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Pacific FC-Vancouver FC derby personal for B.C. players

CPL game goes Saturday afternoon in Langley
Josh Heard leads Pacific FC into Langley on Saturday to face Vancouver FC. (ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST)

No matter if you pronounce it derby or “darby,” the cross-strait Canadian Premier League soccer rivalry between Vancouver FC and Island-based Pacific FC is personal for B.C. players. It just means more when you are from here.

The clubs meet for the first time this season this afternoon in Langley. PFC is 3-1-2 in wins-losses-draws in league play and vastly-improved VFC 3-2-1.

“We have 13 B.C. players and Pacific has seven. So that’s 20 local players born or raised. There is a tremendous amount of talent in B.C. We need to show that to the fans. Here [today] is a great way to celebrate the game in B.C.,” said Vancouver FC head coach Afshin Ghotbi.

Among those B.C. players are Josh Heard, the hometown Victoria-raised PFC captain, and VFC defender and former PFC player Kadin Chung of Coquitlam.

“Derbies are great for the game in any country,” said Heard, noting there is a PFC fan bus to the PFC-VFC game today in Langley.

“It’s a lot easier hopping on a ferry and bus than it is on a plane to Halifax when we play HFX.”

Adding to this derby plot line are the former PFC players now with VFC, including Chung, Ben Fisk, Alejandro Diaz, ­Callum Irving, Zach Verhoven and David Norman Jr.

“I love derbies. They have their own narratives and create stories for years to come,” said VFC bench-boss Ghotbi.

“This is a very special game for myself and the players. It’s only in its second year [last season was VFC’s first in the CPL] but it’s already an exciting rivalry. There’s going to be lots of energy and tempo. Because of that, and despite that both teams defend well, there’s going to be lots of chances at both ends.”

Last year’s four games between the B.C. clubs were all wildly divergent stylistically and in tone.

“There are always emotions when playing your old club,” said Chung, the first player signed in PFC history in 2019, and a member of the 2021 CPL champion team.

“I have nothing but love for the PFC fan base and my old teammates there. But I am here now at VFC. That [changing teams] is normal in football.”

Another league story line this week has been the victories by CPL clubs Cavalry FC of Calgary and Forge FC of Hamilton over Major League Soccer teams Vancouver Whitecaps and CF Montreal in the Canadian Championship tournament for the Voyageurs Cup. (Despite the 1-0 loss to Cavalry at B.C. Place, the Whitecaps still advanced to the semifinals due to the away-goals tiebreaker and the Whitecaps 2-1 win in Calgary in the opening game of their set).

“The Cavalry and Forge results showed how exciting the CPL can be and that CPL teams can compete with MLS teams,” said Ghotbi, who has coached in eight countries, and been on the coaching staff at three World Cups with the U.S. in 1998 and South Korea in 2002 and 2006.

There’s a lot of football to see in Canada, and the CPL is only in its sixth year,” added Ghotbi, also head coach of the Iranian national team from 2009 to 2011.

PFC returns to Starlight ­Stadium on Wednesday night to play Atletico Ottawa in the ­second leg of their Canadian Championship quarter-final after the first game ended scoreless in the nation’s capital.

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