Easton Ongaro, Pierre Lamothe and Bradley Vliet, however, the Tridents will be confident they can once again compete near the top of the table.

There were a few notable departures from the Island this off-season as well, one of which is sure to add some intrigue to this matchup: Callum Irving, Pacific’s goalkeeper for the last three seasons, was announced as Vancouver FC’s inaugural signing in December.

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Born in Vancouver, the 29-year-old is incredibly excited about the potential this rivalry has to grow the sport in the province, both on and off the field.

“It’s huge for Canadian soccer to have these games between teams that are in close proximity to one another,” said Irving. “It [makes] fan travel much easier so you can have great away sections supporting the teams. It’s just a sense of pride of the line, I think you see it throughout world football, teams from the same area. There’s just something a little bit more special about those matches.”

Irving was well-liked during his time on the Island but says he isn’t fully sure what kind of reception to expect from the home fans at Starlight Stadium. In last year’s season opener, for example, when Pacific hosted Forge FC the fans unveiled huge banners depicting Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour — who had left the club for Forge that off-season — that read “Who?” with the players’ eyes spray-painted over.

David Chant / CPL
David Chant / CPL

“It’s a place I really enjoyed my last three years so I’m going to enjoy going back there,” said Irving, “but once the whistle blows it’s game time and 90 minutes, we try to get the three points.”

He says that the first game of any season is always special. But when it’s the first game in club history, and there are provincial bragging rights on the line? That is the kind of match that will be remembered for a lifetime.

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