Pacific dropped 3 points to Forge to fall out of Championship contention on Saturday. After the game, we got the chance to speak with David Norman Jr, who broke down the match and gave us some insight into his time so far with Pacific, as he continues to adjust after his move from Vancouver to the Island via Miami.
It was not a pretty afternoon for Pacific FC, who’s hopes and dreams of playing in the inaugural Canadian Premier League Championship were dashed at the hands of Forge FC, their high-flying Hamilton rivals who wasted no time in dropping the hammer on Saturday. As has been their mojo for most of this campaign, Forge were exciting, they moved the ball around well, and when came the time to score goals, they made sure that Pacific goalkeeper Nolan Wirth had to pick up a few balls out of the back of his own net.
Having played against Forge and Cavalry FC in a span of less than a week, Pacific got to test themselves against the cream of the crop in the league, giving their young team a great chance to gauge where they are at deep into their first year. They didn’t quite pass the test, falling by a combined 7-1 to the aforementioned teams, unable to impose themselves among the league’s best.
“We have to look at everything,” head coach Michael Silberbauer said after the result. “This game ended, and now we already have to look forward. There is still lots to be done before the season ends.”
Recent results aside, Pacific had been on a good run of games as of late, picking up points in 7 of their last 9 games before they played Cavalry last Sunday. And it wasn’t just the results that were turning heads, it was how they got them, as Silberbauer had gotten them playing attractive football en route to the results. With full-backs pushing high up the field, midfielders zinging balls around at high speed and forwards playing dangerously off of each other, it made for fun affairs for the Purple-clad crew from Westhills.
While they have been building that foundation all year long, they have gotten a boost as of late, as they were able to bring in midfielder David Norman Jr on loan, a move that has boosted their team immensely. Even on Saturday in a losing effort, he was noticeable in his 60 minutes of play, completing 89% of his passes (25/28), while adding 1 tackle and 3 recoveries defensively. He also had a couple of shots that came close, and drew the penalty that gave Pacific a chance to grab the lead in the 41st minute, capping another solid start for the former Whitecaps man.
After the game Saturday, we took the chance to ask Norman Jr what it had been like to join a team of young and exciting footballers, and he pointed to a good understanding of the club’s philosophy from top-down.
“Yeah, I think we’re a young team with good footballers,” Norman Jr said to BTSVancity. “And we want to play, I think they’ve shown that the whole year. A couple of the recent games maybe we haven’t been quite on top of our game, but it’s going to be a way that Michael (Silberbauer) wants to play, (a way) the club wants to play and something we’re going to continue to push forward through for the rest of the season.”
Norman Jr’s loan move to Pacific came about under mysterious circumstances, as it was originally announced on Pacific’s end that he had moved to the Victoria-based side for the rest of the season, a move that was lauded when announced. Given that he had played a grand total of 30 minutes across all levels in 2019, it was a great chance for him to play at a good level, while for the Whitecaps it was seen as a move that could prepare Norman Jr for the 2020 season.
So when it was later announced that Norman Jr was in fact arriving on loan from the brand-new MLS side Inter Miami CF, as he had been traded by Vancouver to the David Beckham owned team for a 2022 Draft Pick, a lot of questions arose. Why had the Whitecaps decided to give up on a 21-year-old midfielder who bled through for the club?
“I saw enough for our decision to be done in a very calm and lucid way,” Whitecaps manager Marc Dos Santos said to our friends over at 86forever about the move. “It’s good for us, and it’s good for David. Because we feel like David needs to move on. We feel that in certain areas of the field, we’re going to have to become better. And we just don’t think right now that David was the player that would bring our midfield to another level next year.”
“So we know the numbers we’re going to have, who’s going to be available, what we’re looking for…so it would probably be a very frustrating time if David just stuck around, and it wouldn’t be fair for him either. So it’s good for David and it’s good for the Whitecaps.”
It was a tough way for Norman Jr to leave his boyhood club, especially considering he hadn’t gotten much of a chance to fight his way through due to his injury woes. If he were resentful towards the Caps in how things went down, no one would have been mad at him for that.
Instead, he has pushed those kinds of thoughts away, just keeping his head down and continuing to work. He stepped immediately into the Pacific lineup, pushing his way into the starting 11 against Forge on September 4th, less than 2 days after the loan was announced, and he hasn’t looked back since. He has become a regular fixture in the Pacific lineup, with Saturday’s latest tussle with Forge being his 5th consecutive start in CPL action. While he has only gone the full 90 minutes twice, as he works his way up to fitness, he has had a positive immersion into the Canadian league.
“Yeah, it’s been great, from not playing, now I just wanted to play some games and to be at a level like this in the CPL, it’s been fantastic. So (I’m) just looking to push on and help the team as much as I can in the next month here and then push on from that,” Norman Jr said.
He added. “I’m enjoying it so far, the last couple of games haven’t been the best results, but it’s been great to be playing a lot and the league has been great so far.”
It’s an exciting time for Norman Jr, as he focuses on finishing up this season, before embarking on the move to Miami. He stayed mum on the eventual move there, preferring not to say much on what he expected there, as he kept his eyes firmly planted on the task at hand, which for now is finishing strong with Pacific. While they had title hopes ahead of the Cavalry and Forge games, as they had a chance to beat each of their direct rivals for the fall title in a pair of back-to-back games, they were instead officially eliminated Saturday, leaving the left of the season as a chance for players to prove themselves and prepare ahead of 2020.
Given Pacific is a young team, they will want to keep improving on the identity implanted by Silberbauer, as a lot of players figure to return next year. While it is unsure what the status of Norman Jr will be, as he is expected to at least fight for a spot in Miami before any thought of a potential return on loan could ever be drawn out, for now he will want to play a role in imposing a culture for next year’s team to build off of. Given that Cavalry head coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr and Forge head coach Bobby Smyrniotis both attributed a lot of their success this season to culture, it’s shown how important that is for the success of new teams in a new league, and Norman Jr is pleased to be a part of it.
“For sure, there is still a lot to play for, whether that’s third place or whether that’s gaining a bit of an identity and feeling about the group for next year,” Norman Jr said of the rest of the season. “I think that’s something big, it’s a very young team. So I think the next four games you will really kind of see what this group inside the locker room is made of and set the tone for next season.”
And considering his post-game comments on Saturday, which were both direct and honest as he assessed a disappointing result from his team, he has already gotten the ball rolling on that part. For a new team in a new league, it could be easy to chalk everything up as part of a first-year grace period, so to hear that kind of honesty is refreshing.
“Yeah, it was a frustrating afternoon for us. We came out, we were the second-best side today, and it was again just a game we want to look at, for sure, and move on to Wednesday against Halifax,” Norman Jr said honestly of the Forge game.
He later added. “I don’t think they created much besides the goal they scored right before the half, and we’re unfortunate to miss the penalty as well. But (with) those, you can look back at a game and say ifs and buts all you want, but at the end of day, we weren’t good enough today and we didn’t deserve any points.”
With only 4 games left on Pacific’s schedule, Norman Jr will now look to continue his role as a leader both and off of the field. It’s been a trying year for the Canadian, who was at least expected to fight for playing time with the Whitecaps after a strong loan spell in the Scottish second division last year, so to be playing again is his main joy. No matter if he ends up in Miami, Victoria or somewhere else next year, he’s just happy to be on a football pitch again.
Which for someone who grew up in and around the game, it’s all he could ask for.
“Yeah, coming back and not playing a game in six, seven months and then I’ve been playing quite a lot in the last three weeks,” Norman Jr said. “So I’m just looking after that, but I feel good, I feel healthy and I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
Up Next: Pacific FC vs Halifax Wanderers, Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019, 19:00 PST (Westhills Stadium, Langford)