Fate had Saturday’s weather turning out sunny and near flawless in a sort of cosmic taunt to the cancelled sporting, entertainment and cultural events around the Island.
“Just look at this beautiful day,” said Pacific FC president and co-owner Josh Simpson, wistfully.
It was supposed to be a banner one for Pacific FC with the Canadian Premier League opener against FC Edmonton in front of an expected capacity crowd. Westhills Stadium instead stood empty with no soccer balls in sight because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a challenge for everyone,” said Simpson.
But he remains optimistic.
“We are hopeful that we will have a successful second season [PFC was a charter franchise in the pro CPL’s inaugural 2019 season],” said Simpson, a 43-time Canada capped former European pro out of Juan de Fuca minor soccer.
“We have kept our staff. Everyone is totally buying in during this crazy time. I believe we will have a season.”
Just when is the question.
“Anyone’s guess is as good as anybody’s,” said Simpson.
“We are guided by federal, provincial and local governments. Canada has done well, especially when looking south. The league has been in very close contact and we are looking at options. We are hopeful.”
CPL commissioner David Clanachan addressed a possible opening kick-off in a statement on the league’s website: “We are working through different scenarios [regarding] when we might be able to start up again. We’re dealing with this, literally, in real time. This is not something that is happening where it’s changing weekly. This is changing daily and hourly at times. We are preparing for all contingencies for when the time is right. What we all want is CPL soccer in a safe and healthy environment.”
In normal times, FC Edmonton would have been the visiting team Saturday at Westhills Stadium.
“This is one of those surreal moments where you have come off a little taste in pre-season of the potential of the team before all of Canada was impacted by COVID-19,” FC Edmonton head coach Jeff Paulus told CanPL.ca.
“You certainly can’t help but think about it. But this is a fight all Canadians are in together and the fight that so many Canadian families are in at the moment puts the fight we would have [had] on Saturday into perspective.”
A Calgary media report indicated a potential start to the CPL season in July, possibly without fans at the beginning.
“Everything is just rumours and it would not be responsible of me to speculate at this point,” said Simpson.
This is the third wave of blows to Island soccer. The Canada games against Trinidad and Tobago, considered crucial for 2022 World Cup Qatar qualifying in CONCACAF and scheduled for last month at Westhills Stadium, were cancelled. And the Vancouver Island Soccer League season, including the Jackson Cup, is in a holding pattern with the rest of the sports world.
Simpson said the sold-out status of the Canada-Trinidad games bodes well for attendance at PFC games this season. He will have to console himself with that thought for the time being.
The Pacific FC players are training individually while staying connected virtually, which is the new norm across all team sports.
“Our players, via Zoom, are keeping fit and focused mentally and physically,” said Simpson.
CPL commissioner Clanachan noted the scope of the pandemic is beyond just sports: “It’s a bit of an odd situation. On the one hand, we would have been getting ready for our first game of the season Saturday. However, the reality is things have changed and our focus has become the health and safety of Canadians. The start of our season is one thing, but we are dealing with a much bigger issue in this country and that’s what is important right now.”