VICTORIA – Small, but mighty: The classic underdog-turned-contender story, played out on the grandest stage of sport.
For Icelandic soccer enthusiasts, the last few years have been what can only be described as unimaginable.
Whether it was a strong showing at Euro 2016 or a deserved berth in the 2018 FIFA World Cup – the country’s first and only appearance in the grand international tournament – Icelandic soccer has never enjoyed a stronger era in the sport.
Dissecting Iceland’s sudden rise to world prominence reveals a few key tenants: a strong focus on the development of coaches with UEFA licenses and an emphasis on a technical style of play from the youth soccer level all the way up to the pros.
It didn’t hurt that the nation’s golden generation of talent came through at the same time, too.
But, beyond the actual soccer being played, something special was happening in the stands and back home.
The country’s population of just over 330,000 emerged in one voice in support of their national team. Their “Viking Clap” resonated around the world.
Small, but mighty – and exactly the spirit that Pacific FC president Josh Simpson is hoping to capture in his hometown, as local talents gathered in Victoria this week for the final stop of the the Canadian Premier League’s #GotGame Open Trials, seeking a chance at kickstarting their own professional careers.
“We want to build a small Iceland on Vancouver Island,” Simpson told CanPL.ca. “That’s what we’re shooting for. It’s tough to do but we’ve had an unbelievably successful start with the clubs we’ve reached out to so far. Everybody’s on board, so I think we’re onto something. Pacific FC being branded as Van Isle has been very, very positively received. If you’re an Island guy, doesn’t matter if you’re north or south island, you’re an Island guy, and you get behind it.”
Simpson, of course, knows all about life on Vancouver Island, having spent the majority of his youth soccer days bouncing around various clubs on either side of the Strait of Georgia before pursuing a professional career in Europe. But regardless of the shirts he donned on Vancouver Island, the same indelible spirit of competition and pride permeated in every town.
To that end, Simpson aims to bring people together under one banner – that of Pacific FC.
“I’m an Island guy,” Simpson said. “Coming from the Island, people know there’s rivalries – there’s Victoria vs. Nanaimo, there’s all kinds of separation, especially in soccer, because you compete against each other. What we’re trying to do here is something totally different than the usual, which is compete against each other – we’re trying to unite everyone.
“We want to be the north star on the Island, so that everybody feels a part of something and brings positive energy to Pacific FC to advance and get better.”
First, he’ll need players. Simpson revealed he’s already received anywhere from half-a-dozen to a dozen verbal commitments from players in and around the Vancouver Island area willing to play for his team. He admitted there might be some crossover for talent with the Vancouver Whitecaps, the only other professional soccer club in the region, and expects to pen players to his team within the coming weeks.
Those players, Simpson explained, bring with them a kind of toughness that only Vancouver Island can produce.
“It’s a tough place because of the weather, because you never actually train indoors,” Simpson said, when asked to describe the talent on offer at the Open Trials in Victoria. “Almost all year round, you’re playing outdoors. You get strong as a player and you fight through the cold. Resilient and tough is an island trait, and we’re excited about the talent that’s out there today. You can see in the warmups, guys are ready to go. There’s a lot of excitement and we’re here. We’re ready to take a look.”