Paint the town purple.
Island-based Pacific FC won the Canadian Premier League soccer championship with a 1-0 upset victory over two-time defending champion Forge FC in the CPL final Sunday at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ont., to lift the North Star Shield.
“It’s indescribable,” said PFC Alessandro Hojabrpour, who scored the lone goal on a header off a set piece at 59 minutes.
Forge FC has been the standard bearer for the CPL in its three seasons of existence as Canada’s long-awaited professional soccer league.
“There was a lot written and talked about the [Forge FC] three-peat,” said PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah. “But this one was the only game we were talking about.”
Third-seed PFC, previously winless all-time against top-seed Forge FC at 0-8-1, couldn’t have picked a better time to record its first victory against the team.
“Credit to Forge. They put the CPL on the map. But I’m not a fan of stats. History is meant to be re-written,” said Kah.
Re-write history is exactly what his team did in Canada’s Steel City. It is the first men’s pro soccer championship won by a B.C. team since the 2008 Vancouver Whitecaps in USL-1.
Victoria has produced numerous national and league champions across a variety of sports, from UVic and Dominoes in basketball to Bates/Budgets in softball to Shamrocks in lacrosse.
But this was the first at the professional level since the Toronto farm-club 1966 Victoria Maple Leafs of the old pro Western Hockey League, and joins the championship won by the Double-AA pro baseball Victoria Athletics/Tyees, farm team of the New York Yankees, in the old Western International League in 1952. That was a year after Lester Patrick’s Victoria Cougars of the old pro WHL won the league title in 1950-51.
And, of course, Patrick’s Victoria Cougars won the 1925 Stanley Cup.
“Our players deserve this moment,” Kah said. “It is their moment.”
They did it with a version of the rope-a-dope. Known for its free-flowing and expansive offensive approach, PFC instead went defensive in the final and absorbed Forge’s pressure in the first half before patiently waiting and pouncing on one of its few chances in the second half.
“Muhammad Ali took the punches and exhausted George Foreman,” said Kah, referring to the Rumble in the Jungle championship boxing match of lore. “[Similiarily], there are multiple ways to win a game of football.”
It seems PFC picked the right one Sunday.
“All credit to PFC,” said Forge FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis. “They had a game plan and stuck to it. They sat back and waited. It was a different style [than PFC’s usual]. That’s football. It’s a game of margins. This time the margins went the other way.”
The deciding moment came when a lurking Hojabrpour headed home a whiplash, bang-bang free kick from Dutch-import Gianni dos Santos, who had earned the free kick on a Forge FC foul dos Santos caused with his pure speed and energy.
“To be honest with you, I can’t believe I scored,” said Hojabrpour, who is one of three nominees for CPL under-21 player of the year.
“Anything can happen, right? I looked over and ball was in the net and our guys on the bench were cheering and running out.”
About the end of Forge’s league reign, captain and 18-time Canada-capped Kyle Bekker said: “We’ve had some incredible moments over three years.”
Forge FC’s success has given it a far denser schedule than other CPL franchises. As defending CPL champions, the Hammers are also in the CONCACAF League and played in the second game of the two-game semifinal of that competition against Club de Fútbol Motagua on Wednesday in Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Since the four semifinalists in the CONCACAF League are guaranteed passage to the CONCACAF Champions League for 2022, Forge FC has become the first CPL club to qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League. It is the top club competition in the region and is CONCACAF’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.
But the midweek trip to Honduras and back might have cost Forge dearly in terms of fatigue Sunday in the CPL final.
That is the pathway that awaits PFC next year as 2021 CPL champion.
“Playing in CONCACAF [will] mean a lot,” said Kah. “You have to be ambitious or why do you play the games?”
It is that ambition that has carried PFC to the top of the CPL heap in three years.
The team arrives at Victoria International Airport at 4:30 p.m. Monday.