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Pacific FC draws Jamaican club in CONCACAF League opening round

Pacific FC striker Alejandro Diaz’s Spanish-language skills won’t be needed after all, at least not for the first round of the CONCACAF League.
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Alejandro Diaz and Pacific FC will face a Jamaican club in the first round of CONCACAF League play. CANADIAN PREMIER LEAGUE

Pacific FC striker Alejandro Diaz’s Spanish-language skills won’t be needed after all, at least not for the first round of the CONCACAF League.

PFC was drawn to play a team from a fellow-Commonwealth nation, Waterhouse FC of the Jamaica Premier League, in the preliminary round of the Scotiabank CONCACAF League competition. The draw was made Wednesday night in Miami and broadcast live on OneSoccer, with a large crowd of supporters turning up at the Bard and Banker to watch it with the PFC players, coaches and management staff.

Pacific FC will travel to ­Kingston for the first leg between July 26-28 and host Waterhouse FC between Aug. 2-4 at Starlight Stadium.

The Island-based pro soccer club qualified for play in CONCACAF League this year by winning the Canadian Premier League championship last year.

The Tridents avoided a match-up against a Central American team, but that could come in the later rounds if PFC gets past Waterhouse FC in the first round.

“It’s not going to be nice on the away leg. Teams play differently down there,” said former Liga MX Premiership player Diaz, about CONCACAF in general.

“It’s not the same football. Teams play to kill time and it’s going to be rough games. And you never know the condition of the pitch,” added the CPL leading scorer this season with six goals.

“We have to be super intelligent in that environment and stick to our game plan. This is a big opportunity for our club and we have to take it,” added Diaz, who played for his native Mexico in the FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cups.

PFC captain Jamar Dixon experienced CONCACAF away games during 2018 World Cup qualifying with Canada in ­Honduras and El Salvador.

“It’s a completely different atmosphere — from the noise of the purposeful partying outside your hotel until 4 a.m., and so playing with very little sleep, to having things thrown at you during the game, including bags filled with urine,” he said.

“You have to stick together tightly as a unit in that environment and focus on what you can control.”

Pacific FC CEO Rob Friend played pro in the Bundesliga, but was capped 32 times for Canada and played World Cup qualifying games on the road in CONCACAF.

“It’s a different world,” said Friend.

“Unless you’ve been through it, it’s easy to underestimate how challenging it is to play there. It’s about the group coming together, so far away from home, and I know our players can do it and they have earned the right.”

The PFC-Waterhouse winner will advance to the CONCACAF Sweet Sixteen Aug. 16-18 for the first legs and Aug. 23-25 for the second legs. The quarter-finals are Sept. 6-8 for the first legs and Sept. 13-15 for the second legs. The semifinals are Oct. 4-6 and Oct. 11-13. The finals are Oct. 25-27 and Nov. 1-3.

Six teams — the semifinalists and top-two quarter-finalists — will advance to the 22-team 2023 CONCACAF Champions League featuring the big-league clubs of the region.

The format, however, will change after that with three regional tournaments qualifying clubs for a confederation-wide expanded 27-club CONCACAF Champions League beginning in 2024 that will crown this region’s best club.

The 2020 CPL champion Forge FC of Hamilton reached the CONCACAF League semifinals last year and are currently playing in the CONCACAF Champions League because of it.

“Forge has done amazing to show the CPL level is growing and can compete with anybody,” said Diaz.

Now it’s PFC’s chance to ­follow suit.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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