Trust the Kids: Looking at what to expect from Pacific FC's re-signed youngsters

With Pacific FC announcing the return of 6 of their core young players for the 2020 Canadian Premier League season, we take a look at what to expect from those re-signed pieces, as well as see what’s next for the Island club this offseason.

The youth movement will continue to blossom on the Island in 2020. 

After a slow start to the offseason, Pacific FC got the ball rolling on some roster moves earlier this week, as they officially re-signed some players ahead of the 2020 Canadian Premier League campaign. After announcing some departures last month, they finally dried the ink on a couple of key signings, as they brought back Terran Campbell, Kadin Chung, Matthew Baldisimo, Alessandro Hojabrpour, Noah Verhoeven and Zach Verhoven to the Island for their second CPL season. 

Along with their pair of draft picks from last month’s CPL Draft, defender Jan Pirretas Glasmacher and midfielder Thomas Gardner, and Pacific has started to build up a nice spine of talent for next year. While there is still lots to work needed to be done, with several key decisions yet to be made on some of their other returning players, without mentioning that we have yet to see any new faces come in, either, they’ve gotten off to a good start heading into the new year. 

As they prepare to enter what’s expected to be a big campaign for the Island side, who will be looking to ditch some of the inconsistency woes that plagued them under former head coach Michael Silberbauer, they have given themselves a solid spine to build the rest of their squad around. The results weren’t always there for them last year, but one thing that they did do excellently was fulfilling their ‘trust the kids’ mantra, which resulted in them leading the league in U21 minutes by a country mile. 

With those 6 key signings now locked up for next season, it gives them the opportunity to build off some of the excitement they’ve generated in their 1st year of existence, as they now look to compete with the Forge’s and the Cavalry’s of the land in year 2. 

The young guns return:

Pacific’s confirmed returnees and new player depth chart as of now

As was the case last year, Pacific remains fully invested in the Canadian youth movement, so expect these youngsters to continue to build off the strides they took in year 1. The average age of the 6 players re-signed? 20.5 years of age, with Verhoven, Campbell, Baldisimo and Chung all 21 years old, while Verhoeven is 20 and Hojabrpour the youngest of the group at 19. 

With their youthful spring looking to blossom in 2020, here is what to expect from the 6 of them next season.

Terran Campbell:

The most intriguing of Pacific’s returning players, Campbell will be interesting to monitor next season, after coming off a standout season, one that saw him bag 11 goals, second-best in the CPL. After starting off the season as a midfielder/winger, an injury outburst typical of the British Columbian sports landscape struck Pacific, forcing Campbell into the main striker role.

Then the fall season hit, and Campbell struck lightning and captured it in a bottle, scoring 5 goals in the first 4 games of the CPL ‘Apertura’, as part of a run that saw him score 8 times in 10 games. While he slowed down as the season cooled off, only scoring once in the last 8 games, that run gave an indication of what Campbell can be capable of doing in a scoring role. 

With his stocky build, which has earned him the nickname ‘The Canadian Hulk’, he presents a unique challenge for defenders. He is physical, allowing him to contend for aerial challenges, but he can play with the ball at his feet, as he is comfortable dropping back to help his team play with possession. 

As a result, it gives him a rounded statistical profile, as he had a 77% pass percentage, along with 12 big chances, which complemented his 0.34 Expected Goals per 90 rather well. When compared to his striking peers, he fared rather well, holding his own in Expected Goals, Expected Assists, shots per 90 and big chances per 90. 

When you consider that Malonga and Borges had way stronger supporting casts offensively, which allowed them to play nearly 5 fewer games worth of minutes than Campbell, and it shows why the ‘Canadian Hulk’ is expected to do big things next year.

If Pacific can gameplan to better ensure that opposing teams get punished when solely focusing on Campbell, they can free him up to score more goals, allowing him to avoid the rut like the one he ended off the season with. Given what he showed in that purple patch of summer form, he can be deadly when the right opportunity presents itself, so there’s no reason to not expect more of that next season. 

Kadin Chung:

Kadin Chung in action vs Valour during the last game of the season (Keveren Guillou)

If Campbell is to continue scoring goals, the work of Pacific’s right back, Kadin Chung, will also help him out massively. After shining as he rose up the Vancouver Whitecaps development chain, he had a strong debut campaign on the Island, as he returned to BC after a year in Germany.

An attacking right back, his overlap capacities made Pacific dangerous in possession, as he had a great understanding with right winger Zach Verhoven. Along with his good crossing ability, as well as his good knowledge of how and when to link up with his midfielders and attackers, he adds a dynamic element to the Pacific attack. 

He’s no slouch defensively, either, as he averaged 1.87 tackles and 1.37 interceptions per 90 minutes, as he often found a way to recover nicely when Pacific lost possession with him high up the pitch. 

While his offence didn’t translate to much in terms of offensive numbers, as he only had 1 goal and 2 assists, he still contributed a lot to the final 3rd, as seen by his 105 passes completed in that area of the pitch, which was more than wingers such as Verhoven. 

All in all, he’s shown to be a complete player, and should Pacific find a way to make best use of that Verhoven/Chung pairing on the right side, they should have no issues scoring goals next season. 

Zach Verhoven:

Speaking of Chung’s running mate, it was no surprise to see Verhoven among the names brought back, as he had an excellent debut pro season out of UBC. After starting the year slowly, as he fought for minutes early-on, he snatched a full-time place late into the summer and didn’t relinquish it, making him the full-time right winger as the campaign concluded. 

As seen by his 0.20 XG/90 and his 0.25 XA/90, he is a balanced wing option, as he can create as well as he can finish. With Chung’s overlapping skills, it allows Verhoven to operate more centrally, giving him a chance to link up with Campbell. 

And as we saw when they ended the year against Valour, that Campbell-Verhoven partnership can do some damage, so look for them to build off of that in 2020. 

With his impressive 62 successful 1v1 duels won, with 7 of those coming in the box, Verhoven is a menace on the ball, and along with his chemistry with Chung and Campbell, he should continue to grow with Pacific. Given how late he snatched a starting role, and that he just wrapped up his rookie pro campaign, a 5 goal and 5 assist campaign would not be too much of a stretch to imagine in 2020. 

Noah Verhoeven:

Verhoeven with the ball against Forge in July (Keveren Guillou)

Not to be confused with Verhoven, Verhoeven (with an E) also returns to the fold, bringing a dynamic presence to the midfield. While he was tried out at left back by Michael Silberbauer before he got sacked, his future on the Island is in the midfield, and rightly so. 

Over the course of the season, he produced a solid 0.22 XG+XA/90 minutes, which considering he was played out of position for a handful of games, is certainly a decent number for a central midfielder. While he certainly slowed down after a hot start, a start that got him called up to Canada’s Men’s National Team to train ahead of the Gold Cup, he still had a good campaign on the whole. 

Considering that he started to play less and less as the season wore on, he’ll be certainly excited for a fresh start with a new coach last year, one that will be expected to get the best out of Verhoeven and the rest of his U21 cohort. With Verhoeven’s balanced profile, as he also added 0.9 tackles and 0.58 interceptions per 90 minutes, expect him to slot right back into the heart of Pacific’s midfield, returning to the early 2019 form that had everyone buzzing. 

Matthew Baldisimo:

Baldisimo was one of the players hit hardest by the downs of 2019, as the central midfielder had to fill in a fair bit at centre back, as Pacific struggled with injuries at that position. When he did play in his natural position, he was solid, but that wasn’t as much as he surely would have liked. 

With 1.4 tackles and 1.24 interceptions per game, he definitely has the statistical profile to play as a #6 or as a #8, depending on how the new coach wants to line things up. With Verhoeven preferring to push forward more, while Thomas Gardner kind of finding himself in between in terms of his midfield style, it gives them options to play around with statistically. 

Along with Hojabrpour, who is a reliable #6 himself, it gives Pacific midfield depth, which should allow them to experiment with some different looks this season. Given that their defence was their main issue last year, they can now experiment with something of a double #6 pivot with Baldisimo and Hojabrpour, among the various many other options they have. 

With Baldisimo’s 85% passing percentage, with 38% of those being progressive passes, he can bring a lot to Pacific’s midfield, both as a defensive and transition player, which should allow them to be versatile tactically in 2020.

Alessandro Hojabrpour:

Hojabrpour brings the ball forward against Valour in the last game of the season (Keveren Guillou)

The youngest of the 6 re-signed, Hojabrpour brings an interesting package of skills to the midfield, as he is good both defensively and in transition, similarily to Baldisimo. There’s a reason why he often fought for minutes with loanee David Norman Jr at the #6 towards the end of the year, as he found a way to influence games when he did play, which is why Pacific is expecting big things from the youngster next season. 

He won 100/188 duels (53%), best between the re-signed midfielders, him, Verhoeven and Baldisimo, while also adding an impressive 1.97 tackles and 1.04 interceptions per 90 minutes, as he was a no-nonsense figure in the heart of the park. With a pass percentage of 85%, 31.60% of those being progressive passes, he was a typical #6, and a great fit at the position in a possession-based system. 

While it’s unsure if Pacific will return to an exact possession-based system, they will be at least expected to be a team that is comfortable on the ball, which is why Hojabrpour can be a key piece in the midfield again next year. Whether that is on his own as a #6, or if it’s as a double pivot with Baldisimo, he has shown to be able to hold his own, so expect big things in the future, especially considering that he is yet to turn 20. 

At the very least, considering that they already have 4 quality midfielders, with more surely to come, they’ll be able to rotate their squad quite effectively in 2020. With next year looking to bring another congested fixture list, especially if they want to improve on their Voyageurs Cup performance, having that depth can go a long way, as seen by the success of Forge and Cavalry this season. 

Looking Forward:

While transfers have started to come in all around the league, with Cavalry even picking up former Pacific man Jose Hernandez earlier this week, Pacific’s next steps will probably be to re-sign some more of their pieces from last year. With negotiations still underway with older faces such as Ben Fisk, Victor Blasco, Nolan Wirth, Lukas MacNaughton and more, expect some of those returns to probably get announced fairly soon, solidifying the spine that they already have. 

After that, the hunt for centre backs, a left back, some more midfielders and wingers will continue. Along with the nee for a backup striker, a backup goalkeeper and some more depth, it’s going to a busy winter for Pacific, as they look to avoid falling behind the pack in 2020. 

Among the 5 teams that missed the finals this season, Pacific has probably set themselves up the best long-term, thanks to their allotment of young talent at their disposal. If they can surround those players with the right supporting cast, setting up continued growth and development, there’s no reason to imagine them becoming a top-class team in the CPL.

And as seen by the middle stages of the fall and spring campaigns, they can compete with the best, they just need to find a way to sustain that over the course of the season. That will just come down to depth, as well as consistency, which will come with time. 

If they can figure all of that out next year, however, watch out. With the right coaching staff, there’s no reason to imagine a repeat of 2019, especially with some of the young players that they have retained for next year. 

As Pacific continues to preach the ‘play your kids’ mantra, it’s expected that they start to bear the fruits of that labour sooner rather than later, propelling them to greater heights in this still-new league. 

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