After firing head coach Michael Silberbauer on Friday, Pacific came out flying the next day, winning 2-0 at home on Saturday to close their 2019 Canadian Premier League season.
Complacency, comfort, consistency.
Those were 3 of the many different Cs being thrown around Pacific FC’s Westhills Stadium this weekend, as they finished off their Canadian Premier League campaign with a home date against Valour. After CEO Rob Friend and the rest of the management team sent a big message with the sacking of head coach Michael Silberbauer on Friday, it was unsure exactly how Saturday was going to play out, with Friend letting everyone know that no one was going to be safe heading into the offseason.
After a tumultuous second half of the campaign, where Pacific relented several glorious opportunities to stay in contention for the fall title, it was a tough blow for their squad to take.
“I guess it was a bit of a shock yesterday with the news that came out,” said David Norman Jr, who now returns to parent club Inter Miami CF with the season over. “But as a player, you have to be professional, I think we showed that today in our play and our professionalism, and came out today and got a 2-0 result.”
“It was upsetting for the group, for sure,” added winger Zach Verhoven said Saturday. “Because Michael was good to all of us and a great guy, but I mean for all of us we had to be focused on the game today, and we had to end well, and I think we did that here.”
Verhoven and Campbell shine
Speaking of Verhoven, who’s been one of Pacific’s breakout players of this up and down year, he put in a great showing on Saturday, opening the scoring in front of the nearly sold-out crowd in Langford. After playing a 1-2 with leading scorer Terran Campbell, the other youngster who made waves with his performances on the Island, Verhoven deftly chipped Valour’s Tyson Farago, sending the crowd into an early and joyous roar.
It was another crowning moment from the youngster from UBC, whos transition to BC’s capital has been a big talking point on the campaign. After bouncing in and out of the starting lineup at the beginning of the season, he has become a building block in Pacific’s foundation for the future, as he only looks to grow on what he’s shown so far in the Purple kit.
“Just being in the professional environment, having so many good players around me, the coaches have given me such good feedback on things I need to work on,” Verhoven said. “And I’ve been taking all of that in, and I’ve also seen myself grow a lot as a player, and I think I can add even more to my game. I couldn’t be more happy with how this season has been, and I’m excited to see where I go.”
With their offseason now officially underway, Pacific’s decision-makers must now find the best way to complement their young talent such as Verhoven and Campbell, with several players figuring to be leaving. Norman Jr will be one of those leaving, as he heads to expansion side Miami, as well as defender Blake Smith, who returns to FC Cincinnati. While having them return next year could be a possibility, as they figure out how things look at their respective clubs, you’d figure Friend and company can’t rely on their return quite yet.
But for the rest, at least the ones without guaranteed contracts for 2020, Saturday provided a prime-time audition to show what they had. And they did just that, looking a side that very much had a lot to prove, as many looked to show that they weren’t part of the problem this year.
“Yeah, I think they looked free,” Friend said to reporters after the game. “And a lot of them looked like they were playing for their careers. We had a good talk with them yesterday that was: ‘look, let’s see what you guys are made of, let’s see who’s got the character’, and that’s kind of the reaction we were waiting for. Obviously you want to see 3, 4, 5 more goals go in, but I think they played fantastic, and they stepped up today, so that’s what we were looking for.”
I’ve also seen myself grow a lot as a player, and I think I can add even more to my game.Pacific FC Winger Zach Verhoven on his improvment
De Jong returns
While many were showing off their stuff for the umpteenth time this season, it was a literal first-time audition of sorts for former Whitecaps left back Marcel De Jong, who made his home debut for Pacific in the second half. After featuring for Pacific against Halifax last week on the road, he came on and provided a spark late in the game, as he continued his return to full health after a nasty Achilles injury in the preseason.
Even though his job is about as guaranteed as they come for next year, with his pedigree and experience along with his strong ability that was shown to be still there in his 2 late-season cameos, it was good for him to prove that he still has it after the long rehab progress. He was expected to be a big piece this year before the injury, an injury that almost in a sense set the tone for Pacific’s season in terms of the health woes they ended up having, so having him return was also a big boost to end the year with for them.
“I just wish that the season was a little bit longer,” De Jong joked Saturday. “But no, it felt good to be out there, especially with the great crowd today, it was almost sold out, so it was amazing, and it was good to be back.”
Given he was with the team for a lot of the season, completing his rehab work in Victoria, he also had a good sight on what went right and wrong for their side. Combined with his experience both in North American and abroad, it’s clear De Jong still has a lot to bring to Pacific both on and off the field, so keep an eye out for him next season.
“I think we learned a lot,” De Jong said. “About ourselves, about the club, about the league, everybody’s getting used to being a professional player, and getting used to doing interviews like this, or dealing with travelling, so I think that’s the biggest thing for us, learning and getting experience.”
I just wish that the season was a little bit longerPacific FC’s Marcel De Jong on returning from injury
Friend’s decision to sack Silberbauer on the eve of the season finale had many wondering about the timing of the move, as it seemed rash to move on from the Danish-born coach at the time that they did, with the end of the campaign around the corner. After Pacific had struggled with injuries all year, playing nice football in patches, it was seen as a big shock that Silberbauer was the first to go.
But for Friend, it had to happen, because while he had positive spells this season, it wasn’t good enough for Pacific. As they build for the future, they felt that it wasn’t good enough for their young players to become complacent with their jobs on the team. While it meant that Silberbauer, generally regarded as a well-liked figure across the country, had to go, it now gives Friend and company time to find the new person to lead their project.
And before that search got underway, it also gave them one last chance to see some of these players, and with everything that had gone on, seeing them deal with adversity in a game was a great way to evaluate them for next year.
“These decisions are never easy, and look, we had a good discussion with Michael, and at the end of the day, first off we can only thank what Michael did in this situation,” Friend said honestly to reporters. “Going to this club, building it from scratch within 8 months, it’s an almost impossible task, and it’s more about this club going into the future, and sort of again, I’ve used the term ‘shaking it up’, and sometimes that’s what this needs.”
“I think sometimes it’s been a bit comfortable here with the players, and we wanted to show that everyone’s jobs are on the line here, and I think that’s really what it’s about, and seeing the reaction today because we’ve got decisions to be made with players, as well, and who wants to be here for the future, so we were waiting to see what the reaction was, so that was sort of prompted the decision to make it this early.”
Ben Fisk, who doubled the lead vs Valour with a cheeky finish, reiterated several of those thoughts after the game. One of the leaders on the team, as evidenced by his wearing of the armband Saturday despite all that arose the day prior, he knows that complacency is one of the most dangerous things that a professional footballer can encounter. After playing in leagues in Europe and North America, he has been like De Jong one of the faces of this team, as he’s stepped up big in his leadership role this year.
He knows it was tough to see Silberbauer go as he did, but that’s part of professional sports. While many of the young players haven’t experienced that harsh side of the game, it happens, and Fisk knew the best way to get it off the mind was to go put together a strong 90 minutes. If anything, it was a good way to give back to Silberbauer, the fans and the club, and from a personal standpoint, it was a good chance for players to try and keep their jobs.
“It was pretty simple, today was a chance to right a lot of the wrongs that have gone on this year,” Fisk said honestly. “And we wanted to go out and repay the fans for all the great support all year. Packed house, you couldn’t ask for a better occasion than that, and also out of respect for Michael, we wanted to show that he’s obviously left us, but that he did build something special here, and we wanted to respect him and his departure with a good performance.”
And when asked if his team stepped up to Friend’s challenges, Fisk thought his team did well in doing so: “By winning 2-0 at home in front of 6000 fans. I think we said it in the locker room again, we reiterated his (Friend’s) comments, that he has issued a challenge and a bit of a threat, saying that nobodies jobs are safe, and in professional sports that’s how it always is, so it shouldn’t necessarily take a coach getting the sack to get our heads in it, but today the reaction was positive.”
We wanted to show that everyone’s jobs are on the line herePacific FC CEO Rob Friend on Silberbauer’s sacking
Laying the foundation
Now with the campaign done, the real work gets going for Pacific. Friend, who was a popular figure all weekend as he fielded questions on the sacking and the future, now gets a bit of quiet as he and his team return to work. They have plenty of decisions to make, both on and off the field, as they look to build some momentum heading into next year.
With arguably some of the most passionate fans in the league, with fellow coastal side Halifax giving them a run for their money, they have good support to build around off the pitch. So the next step? Improving on what worked this year, and fixing what didn’t, and with the sacking of Silberbauer, they already got going on that. Re-signing and releasing a batch of players will be the next big step. After that, it will be about bringing in the right people both to coach and play for the club, as Pacific looks to jump into the realm of competition that CPL finalists Cavalry and Forge currently exist in.
A big part of those team’s successes? Culture. So expect a lot of the decisions Pacific make this season to be centred around that, as they continue building the European project they have in mind. They have shown to play nice football in spurts, now it’s time to do so consistently, the last of the three Cs we saw way back in the beginning.
And as seen with Friend already, there won’t be any wait and ‘see’ approach from him and his team, as they look to show that average won’t be accepted in their ranks.
“I think that it’s setting expectations, this is football, this is a global game,” Friend said honestly. “There’s a lot of players that would die to play for this club, and everyone’s jobs are on the line, and that’s sort of the culture we want to create at this club, that we don’t settle for average, we want it every day, that’s how it is in Europe, everyone challenging for their jobs every day, if not and you’re complacent, your club’s complacent, you’re going to fall behind, and we don’t want to be a comfortable club, we always want to be pushing.”
“Obviously this was the first year, it was never going to be easy, but that’s the sort of culture we’re looking for going forward.” he finished.
We don’t want to be a comfortable club, we always want to be pushing.”Friend, speaking on his team’s ambitions