CPL, Pacific FC hope to kick off 2021 season in May

Pacific FC is hoping for a ­graduated return to live ­attendance at Westhills ­Stadium (to be renamed ­Starlight ­Stadium) as the Canadian ­Premier League has scheduled the start to its 2021 pro soccer season for the Victoria Day long weekend May 22-24.

“We have models for zero, 25 per cent, 50 per cent, 75 per cent and 100 per cent attendance,” said Pacific FC’s CEO and GM Rob Friend.

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“We’re prepared for the worst. Anything else is a bonus. Nothing will make me happier than seeing fans back at games. I believe there will be a pent-up demand for normalcy and sport is a big part of that.”

Friend said the announced national vaccine rollout timeline appears to be trending toward a scenario of limited attendance to start the season increasing to fuller venues allowed by the end of the ­season in the fall.

The 2020 CPL season was set to begin April 11.

“The hope is that by pushing back the start this year, we will be closer to the point where we can safely play with [live] fans,” said Friend.

“The vaccines will play a big part in this.”

The federal government has said every Canadian who wants a vaccine will receive one by September.

The 2020 CPL season was eventually played last August in truncated fashion without fans in a bubble in Charlottetown, P.E.I.

“We can look back and be proud that we pulled it off when the CFL or CHL couldn’t play,” said Friend.

“The TV numbers were very high. I think in five-10 years we will look back on that 2020 season as having set us up for long-term success.”

Not that anybody wants to go through another abbreviated, single-venue bubble campaign.

“Our goal is play a full [28-game] season,” said Friend, the former Bundesliga pro who was capped 32 times for Canada.

But nothing is guaranteed.

“We know it’s a target and not a sure thing,” said PFC president Josh Simpson.

“Every province is ­different, so that makes it even more ­challenging. But we are ­confident — the vaccines are exciting — and working hard toward the goal of putting on a full season.”

CPL commissioner David Clanachan also expressed confidence about the CPL’s third season.

“We recognize that we must remain patient but we see a number of possibilities which will bring us back onto the field in our home markets,” said ­Clanachan, in a statement.

“We continue to review ­multiple scenarios … while ­recognizing that a major factor will be our nation’s progress against this pandemic. We will remain flexible, but also adaptable. To be clear, our ultimate goal is to see our supporters in the stands as we take to the field.”

Meanwhile, the CPL announced its clubs must provide a combined minimum of 1,500 minutes of field time to Canadian players under the age of 21. The old minimum was 1,000 minutes for a full 28-game season.

“This direction is a ­testament to our ­commitment to ­development of young ­players — the likes of Tristan Borges, Emilio Estevez and Tyler Attardo — who benefited from these rules and moved to other international markets to showcase their talents,” said Clanachan.

“CPL players are drawing invites to the national team training camps in advance of an important U-23 CONCACAF Tokyo Olympic qualifying competition this year.”

PFC holds the record for minutes played by U-21 players, over a full season, with 13,532 minutes in 2019.

“We knocked it out of the park and were a big advocate for strengthening the U-21 guidelines. Player development is what our league is all about,” said Simpson, who came out of Juan de Fuca minor soccer to play pro in Europe and earn 43 caps for Canada.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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