Pacific FC to play Vancouver Whitecaps in opening round of Canadian Championship

It is the dream provincial ­match-up Pacific FC has always coveted. Now the Canadian ­Premier League club will get it. And at home, to boot, when it plays the Vancouver ­Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in an opening-round Canadian ­Championship game Aug. 26 at Starlight Stadium in Langford.

It will be the first meeting between the only two pro soccer clubs in B.C.

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“If our players are not up for this game, I don’t know that they would be up for,” said Pacific GM and CEO Rob Friend.

Friend said he immediately phoned the Whitecaps when the draw was made, stating his case that the game would be a far bigger deal on the Island than it would be in Vancouver. The Whitecaps agreed to cross the strait.

“It will be a quick sell-out,” said Friend.

Tickets will go on sale over the next few days, he said, noting current provincial health guidelines cap attendance at 5,000 for outdoor events.

The Whitecaps know better than to treat the game lightly. Certainly not after losing to the CPL’s Cavalry FC of Calgary in the second-round of the 2019 Canadian Championship. The 2020 competition was not held due to the pandemic.

“The Whitecaps are an established MLS club but we will be going into the game looking for a result,” said Friend.

PFC is 3-2-2 and tied for third place in the CPL heading into Wednesday’s game against Atletico Ottawa to close out play in the Winnipeg bubble before returning to Starlight Stadium for the first time since October of 2019 to meet Cavalry FC on July 30. The Whitecaps, who have yet to play at home during the pandemic, are struggling at 3-7-3 in MLS and are 12th in the Western Conference ­heading into tonight’s game against ­Houston Dynamo.

The 13-team Canadian Championship is this nation’s equivalent of the FA Cup in England and features the three Canadian MLS teams Whitecaps, Toronto FC and CF Montreal, the eight CPL clubs and the defending champions from League1 in Ontario and Premiere Ligue de Soccer du Quebec, which currently from 2019 are Masters Futbol Academy and AS Blainville, respectively. The Canadian Championship winner will hoist the Voyagers Cup and advance to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup playdowns.

The Canadian Championship match-ups are usually two-game, total-goal, home-and-home affairs. Because of the pandemic, this year’s competition will be single-game knockout.

“We are excited to see the return of the Canadian Championship in 2021 and the return of the 13-team format that makes the competition truly and uniquely Canadian,” Canada ­Soccer president Dr. Nick Bontis said in a statement.

“As we turn the corner on the COVID-19 pandemic, we look forward to returning to stadiums filled with fans cheering their clubs on in pursuit of a chance to play in the CONCACAF Champions League and FIFA Club World Cup competitions.”

The Canadian Championship opening round will be conducted between Aug. 15-26, the quarter-final round from Sept. 14-22, the semifinals Sept. 28-29 and the final to be played between Oct. 19 and Oct. 27.

The winner of the PFC-Whitecaps game will advance to the quarter-finals to meet the winner of an opening-round set between CPL clubs FC Edmonton and Cavalry FC.

Toronto FC and CF Montreal of MLS, and Hamilton’s Forge FC of the CPL, have drawn first-round byes.

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