Right from the first kick of the ball, you just knew that it was going to be a special night.
Heck, you could feel the atmosphere right as soon as one stepped into Starlight Stadium in Langford on Thursday night.
As hosts Pacific FC got set to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first-ever ‘Ferryside Derby’ between the two men’s professional teams currently operating in the province, it promised to be a special occasion. From a basic point of view, just the fact that both teams were meeting for the first time was plenty of fuel for a game like this, but then when you factor in the fact that it was a pivotal Canadian Championship knockout tie only added to that, too, as both teams had every reason to go out and win the game.
In a clash between the Canadian Premier League’s Pacific and Major League Soccer’s Whitecaps, there was the also added factor of this game being a match between an old head in an established league, the ‘Caps, versus a new face in a burgeoning league, Pacific.
And you could feel that energy in the stadium from blocks away. Playing the role of hosts, Pacific delivered in every way possible. The stadium was full, the crowd was rocking, and a grand majority of those in attendance were clad in purple, giving the home side a distinct advantage, quelling any worry that the visiting ‘Caps would bring in an overpowering presence to the Island from the Mainland.
“This is one club, one island,” Pacific head coach, Pa Modou Kah, said after the game. “Hopefully all the people who came here can see that we are building something on the Island, so hopefully every game we see the crowd fully packed again.”
“What was positive about the game was the environment,” ‘Caps head coach Marc Dos Santos also added after the game. “The environment at this first B.C. Derby, that was positive, the environment was good here.”
That paved the way for a lovely first act in the history of the Ferryside Derby.
Right from kick-off, Pacific fed off of that energy, playing with some extra zip in their step, even despite the absence of their best player this season, Marco Bustos, as an ankle injury robbed Pacific of their leading scorer with 5 goals and 5 assists. Despite that, the ‘Caps almost looked intimated by the occasion, the ‘Caps struggled to respond, shrinking in front of the bright lights.
Thanks to that, it led to a dream debut from the home side. Just 8 minutes into the game, Pacific’s Manny Aparicio pounced on a loose ball in midfield, and quickly unleashed a low shot that confused ‘Caps goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau, and it fell right to Terran Campbell in a good position. From there, he’d be fouled by the ‘Caps Jake Nerwinski, winning his team a deserved penalty, one that Campbell would then step up and calmly slide home, putting his team in the lead.
With that, the fans erupted into a glorious roar, one that raptured throughout the stadium, giving fans something they so desperately hoped to see – their hometown Pacific taking the lead over Vancouver.
“In the first 15 minutes, we had such a rough time,” Dos Santos said. “Adjusting to the bounces, settling into possession, and we weren’t able to do it in the first half.”
But then, the game took a quick turn. Well aware of what the scenario entailed, the Whitecaps sprung to life, showing their quality. Off of a long ball, Pacific’s goalkeeper Callum Irving failed to properly claim a ball that both he and ‘Caps striker Brian White contested for, leaving the ball to fall in the box. From there, the ‘Caps newest DP #10, Ryan Gauld, showed why the ‘Caps moved land and sea to acquire his services, delicately dinking the ball home to silence the crowd.
With that, a question loomed – could Pacific handle this ‘Caps push? Or would they succumb to the pressure from the favoured visitors?
And in an impressive show of resilience, the answer would be that they’d indeed be able to handle the ‘Caps push.
Right at the 28th minute, Aparicio popped up in a pocket after a loose ‘Caps defensive turnover, reacting quickest to the bouncing ball, before settling it down and ripping a strike into the top corner, once again sending the home fans into a rapture of noise.
Plus, more impressively, Pacific were once again full value for the goal, too, having arguably played the better football through 30 minutes, showing more organization, drive, technique and passion than their opponents.
That would stay true right into halftime, allowing both teams to get a break, one in which Pacific looked to keep the magic that they’d so far found up until that point, while the ‘Caps desperately tried to find any sort of answer that could tell them what had gone wrong up until that point.
And coming out for the 2nd half, it was clear that Pacific’s messaging had gripped a better hold on their players, as they once again looked like the better team, while the ‘Caps were left to chase shadows.
That would then allow them to grab a 3rd in the 64th minute, as Pacific’s Josh Heard, who also played a key role in the Aparicio goal, carved through the ‘Caps defence quite effortlessly before slotting home from close range, giving Pacific what seemed like an insurmountable 3-1 lead.
Naturally, the ‘Caps would then follow that up by scoring less than 5 minutes later, as Gauld once again popped up in a great pocket, floating home a header from a lovely Cristian Dajome cross, but still down 3-2, it felt like they had a mountain to climb at that point.
And then, in the 76th minute, Pacific planted the dagger. After a nice ball in from a wide set-piece, the ball popped up to Alejandro Diaz at the penalty spot, and Pacific’s #9 made no mistake with the chance, slotting it home to put his team up 4-2, all but cementing the result.
The ‘Caps Cristian Dajome would make it 4-3 right at the death off of a penalty that Gauld won, but when referee Juan Marquez put his whistle to his lips to announce the end of the game, it marked a result that was fully deserving to the hosts from the Island.
“Overall, you can’t win games if you concede 4 goals,” Dos Santos bluntly admitted. “It was a lot. Defensively we struggled a lot today.”
He added: “I want to congratulate Pacific for their energy, what they brought, and we were all aware of that. We knew that it would be this type of game, we knew it would be a scrappy game, lots of 2nd balls and battles, and they did a good job of managing that.”
In a battle of big brother versus little brother, it was a memorable victory for the underdogs, who proved that they’re a lot closer to the big time than anyone could’ve ever anticipated.
Less than 3 years into their journey as a professional club, they made a statement that will be remembered across British Columbia for months and years to come, proving that grassroots soccer is catching on in the province.
“The players were fantastic,” Kah said of the performance. “It was all about the players. As a coach, I have nothing to say, it was the boys out on the pitch, today was all about our boys creating history.”
He added: “In the first-ever B.C. Derby, we came out victorious, and that’s for our people.”
“We battle from the first minute to the 90th minute,” Josh Heard also added. “Hopefully people could tell out there.”
They’ve got the infrastructure, they’ve got the coaching, they’ve got the players, and most importantly, they’ve got a good feeling surrounding their club right now. Sitting 1st in the CPL, and coming off this victory, it’s a great time to be a Pacific FC supporter, as everything is coming up purple.
On the other side, though, questions are being asked of the ‘Caps, who continue to find new lows, always finding a way to sink lower once they hit a new-low. Having done well to find a solid level of play as of late, riding an 8-game unbeaten run into this game, it feels like they extinguished weeks of progress with just this result, and that’s reflected by the fact that Dos Santos has now found himself without a job less than 24 hours after the game, showing the consequences of such a result.
It’s one thing to go out there and lose a game like this, as upsets can happen over 90 minutes, but to do so by being so outplayed makes it a tough pill to swallow, as they had a front-row seat from a masterclass from their next-door neighbours, and Dos Santos took the fall for that.
Plus, having been through this before, as they were the first MLS team to lose to another CPL side when they lost to Cavalry across 2 legs in the 2019 Canadian Championship, it only added further fuel to that fire, on top of the kindling that was already there.
Hope is not lost for the Whitecaps quite yet, as they’re very much in the MLS playoff race just 3 points off of the 7th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they’ll have no time to recover from this result, as they take on Real Salt Lake in a huge game on Sunday at BC Place, their first sans Dos Santos.
Riding the momentum of Gauld’s positive arrival, this team still has bigger things ahead of them, but they’ll have to get back on track after this result, one that will certainly hang in the air for a while.
But over on the island, they’ll look to take the positive momentum of this game and build off of it, as they get set to keep riding this wave into a good Canadian Championship run and into a successful 2nd half of the CPL season, 2 trophies that they have a good chance of winning.
As they showed on Thursday night, when they’ve got their home crowd behind them, nothing can stop them, so you wouldn’t put it past them making more of those dreams a reality.
For now, though, they can sit back and enjoy this result for a while now, because as shouted out by Kah at the end of his press conference, “B.C. is purple”, and it’ll stay that way for a while now, until the next Ferryside Derby comes around, hopefully sooner rather than later.