Pacific’s Campbell reflects on three years of progress before CPL Final: ‘Everyone’s just stepped it up’

Back in 2019, Pacific FC were a team for the future.

They blew every other Canadian Premier League side out of the water in the playing time they gave to young players — they racked up 13,532 U-21 minutes in that first year, beating their closest challenger by more than 8,000. That inaugural Pacific side boasted a thrilling young core of British Columbia natives — Kadin Chung, Alessandro Hojabrpour, Terran Campbell, Noah Verhoeven; the list goes on.

Though they didn’t contend for trophies that year (finishing fifth in the Spring season and fourth in the Fall), there was a good feeling on Vancouver Island.

Three years later, that good feeling has turned into good times for Pacific. Chung, Hojabrpour, and Campbell have all been vital pieces of the team that’s made it all the way to the 2021 CPL Final. That original project, started in 2019 and taken over in 2020 by Pa-Modou Kah, has begun to bear fruit with the on-field success the Tridents have enjoyed this year, from their magical Canadian Championship run to their continuing quest to lift the North Star Shield this Sunday afternoon.

“I think it’s been a really big step,” Campbell told this week before his side departed for Hamilton to play the Final.

“I’ve been here since the very first year with Pacific, and for me, the way I’ve seen the club, it’s been a really big step from that first season. That first year we had some good pieces, we had a really good core, and we’ve built from that with Pa, and he’s done a really good job.”

He added: “For a lot of people, (2019) was their first professional season, didn’t know much about the pro game. Myself included, I had a couple pro matches under my belt, but I was still very young. I’m 23 now, in my third year in this league, the same with the other guys, they’ve stepped up and we’ve just connected and found better chemistry, and everyone’s just stepped it up. You see, like, Kunle (Dada-Luke), he comes in and really gets the job done no matter what.”

Photo: Pacific FC/CPL
Photo: Pacific FC/CPL

Much of the young core has, really, grown up together. With most of them being B.C. natives, a lot of this Pacific squad played together at the Vancouver Whitecaps academy — where Pa-Modou Kah was a coach, as well. Campbell shared a pitch with Kadin Chung, Matthew Baldisimo, Jordan Haynes — even Marco Bustos. Plus, a few members of those reserve teams have gone on to other things in the world of football: Alphonso Davies, for instance, was a teammate on the 2016 Whitecaps 2 side.

For those that have stayed at Pacific, though, it’s been special the past few years to build something together on Vancouver Island.

“It’s been fun, that’s the best way I can describe it,” Campbell said. “I’ve known them for a long time; they’re all good guys, I’m friends with all of them, and to be on the same journey with them, it’s really enjoyable.”

Campbell, in particular, has shown incredible growth as a player since that first year. Of course, he’s always been one of the league’s top goalscorers — just as he did in 2019, he leads the 2021 Pacific team in scoring with 11 goals so far, but he’s become a much more well-rounded player under Kah. Even at the Island Games, when the goals didn’t seem to be going in for Campbell, he was pushing Pacific forward with his movement off the ball and his pressing.

This year, especially with Marco Bustos missing significant time to injury, Campbell has had to adjust to playing out on the wing for much of the season — which, of course, has been a handy way to get both Campbell and Alejandro Díaz into the lineup together, which was a challenge early in the season.

Pacific’s off-field leader, Kah, has been a major factor in the steps Pacific has taken this year, of course. The charismatic coach has established a culture on Vancouver Island and helped build on the identity that started in 2019, which has perhaps fast-tracked the club’s progress.

“Pa’s a really good guy,” Campbell said.

He added, grinning: “He’ll get under your skin sometimes for sure, and you’ll definitely get angry at him sometimes, but he does it only for the benefit of the player. As a player, you know that and you love it. He’s been a really good part of my development for sure.”

The development isn’t complete, of course — nor is the journey in 2021. Pacific enter the lair of the defending champions on Sunday, as they try to take the CPL title from Forge FC.

In this space before the Final, Pacific have had some time to reflect on how far they’ve come in three years — from future challengers to current contenders. What would it mean to Campbell, and to Pacific, to lift a trophy on Sunday afternoon?

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It wouldn’t mean a lot just for us, but for the Island. These people are very proud, passionate people, and they love Starlight Stadium, they love coming out to our games to support us. It would mean a lot to everyone.”