As the Canadian Premier League slowly starts to return to training, in preparation of a potential return, we got the chance to speak with Pacific FC forward Terran Campbell, as he took the time to chat with us about his breakout 2019 season, his goals for the future, the CPL, Black Lives Matter and more. Here is that interview, as we get a chance to profile the prolific #14 who made a name for himself as a lethal goalscorer last season.
In what was an exciting debut season of the Canadian Premier League, there was no shortage of interesting storylines to follow.
From an endless parade of special firsts, including a first champion, Forge FC, to an exciting Voyageurs Cup run by Cavalry, mixed in with some entertaining play from the 5 other CPL teams in between, it was an exciting first act for Canada’s newest first division soccer circuit.
As interest in the sport in this country rises, instigated by Canada’s hosting of the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and only amplified with their successful bid to co-host the 2026 edition of the Men’s World Cup, the league kicked off to enthusiastic crowds and strong supporter interest.
Coast-to-coast, ‘futbol fever’ set in for many fans, who were situated in places such as Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg, York, Hamilton and Halifax, giving those cities a professional soccer team to call their own, a distinction that only Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal really had the privilege of having over the past decade.
It made for a fun summer, as teams treated viewers to a surprisingly entertaining brand of football, intertwined with good supporter culture, quickly making the league one to watch abroad. On the pitch, rivalries started, highlights flowed in, and previously unheralded players quickly became fan favourites.
One such player was Pacific FC striker, Terran Campbell, who quickly became a cult hero in Victoria, thanks to a summer heatwave that at one point saw the striker bag 9 goals over a span of just 12 games, paving the way for him to finish second in the overall CPL Golden Boot race with 11 goals, only second to Forge’s Tristan Borges, who had 13.
Thanks to his summer scoring spree, Campbell’s name quickly spread throughout the corners of the league, making him one to watch for the future, not only for Pacific, but potentially even for Canada’s National Team, who are always searching for the next talent to bring aboard.
So when reflecting on that first campaign, the one that vaulted him into CPL lore, you can see the value that having a league like the CPL can have for a young Canadian player like Campbell, who was one of many who used that first year as a vaulting board towards bigger things.
“The first year was really good,” Campbell told BTSVancity in an exclusive phone interview last week. “I think the way that the league was structured, they did a really good job.”
“I think last year, for myself, I had a good season, so just from an entire season, and playing there, I picked up a lot of experience, and I’m hoping that I can bring it (again), if there’s even a season this year, that I can lean into that and just push myself, but yeah, a league like this is really good, especially for young Canadian players like myself, it really gives you an opportunity as a young player to showcase yourself, and last year I was able to do that, and I’m grateful for that, and I just want to get there and do it again.”
Despite the work done in year 1, however, year 2 hasn’t gone as smoothly quite yet, for both he and the rest of the players in the CPL, as they’ve faced some extenuating circumstances way out of their control.
Due to a global pandemic, one that has seen most countries forced to shut down as a result of the spread of COVID-19, Campbell and his teammates have been unable to yet take the field in year 2, as they await a return to play for the CPL later this summer.
For many players, that would already have a tough blow to stomach on its own, but for someone like Campbell, who was surely itching to go out and show that his 2019 scoring exploits were no fluke, this break must have felt especially painful.
But despite that, he’s kept his head straight during self-quarantine, as he patiently awaited a return to action, expected to come sometime in August, knowing that when the league does return, he’ll be ready to bring his A-game. He’s stayed fit, sharp and ready to play, and with the recent opportunity to return to training with his team, albeit in a smaller group environment, he’s staying hungry ahead of that potential return.
“I kind of just self-motivated myself,” Campbell said of his self-quarantine. “I just told myself that things will get better from the whole COVID-19 thing, that the (CPL) tournament will happen eventually, so that kind of just self-motivated me. I stayed fit, I was in training and I was working out, so I just did small things like that, and now we’re back to full team training, which is really good, so I’m starting to get back into the training feel, which is good.”
He also added: “It’s been really good. In the beginning, it was more just individual work, and that was obviously tough, because we all want to play, but even just doing individual work was really good for myself. But as things went on, we got back to (having) around 8 to 10 people in a group, so we’re starting to do a lot more things within the team, to structure ourselves and get ready for the tournament, so that’s really good.”
Speaking of that tournament, of which we aren’t quite yet sure about the details of, at least at the time of publishing, what does Campbell think of the whole idea?
Having seen the start of MLS’s and NWSL’s return to play tournaments down in the US, even despite a rise of cases in that country, there does seem to be potential for a CPL hub plan to work out, hence the heavy discussions towards staging one starting in August.
Considering Canada’s overall flattening of the curve when it comes to this virus, it would be a lot smaller of a health risk from what we’ve seen down in the US, where 1 team in the NWSL and 2 teams in MLS had to withdraw from their respective tournaments due to outbreaks.
So as a result, for Campbell, it’s a no-brainer, making any decision to stage this tournament a good one in his eyes.
“I think it’s a good idea.” he said of a return. “I mean, obviously, I want to play, I think almost everyone in the league wants to play, so I think it’s a really good idea for the league, and I think it’s something that we should do. Especially here in Canada, I don’t think it’s like, you talked about the MLS (in Orlando), that’s a whole different situation for them, but I think here in Canada, things are a lot better, so I think doing the tournament would be a fine idea to do.”
Would he feel comfortable participating in that kind of hub environment, though, knowing what he’s seen in the US?
“I feel completely safe, so yeah, I’d say that I’d want the tournament to happen, so I agree with it,” he said honestly.
“I’m starting to get back into the training feel, which is good.”Terran Campbell, on a return to training
But while Campbell and his teammates would likely feel safe from a health standpoint, you’d have to imagine some of his opposing defenders might not feel so secure on the field, as they get ready to see him lead the line for Pacific again this season.
Due to his imposing frame, combined with intelligent and quick movement in the final third, without mentioning his ability to score off of half-chances in the air and on the ground in and around the box, marking Campbell isn’t always the most pleasant of tasks as a defender. Even if he isn’t directly creating chances, his presence is always felt up front, making him a handful to deal with.
For someone who came into the 2019 season as a fringe player for Pacific, overshadowed by some bigger offensive names, such as the well-travelled Marcus Haber, his growth over the year was quite impressive to see, as he quickly made himself one of the first names on Pacific’s game sheet, week-in and week-out.
So what does he credit that rise to?
Showing up to every training session and match with a good mentality, working hard, and then when the opportunity came, making sure he took the opportunity and ran as fast as he could.
“My mindset coming into the season last year, I didn’t think I would be such a big player for the team,” Campbell admitted. “I mean we had Marcus Haber, who was a really big signing for us. So I knew with him being on the team, it would be a fight to get into the starting lineup all the time. And as the season went on a little bit, I just started to find more of a comfortable role playing the number nine game in and game out.”
“Then once I scored my first goal, I think it was against Halifax, that just boosted my confidence up a lot. From there, I just maintained that belief and confidence that I had in myself, and I was able to showcase myself, just from having confidence and believing.”
After starting the season in a couple of different roles, including cameos as a winger and as a midfielder, once he found comfort in that #9 role, it’s a role that just seemed to suit him, paving the way for his memorable summer.
As a result, it has allowed him to truly cement himself in his most preferred position, of which it’s now hard to imagine him relinquishing on this Pacific squad, even despite some solid signings this offseason.
“Yeah I like playing as a #9 the most,” Campbell said. “That’s my best position, where I can bring my best attributes playing there. I did find myself out wide sometimes, I used to play out wide when I was growing up, but I’m a lot more comfortable playing centrally. I’m able to play out wide and take defenders on, but my biggest strengths come when I’m playing down the middle.”
And with that debate now settled, how would he describe his game when he’s deployed up top?
“I tell people that I’m a #9 who likes to combine, hold up the ball for the team, be very reliable, I’m pretty good at that, I like that a lot,” he said. “Making runs in behind, even if it’s not just for myself, I think that can drag defenders and open un space for my teammates, so those are probably my two best strengths. Also, you were talking about my power, I think I’m a very powerful player, but I also have pace on me, so those things come into play as well.”
Due to those attributes that he mentioned, you can see the influence that the aforementioned Haber had on him. A fellow target man, the well-travelled former CanMNT forward carved out a reputation both in Canada and abroad as a true leader of the line, one that can both score and create space for his teammates.
As they had the chance to compete for minutes last year, even despite Haber’s lengthy injury spell that gave Campbell the opportunity that he never really looked back from, Haber’s experience and leadership have clearly rubbed off on Campbell, who sung the praises of his now-former teammate when asked about their relationship last season.
“Yeah, Marcus is obviously a very experienced player,” Campbell said. “Coming in, I asked him about small details about playing as a striker, looking at the ball, ways to open up my body when I have a defender on my back, they’re just small things that I was looking at for pointers from him, and he helped me a lot with that, so that was really good, and Marcus was a really good guy.”
So when Campbell had the chance to add what he had learned from his fellow #9 to his already impressive package of skills, of which that includes good speed and tidy footwork, it made for a devastating package of intelligence, skill, speed and power.
Even though he doesn’t have the height (6’3”) that Haber holds, he’s no slouch at 6 feet either, and he found a way to make up for that in games, as he showed with some nice headed goals last year.
It led to a now-famed comparison, made popular by journalist Manuel Veth, to a sort of Canadian Hulk (the Brazlian soccer player, not the Marvel superhero), giving Campbell a nickname that has stuck for many who have seen him play
“Yeah, I’ve always gotten the Canadian Hulk, and yeah, definitely, I can see the resemblance a little bit, in the shape of his body and how powerful he is, and the way he plays,” Campbell said with a laugh. “I can also see a resemblance towards (Romelu) Lukaku and Jozy Altidore, so yeah, I would have to say players like that.”
“Yeah I like playing as a #9 the most, that’s my best position, where I can bring my best attributes playing there.”Campbell, on his favoured position
When you see Campbell on the field, he’s not the loudest yeller, but he’s fiercely competitive, which is part of the many reasons why defenders don’t like marking him.
That also showed itself at times last year, when Campbell was in the midst of a fierce golden boot battle with Tristan Borges, the Forge FC sensation who wowed fans and pundits en route to a hat trick of the ‘North Star Shield’ (as CPL Champions), a Golden Boot and a historic transfer abroad to OH Leuven in the Belgian second division.
While as a striker the goal is always to compete with your rivals, this battle was special for Campbell, as he knows Borges from way back, as they’ve had the chance to become friends at various camps over the years.
“Yeah, of course, I think as a striker, you want to score goals, that’s one of your jobs as a striker,” Campbell said. “So of course my goal is to score as many goals as I can this upcoming season. Yeah, it was fun battling with Tristan (Borges) last year, he’s a really good player, so it was really fun to battle with him, it was enjoyable.”
So with that in mind, despite not having Borges around next year, how does Campbell seeing this year’s Golden Boot race going for him?
He won’t say, but it’s something that definitely is on his mind, as he alluded to, as well as cleaning up some of the parts of his game as a striker that goes beyond just scoring goals.
“My expectations and my standards for myself, I want them to be higher than last year,” Campbell said. “So yeah, I just want to build off of last year, and what I did last year, and make it a whole lot better this year. And that’s pretty much my goal. I want to make everything a lot better and cleaner in my play. I want to be more aware, have better awareness and vision towards the game, then obviously I want to score as many goals as I can, that’s my goal.”
Does he have a specific target number in mind for goals, though?
“More than last year, I’ll say that, I want to score more than last year,” he said with a laugh.
And if chasing a title with Pacific isn’t enough incentive for him, there is more at stake this year for Campbell, who caught the eyes of Canada’s National Team evaluators last season.
Thanks to his exploits, he made Canada’s 50-man shortlist for their Olympic qualifying roster, putting him among the hopefuls to be called up to the 20 man squad for Olympic qualifiers, supposed to be held in March of this year, now postponed to a later date.
Had the pandemic not happened, a decision on the team would have been made a long time ago, but alas, due to the present circumstances, all of those 50 youngsters got handed a lifeline to prove themselves again, which for Campbell, who would love another opportunity to don the Canada strip, is something he’s excited to do when the action returns.
“It would mean a lot to me,” Campbell said honestly. “Playing for your country is completely different from your club, and it’s just another feeling getting to represent your own country, I think last time that I was able to do that was at the U17 level, so it’s been quite some time.”
“I was really grateful when I saw that I made the shortlist, and you know, it’s unfortunate it’s the year that the Olympics and everything weren’t happening until next year now, so hopefully, I can work hard this year, and showcase myself again and prove to people that I can play for the Olympic team, as that would be a dream of mine.”
“More than last year, I’ll say that, I want to score more than last year.”Campbell, when asked about how many goals he aims to score this year
At only 21 years of age, it seems fair to imagine that most of Campbell’s best years are ahead of him, as he slowly starts to enter the prime of his career.
Much like the rest of this Pacific FC roster, who quickly gained notoriety throughout the CPL for their now-famed ‘Play Your Kids’ mantra last season, he’s still a fresh face in the soccer business, meaning that a lot more is still to come from him.
As a result, he and his teammates helped Pacific smash the minutes’ requirement for U21 players in the CPL, clocking up an astonishing 13 352 minutes over the course of the season, over 13 times more than the minimum number of 1000 that each team was supposed to meet.
While he’s no longer eligible to help Pacific achieve that again this year, he and most of the young core still remain intact this season, which are why many are expecting big things from the Tridents when the league does return.
You add in a few young and dangerous offseason signings, such as the former 24-year-old Liga MX forward, Alejandro Diaz, the 24-year-old 2019 CPL standout with Valour, Marco Bustos, and a solid 23-year-old former USL standout defender, Thomas Meilleur-Giguere, among many others, and you can see where the high hopes for Pacific in 2020 stem from.
With all of this young talent in tow, it feels like Pacific is building something nice on the Island, and as seen by the growth shown by their team last season, along with their offseason additions, it seems like it’ll be only a matter of time until they start competing for some silverware.
Chalk that up to a driven philosophy right from day 1, spearheaded by Rob Friend and Josh Simpson at the top of the club, of which Campbell has very much enjoyed being a part of.
“Yeah, it was really good.” Campbell said of Pacific’s youth movement. “I actually knew a lot of them through the guys even before Pacific, from Vancouver with the Whitecaps Academy and other stuff like that. So I think as a young player, especially at Pacific, it all gives us such a really good opportunity to showcase our talent and get out of this league and get to places that we really want to be at, whether it’s any higher league or you name it.”
“But I think Pacific and what they’ve done here has been really good, in bringing in good young talent and trying to develop them into better professionals all around. And I think with some of the guys here, even last year, coming in now for preseason, with how things have been going, you can just see with most of the young guys how they’ve developed from last year to this year, so I think if the tournament does happen this year, I think all of our young players will be a lot better, and more professional, in the game, in the way we play.”
Combined with the excellent atmosphere at Westhills Stadium that we often saw last year, and this Pacific project so far has all the makings of a home run.
Victoria is a great city, they’ve got great fans, and as long as they can find a way to put it all together, there’s a lot of potential here for Pacific.
“I love it, I really like Victoria, as a city it’s really nice, it’s beautiful,” Campbell said of his adopted city. “It’s close to home, as I’m from Vancouver, so it’s not too bad. And yeah, with the fans, as you were talking about, are unreal, every game, every single week that we had a home game, they were there, always chanting for us, bringing the shine, so that was very important for them. And, I love all of my teammates, they’re really good guys, so overall, I’m enjoying it here in Victoria.”
Now, all that’s left is to put together some success on the field. It’s still early in their tenure in the CPL, so it’s not a rush for the team to be lifting trophies, but you’d have to imagine that Pacific wants to start seeing some tangible success as soon as this year, if their signings are any indication, at least.
That’s why they made history last year as the first team to fire their coach, as they parted ways with Michael Silberbauer shortly before the 2019 season had a chance to end, showing their hunger to always keep improving as a club.
Now, with former Vancouver Whitecaps defender, Pa-Modou Kah in charge, Pacific have got someone who is both patient and demanding of his young charges, at least if his time as a veteran player and youth coach in Vancouver, and later as an assistant at FC Cincinnati, is to be any indication.
While it’s too early to tell the impact Kah has had on this club, especially until no games are played, to go off of Campbell’s account, so far it’s been glowing reviews for the fiery new boss.
“Thing have gone well so far with Pah. He’s a lot more different as a character from Michael (Silberbauer), our coach last year,” Campbell said honestly. “I think Pah is a guy who will really get on you, and will make sure that you hold yourself accountable, and also make sure that you hold your teammates accountable. And he’s a real character, a real person, a really good guy, and that’s pretty much what I can say about him. He’s very real, and he’s always going to want the best out of you.”
“With the fans, as you were talking about, are unreal, every game, every single week that we had a home game, they were there, always chanting for us, bringing the shine”Campbell, on the Westhills atmosphere
As a young Black man, Campbell, like many other Black people around the world, has found himself quite involved with the Black Lives Matter movement that has sparked up as of late, in light of the brutal murder of George Floyd by the police, as Floyd sadly became one of many Black people murdered by the police senselessly.
Thanks to the winds of change sparked by the movement, we’ve seen several key developments in the sports world specifically, such as the creation of the Black Players Coalition of MLS, who have successfully created a discussion line with that league over Black issues.
They’ve already started to make a huge difference in MLS, as shown by their powerful, effective and strong messages and protests throughout the first handful of games during MLS’s return, who have joined many other leagues in protesting in support of the Black community.
For Campbell, it’s been incredibly powerful to follow, as he’s done so with interest from Victoria. While he hasn’t had much interaction with racism, he knows the negative impact that it can have, as he’s seen with the stories told by Kah, who’s been candid on his route to becoming the first Black player to represent Norway internationally, and who is still outspoken as the first Black coach in the CPL’s short history.
With this movement, it’s given a chance to show the importance of valuing Black voices, so when asked about what this movement meant to him, Campbell didn’t hold back, as he shared the importance of sustaining this movement both in the short and long term.
As a potential role model for young black soccer players out there, he knows the importance of speaking out, and he is aiming to use his voice whenever possible.
“Yeah, obviously everyone can see some of the problems that have been going on in the world, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, so yeah, it’s about being a role model (for me),” Campbell said honestly. “Personally, I haven’t had too much interaction with racism, so I don’t know too much from that standpoint, but I must say, it’s really nice to see that people are actually starting to want to make a change, instead of just saying that they would like to make a change.”
“So it’s nice to see people going out and making a difference, and being loud, and not staying quiet. I’ve been doing that myself, as I’ve been posting on my social media page, just about petitions that you can sign, doing anything I can to help causes for Black Lives Matter. Just around sports, racism is a big thing, especially in Europe, for example, so I think if sports are continuing to happen through these times, and players can use their social media pages or whatever else they can, their platforms, and have exposure, showing people that what’s going on in the world is about more than just a game, that life is a lot bigger than sport,”
“I think people will all start to realize what we need to do in this world, and some of the things that aren’t so well. Like within the US, it’s supposed to be the land of the free and everything like that, but it really isn’t. So it’s just nice to see that people are aware of that, or are starting to, that people are actually wanting to make a change, even if it’s not just Black people, if it’s White people, whoever it may be, it’s nice to see that.”
So when the CPL returns next month, should we expect Campbell to use that platform in order to protest and make a statement?
“Yeah I think so, I would want to,” Campbell said pensively.
“I must say, it’s really nice to see that people are actually starting to want to make a change, instead of just saying that they would like to make a change.”Campbell, on the recent change brought about in light of the Black Lives Matter movement
So make sure to keep an eye on Campbell when the CPL does return, as he gets ready to make his second act even better than the first one, which based on what we saw last year, is an exciting prospect to imagine.
As the CPL looks to grow its profile as a league, having young Canadians successfully use this league as a springboard is going to be key.
And from what we’ve seen so far, Campbell is a poster boy for that. Once a highly-rated prospect in the Whitecaps system, he fell through the cracks in Vancouver, but luckily for him, the CPL came calling at just the right time.
Now, he can dream of pushing to heights previously thought of as impossible, paved by the likes of Borges and Joel Waterman, two of the leagues’ most notable year 1 exports.
“I think the CPL is a very good league,” Campbell said glowingly. “As I was talking about earlier, it’s a very good league for young Canadian players like myself, and I think if you are a Canadian player, I don’t think is your (final) goal. I think every Canadian player would want to push higher, and reach their full potential, so for me, I want to get out of the CPL someday. I think anyone would, as a young player. So my goal would be of course to be to go to MLS, or try going overseas and seeing how I do there, that’s my goal, and I hope I can fulfill it someday.”
For the first time in a while, it feels like Canada is starting to properly mine the talent that they have at their disposal, and other countries are taking note.
Long gone are the days of Canadians falling through the cracks, as they now have a home either in MLS or in the CPL, of which the pathways to either league are as diverse as ever.
So for Campbell, who’ll be looking to be one of the next players to move on, he’s excited to be a part of all of this.
If last year’s anything to go off of, you’d hate to bet against him, either, as he continues to write his story as one of the case studies at why having a league like this is crucial for developing Canadian talent.
“Yeah I think it’s going to be really big, I mean you were talking about Tristan Borges earlier, and he got a move over to Belgium, so you can already see players making transfers, which is really good,” Campbell said. “And of course, over time, I think only more transfers will happen, and as a young player, that is what you want. You want to move from lower leagues, and you want to fulfill your talent and get as high as you can.”
“And before the CPL, as there was no CPL before last year, there was no home for Canadian players, so like for myself, I would have had to go over to America or try and play in MLS or go overseas, so just having this league here that is stable to stick around in, I can only see more Canadian players making moves from it,” he finished.