The Vancouver Whitecaps and Pacific FC are getting set to meet in a special Canadian Championship clash on Thursday, marking the first-ever official meeting between the two sides. Here’s our preview ahead of that one.
No matter what happens on Thursday, it’s going to be a special night for soccer in British Columbia.
As the Vancouver Whitecaps and Pacific FC get set to meet in their first-ever B.C. Derby in the Canadian Championship on Thursday, it promises to be a memorable occasion for all of those involved on both sides of this burgeoning rivalry, with both sides being quite intertwined despite never having played a competitive fixture against one another before now.
On one side, you’ve got the Whitecaps, one of the 3 Canadian teams in MLS, who have long reigned as B.C.’s main professional men’s soccer team for over 40 years, making them not only a familiar name on the West Coast, but all over Canada.
On the other side, you’ve got Pacific, who are in just their 3rd year of existence, having joined as one of the 7 founding members of the Canadian Premier League, Canada’s main professional men’s soccer league, who is in the midst of its 3rd season as Canada’s ‘Tier 1’ league.
Despite being a much newer face in the B.C. professional soccer scene, they’ve won over a lot of admirers across the province these past few years, playing some phenomenal soccer and building quite the atmosphere over in Victoria, making them a can’t-miss experience for local soccer fans.
With the Whitecaps seemingly stuck in neutral (and sometimes in reverse) both on and off the field these past years, a far cry from their dominant eras in the 70s, 80s and the 00s, it’s made many longtime ‘Caps fans turn to Pacific, attaching themselves to a club who makes them feel how their old team used to.
But with both sides in different leagues, most have just shared their allegiances with both teams, knowing that there isn’t a worry of the two playing each other and potentially creating a rivalry.
Because of that, fans of both teams often shared a peaceful rivalry, with many just choosing to go to as many games of both sides as possible, buying merchandise from both teams and watching all of their games on TV.
So for them to meet for the first time is massive, as it’ll truly get this rivalry up-and-running, because as the saying goes, the best way to create a rivalry is by playing games. Geographical proximity can be the kindling, but the actual fire is always started on the pitch, and these 2 teams finally got the platform to do so.
Canadian Championship creates a platform:
And speaking of the platform, how are 2 teams in 2 different leagues getting a chance to play each other in the midst of busy seasons for each side?
And that’s thanks to the Canadian Championship, Canada’s marquee men’s cup competition that is their version of the F.A. Cup (albeit, on a much smaller scale) composed of the 3 Canadian MLS teams, 8 Canadian Premier League teams and the PLSQ and League1 Ontario champions. Through that, Pacific and Vancouver were drawn in the preliminary rounds of that competition, hence their meeting on Thursday.
In a 1-off game at Pacific’s Starlight Stadium, both teams will compete for a spot in the quarter-finals of this year’s Canadian Championship, as they look to continue a quest that they’ll hope will end with them hoisting the trophy and qualifying for the 2022 CONCACAF Champions League as Canada’s entrant.
This tournament means a lot for both teams, as the Whitecaps are looking to win the Canadian Championship for just the 2nd time in their history, having finished runners-up a whopping 7 times in 13 years of the competition, while Pacific is looking for their first win in the tournament, let alone title, having been eliminated across 2-legs to eventual semi-finalists Cavalry in their lone other participation in 2019.
And speaking of the 2-legged series, it’s the absence of that in this year’s tournament that promises to make this game so special. In most years, the Canadian Championship consists of 2-legged ties, but this year they had to move to 1-legged ties due to schedluing constraints.
So although it would’ve been special to see both Vancouver and Victoria host games in a 2-legged series, the fact that this game will be a 1-legged tie hosted at Pacific’s 5000 seat Starlight Stadium only adds to the drama, making a cupset more realistic for the hosts.
There’s no better way to help create this derby by putting both teams in a very high stakes game, all while exposing several new eyes to Pacific’s burgeoning soccer culture, making it a special occasion.
No matter what happens on Thursday, the atmosphere promises to be buzzing, and both teams will be up for the challenge, making for a good game, one that can hopefully prove to be a catalyst for a rivalry that remains for years to come.
But heading into this game, what can one realistically expect from these 2 teams ahead of Thursday? Here’s a quick look at what both sides bring to the table ahead of this one.
2021 Record: 7W-3L-4D (25 PTS), 1st in CPL
Head Coach: Pa-Modou Kah
And to start, we’ll take a look at the hosts, Pacific, for many of whom this will be a big game on so many levels.
Obviously, there are the eyeballs that playing a team like the Whitecaps will put on them, which could go a long way towards providing new opportunities for several of these players further down the road, but it’s worth noting that for many on this Pacific roster, this is a chance for redemption for them.
12 players on Pacific’s roster either played or spent time in the Whitecaps system coming up, including regulars Terran Campbell, Victor Blasco, Marco Bustos, Kadin Chung, Alessandro Hojabrpour and Matthew Baldisimo, among others. On top of that, Pacific’s head coach, Pa-Modou Kah, spent several years playing and then coaching with the ‘Caps, so he’s also quite familiar with their system.
Along with his assistant coach, James Merriman, and goalkeeper coach, Mark Village, who both also have connections to the ‘Caps, a healthy chunk of this Pacific side is quite familiar with what the ‘Caps are all about, which should add intrigue to this matchup.
With many of their players seen as supposed ‘leftovers’ of the ‘Caps system, this is a chance for them to prove to the ‘Caps what they missed out on, which should make for several highly motivated Pacific players on Thursday.
But make no sense, this team is far from just a group of over-cooked leftovers, in fact, they’ve become the class of the CPL this year for a reason.
Led by Bustos, who’s been playing at a borderline CPL MVP level with 5 goals and 5 assists in 13 games, many of them big ones, and supported by teammates such as Campbell (4G, 2A), Alejandro Diaz (4G, 1A), Josh Heard (3G, 1A), Matteo Polisi (2G) and Ollie Bassett (1G, 2A), Pacific lead the CPL in goals for with 22, 5 ahead of 2nd-placed Valour.
Defensively, they’re no slouch, either, having given up just 14 goals in 14 games, which is 4th in the league, and they’ve got the 2nd-most clean sheets in the league with 7, only 2nd to Valour and their whopping 8 clean sheets.
With the likes of Baldisimo, Hojabrpour, Baldisimo and Jamar Dixon in midfield, along with Chung, Abdou Samake, Lukas MacNaughton and Jordan Haynes at the back, plus the solid Callum Irving in goal, Pacific has a very well-rounded squad, one that has made them quite hard to play against.
Stylistically, they subscribe to the idea of being a free-flowing attacking team, one that uses plenty of movement in the final third to confuse opponents, while being a team that has rigid defensive principles at the other end, making sure to always have cover when going forward.
Through that formula, they’ve quickly become the team to watch this CPL season, sitting atop the table as of writing, making them an early-favourite to lift the ‘North Star Shield’ as CPL champions at the end of the campaign.
So with all of that, expect them to give the ‘Caps one heck of a matchup.
Thanks to Kah’s modern brand of football, along with the personal stakes that many have in this game, plus the fact that it’s going to be played at home, Pacific will have every reason to come out flying in this game, giving their mainland foes one heck of a scare on Thursday.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC:
2021 Record: 5W-7L-8D (23 PTS), 10th in Western Conference, 18th in MLS
Head Coach: Marc Dos Santos
But on the other side, there’s the ‘Caps, the favourites, who much to the worry of Pacific, come into this game in flying form, undefeated in 8 games and in 10 of their last 11, as they’ve slowly been climbing up the MLS standings as of late.
When this draw was first announced a month or so back, the ‘Caps were in awful form, sitting last in the Western Conference in MLS, but a few weeks later, they now sit 3 points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand, having slowly turned around what was looking like a lost campaign.
They’re still not out of the woods yet, as they have to maintain their strong form if they want to be a playoff team, but optimism is slowly rising in ‘Caps land.
Thanks to the arrival of their long-awaited DP #10, 25-year-old Scotsman Ryan Gauld, who despite playing just over 100 minutes in 4 games, has already directly contributed to 2 ‘Caps wins, they’ve finally got an offensive talisman to build around.
Along with their much-improved defence, the ‘Caps have finally appeared to carve out an identity as of late, making them a team to watch in this 2nd half of this MLS season.
Plus, they’re going all-in on this game, with ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos calling it an ‘obsession’ of his, meaning that Pacific will likely have to deal with Vancouver’s current full-strength roster, including a possible first start for Gauld.
Led by Gauld (1G, 1A), Cristian Dajome (8G, 3A), Deiber Caicedo (3G, 3A) and Brian White (3G, 1A), the ‘Caps have had a pretty in-form front 4, with this aforementioned quartet having scored 15/23 (65%) of the team’s goals this season, many of those coming in this recent hot streak.
Defensively, they’re paced by the workhorse Janio Bikel in the midfield, along with Andy Rose, Ranko Veselinovic, Cristian Gutierrez, Javain Brown and Jake Nerwinski at the back, and Canadian Men’s National Team goalkeeper, Maxime Crepeau, between the sticks. Despite giving up a whopping 30 goals in 20 games so far this season, they’ve only allowed 3 goals in their last 4 games, showing where they’ve been trending as of late.
Stylistically, they might not play as attractive football as Pacific, but they’re a defensive-first team that tries to maintain a good line of engagement while pressing high when possible, before sending numbers forward on the counter, using Gauld or Michael Baldisimo as creative outlets when they’re on the field.
So with all of that in mind, they should expect to beat Pacific, especially with Gauld in the fold, but it’s worth noting that with the ‘Caps past struggles in this competition, it will be much easier said than done.
The last time they were in the Canadian Championship in 2019, they lost to fellow CPL side Cavalry across 2-legs, and although that ‘Caps team is much worse than this one, with this being a single-elimination game, plus the fact that this game will be in Victoria, the ‘Caps have to be careful.
Lastly, here are some interesting storylines to monitor in this game:
First, one has to wonder what sort of crowd will be in attendance for this game, as it appears over 4000 out of a possible 5000 tickets have been sold for Thursday’s clash at Starlight.
Many of them will be Vancouver fans, no doubt, but with Pacific offering a promotion that allows people to trade Whitecaps gear for Pacific gear, free of charge, one can only wonder if that helps the crowd become more pro-Pacific than it appears to be trending as of right now.
When Starlight is full, it can be a rocking venue for Pacific, which has allowed them to make it a fortress in the past, but if that advantage is neutralized, that could have a big impact on the game, making it interesting to see what the final split of ‘Caps-Pacific fans ends up being.
Baldisimo vs Baldisimo:
Moving on, it’s also worth noting that we might see some rare brother vs brother action here, because as you might’ve noticed above, there will be a Baldisimo brother on either side in this game.
On Pacific’s side, you’ve got the 23-year-old Matthew, who came up through the ‘Caps system, and on Vancouver’s side, you’ve got the 21-year-old Michael, who is one of the hottest young Canadian prospects in MLS.
With both brothers being defensive midfielders who love to put in a tackle, one can only wonder if they’ll have a coming together in this game, which based on how they play, seems like something to bet on.
But either way, hopefully they get a chance to share the field at some point, marking a memorable moment for the Baldisimo family.
A good derby always needs a name:
Lately, it’ll be interesting to see what sort of name this derby picks up, because as of writing, there is yet to be a name that has really stuck with fans.
The B.C. Derby, the Salish Coast derby and the West Coast clash have all been tried out, but none is yet to stick, so for those who’d like to have their hand in naming Canada’s newest soccer rivalry, this is your chance to do so.
If you find the right mix of relevant history and make it catchy, it might just stick, etching your name in Canadian soccer lore.
So now, all that’s left is for both teams to play this game, marking a special chapter in the history of professional men’s soccer in B.C.
Obviously, the stakes of the match will be enough motivation for these players to go out and play their best, but with all of the extra hoopla surrounding this game, it’ll be interesting to see how they respond to the emotions of such a game.
With so much overlap between both sides, both on and off the field, it’s going to be an emotional one for many, hopefully making it a memorable one.
And from that, hopefully a new rivalry emerges, adding this B.C. Derby to scores of other Canadian Soccer derbies, such as the Canadian Classique, Al Clasico and the 905 Derby.
Up Next: Pacific FC vs Vancouver Whitecaps, Thursday, August 26th, 2021, 19:00 PDT, 22:00 EDT (Starlight Stadium, Langford)