Everybody knew the seven opening home games in the inaugural Canadian Premier League season would be splashy affairs in each market.
The first two went well last weekend with 17,611 watching at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton as host Forge FC and visiting York9 from Toronto tied 1-1 followed by an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 5,154 at Westhills Stadium in Langford to watch Pacific FC win its first game in franchise history with a 1-0 victory over the HFX Wanderers of Halifax.
The true measure of the CPL, the long-awaited domestic Canadian pro soccer league, will become evident in what comes after the openers.
The Island will be the first market to find that out tonight at 8 at Westhills when Pacific FC hosts Valour FC in the CPL’s first midweek game. The Winnipeg club is owned by the Blue Bombers of the CFL and derives its name from the three Victoria Cross recipients in the First World War who all lived on Pine Street in Winnipeg, which has since been renamed Valour Road.
This will be the first game in Valour FC franchise history. Its home opener is Saturday against FC Edmonton at the 33,234-seat Investors Group Field.
“This is for us. Everybody’s been waiting for this. They are rooting for us,” said CPL commissioner David Clanachan, who held court in a news conference Sunday during Pacific FC’s inaugural game, after flying out from Hamilton the night before.
“This is about developing the game in Canada. For the [Canadian] players, this is their shot.”
Case-in-point is that only seven imports are allowed per team, and six Canadians must be on the pitch at all times. Each CPL team must assure a minimum of 1,000 minutes played during the season to at least three Canadian players who are 21 or younger. Pacific FC features bright young Canadian players such as Ben Fisk, Kadin Chung, Noah Verhoeven, Matthew Baldisimo and Terran Campbell. Valour FC head coach Rob Gale coached the Canadian U-18 team from 2012 to 2015 and the Canadian U-20 team from 2014 to 2018 and has used those connections to help build his roster of youthful Canadian talent such as Calum Ferguson and Diego Gutierrez.
Clanachan said he liked what he saw over the first two games: “We want a good standard of play, with no diving or rolling around, and the referees are letting the players play. There is a great flow to our games. And when other pro sports are taking more than three hours to play a game, you are in and out of the stadium in two hours in soccer.”
The captain’s armband for Pacific FC, meanwhile, is being worn by 27-time Canada-capped striker Marcus Haber, whose last contract was with Dundee in the Scottish Premiership.
“I never thought I would ever see a Canadian Premiership league,” said the 30-year-old Haber.
“We didn’t have the infrastructure when I was coming up, so I had to go abroad.”
About being captain, Haber said: “It’s an honour. Whoever wears the armband is just an extension of this team.”
Indeed, the Pacific FC players appear to be buying into the approach rookie pro head coach Michael Silberbauer is selling. Pacific FC was well structured and well organized in its opening game, despite being down to 10 men for the final 19 minutes plus injury time.
“I thought the whole group came together really well,” said Silberbauer.
Although a rookie pro head coach, Silberbauer does not lack in soccer experience, having played for FC Copenhagen and earning 25 caps for Denmark, including in Euro 2012.
Meanwhile, when 56-time Canada capped former MLS and Bundesliga attacking-defender Marcel de Jong, like Haber a marquee veteran signing by Pacific FC, went down in training camp to a season-ending injury, other CPL teams began to question the Island club’s back end.
Pacific FC, however, takes a clean sheet into tonight’s fixture thanks to goalkeeper Mark Village and his defenders, particularly German import Hendrik Starostzik, who also scored the lone goal Sunday.
“It was a grind when we get down to 10 men, but we were organized defensively,” said Haber.
CORNER KICKS: The last time teams from these markets played in pro soccer was when the Victoria Vistas and Winnipeg Fury were part of the old Canadian Soccer League, which ran from 1987 to 1992.