Pacific FC sets sights on finishing third in CPL

Pacific FC president and co-owner Josh Simpson chuckled when a casual soccer fan asked him about the brackets for the inaugural Canadian Premier League playoffs.

“I told him there are no brackets,” said Simpson.

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The CPL has gone “total football” in its approach, with Simpson pointing out that the winner of the regular season is crowned the English Premier League champion with no playoffs involved.

The CPL, however, has allowed for a final between its two-top teams with Cavalry FC of Calgary and Forge FC of Hamilton, Ont., meeting in the two-game set Oct. 26 and Nov 2.

The rest of the teams will play out the string, including tonight at 7 p.m. at Westhills Stadium, when the HFX Wanderers of Halifax come to the Island in the second-to-final home fixture of the season for PFC.

How far does the CPL want to take its total-football vision? The goal eventually, when there are enough teams, is to have Premier/Division 1 promotion-relegation, Simpson said.

That is something totally alien to the North American sporting mindset. Imagine how hockey fans in the province would react if the Vancouver Canucks dropped from the NHL to the AHL after a bad season.

“I use the English Premiership as our model,” Simpson said of the system common in European soccer.

“The EPL is the most-viewed sports league in the world, and fans care about every point during the season precisely because it matters so much in terms of not being relegated,” added the Juan de Fuca product, who was capped 43 times for Canada and played pro at the highest levels in Europe.

It is notable, however, how North American fans have adapted to soccer culture in so many other ways.

The European- and Latin-style atmosphere isn’t evident in the MLS only in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland or Los Angeles, but impressively in the heart of NCAA college football territory such as Atlanta.

North American soccer fans get it, including the PFC’s two very avid and active supporters’ groups, which create a constant din and flag-waving purple-themed tableau at home games, behind the east goal at Westhills Stadium.

“There are lots of immigrants in Canada and they understand the game, the culture and system of soccer,” Simpson said.

That’s what the CPL is hooking into, he added.

Meanwhile, HFX is guided by former Canada and Trinidad and Tobago national teams head coach Stephen Hart.

The side comes into Westhills tonight in last place in the fall season at 2-6-6. If promotion-relegation was in effect now, HFX would be playing with supreme urgency.

PFC (4-7-3 in the fall) discovered in its past two games just how far the Island club is from the top-two teams in the CPL, with road losses of 4-1 to Cavalry in Calgary and 3-0 to Forge in Hamilton.

“Every other team in the league has had good and bad moments, but Cavalry and Forge have played with consistency every game,” said PFC midfielder Noah Verhoeven.

The goal for the youthful PFC side down the stretch is to finish as the best of the rest.

“We’re still in the chase for third place, which will be a great building block toward next year,” said the promising Verhoeven, who over the summer received a call-up to the Canadian practice roster ahead of the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

PFC head coach Michael Silberbauer concurred.

“We are building to next year and there is a lot to do. Learning how to win is a process,” said the 25-time capped Danish international, who played pro in the top-level Dutch Eredivisie.

“Players have to make mistakes before they learn how to win. We our still learning and bringing our best. It’s a process, of which winning is the end result.”

There are no regrets among the PFC brass over having gone with such a young roster of pros, some of whom could make the club money in future years with possible transfer payments from MLS or European clubs.

“This is what I came back to the Island to do,” Simpson said.

“We love our approach. Our young players have provided some of the most exciting football of the season in our league.”

With 4,476 kilometres between Victoria and Halifax, tonight’s game constitutes the third-longest trip in the world between domestic league Premiership pro soccer clubs.

PFC makes the trip the other way for next Wednesday’s game in Halifax.

CORNER KICKS: In the PFC’s Feed the Isle campaign with Dodd’s Furniture, to help fill local food banks, fans can get into tonight’s game with the donation of two non-perishable food items.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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