Pacific FC has high hopes for 2021

Much of the off-season talk in the Canadian Premier League is set to swirl around Pacific FC’s left-footed marksman Marco Bustos. The former Vancouver Whitecaps prospect and six-time Canada-capped striker had five goals and three assists in the CPL tournament on Prince Edward Island and is the leading candidate for league MVP in some peoples’ opinion.

There could be money to be made for PFC ownership in transfer fees for Bustos after Tristan Borges reportedly netted between $300,000 to $500,000 for Forge FC of Hamilton in his transfer to Belgian club OHL following the 2019 CPL season.

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“We are here to develop players and move them on to bigger leagues, whether the MLS or Europe. That is the business of pro soccer,” said PFC CEO and GM Rob Friend.

“Look at the tournament Sean Young had for us. He is a 19-year-old home-grown Island talent. But you have to be strategic when to move players on and when to keep them to win a championship. It’s a balancing act.”

About the expected off-season interest in Bustos from bigger leagues, PFC head coach Pa-Modou Kah said: “We want to promote players. We would never hold any player back.”

Meanwhile, nobody in the PFC organization could have anticipated in March that its 2020 season would consist of 10 games, all played without fans in a “bubble” on an island on the other side of the country, and be interspersed with emotive moments of support for Black Lives Matter.

All in all, the pandemic season turned out as well as could be expected, both on a team and league front, considering the odds stacked against it. Consider that the venerable Canadian Football League was unable to pull off a season and that the two-year-old CPL has done just that in soccer.

Friend said that in its own way, the abbreviated, single-site CPL campaign in Charlottetown: “Actually added exposure. The TV product was great and the ratings on CBC much higher – close to MLS numbers — than some people thought they would be. And we were on Fox Sports in the U.S., too.”

PFC finished third overall in the league in the playoff group stage standings after missing the post-season in the inaugural 2019 CPL season.

“We are just a few pieces away from being a championship team,” said Friend.

“We have a lot to build on for next year. We showed we are a team to look out for and can compete with anyone. A championship is not far off.”

PFC captain and 56-time Canada-capped Marcel de Jong has seen a lot in a 15-year pro career with FC Augsburg of the Bundesliga, Roda JC in the Dutch Eredivisie and Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS. But he has never seen anything like this season. Nobody has.

“It was a crazy ride and hard on the bodies,” said de Jong, of the physical demands of so many games in a short a period of time.

“But we simply treated it as a big adventure. It was an interesting experience and one that I will never forget. We improved from last year and are on the right track. I can’t wait until Year 3.”

Kah said the “CPL brand and quality on the pitch both moved forward” in the tournament.

“And for us, as a team, this is definitely the way to go into next season,” he added.

“We made the playoffs in the second year of the club and hope fans on Vancouver Island were proud of what we achieved.”

The winner of Saturday’s CPL championship game between Forge FC of Hamilton and HFX of Halifax (11 a.m. on CBC) will advance to meet the top Canadian team from MLS for the Canadian Championship, this nation’s FA Cup-type title.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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