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Pacific FC vows to make up for loss of key players to rival Forge

If you can’t beat them, sign them. That seems to be Forge FC’s philosophy as it has lured two key Pacific FC players.
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Pacific FC's Terran Campbell tries to score on Vancouver Whitecaps goalie Maxime Crepeau during second half Canadian Championship Preliminary Round soccer action at Starlight Stadium in Langford, B.C., on Thursday, August 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito

If you can’t beat them, sign them. That seems to be Forge FC’s philosophy as it has lured two key Pacific FC players.

Canadian Premier League-champion Pacific FC vows it will counter the losses of three-season original players Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour to rival CPL power Forge of Hamilton.

Campbell, the Island team’s all-time scoring leader with 25 goals, and Hojabrpour, named CPL Under-21 player of the year for 2021, have bolted to Forge FC. Hojabrpour scored the winning goal last month as PFC defeated Forge FC 1-0 in the 2021 CPL championship game at Tim Hortons Field. That ended Forge FC’s two-season reign as CPL champions.

“We have a target on our backs now and other clubs want our players. I’m disappointed in the decision those players made and I question that decision,” said Rob Friend, CEO and GM of Pacific FC.

“But I am very confident in the foundation we have laid, and the squad we have, and the fresh, key pieces we will be adding to the team with some very exciting announcements coming soon.”

Campbell is the all-time PFC leader in games played with 69 and Hojabrpour is tied for third with 63 and will be hard to replace.

“That is pro football. Players make their choices,” said PFC head coach Pa Modou-Kah.

“That is part of winning. Your players suddenly become attractive. In 2019, nobody was looking at these two players. There is no bad blood. I have great relationships with both players. After three years, they have an everlasting bond with PFC with a championship, and now they wanted something new.”

Kah said the PFC response will not necessarily have to rely on the potentially splashy new signings the club has indicated are imminent, but more on its foundational base that is already established. He noted the loss of Campbell and Hojabrpour will be countered by having Marco Bustos and Matthew Baldisimo, both of whom missed much of the 2021 season due to injuries, back and healthy for full runs in 2022.

Bustos was 2020 CPL MVP runner-up to fellow Canada-capped Kyle Bekker of Forge FC while dual-eligible Baldisimo was called up to the Philippines national team for 2022 World Cup qualifying although unable to make an appearance due to a registration issue.

“We have the foundation and pieces already in place and now healthy,” said Kah.

Receiving less notice is the departure of PFC forward Victor Blasco. The Spaniard is another original three-season Trident, but was most recently relegated to substitution duties off the bench. He has signed with Vida of the Honduran pro top-level Liga Nacional after resurrecting his career with championships on the Island in amateur with the VIU Mariners and pro with PFC.

“Victor is bonded with PFC for life and we wish him the best,” said Kah.

Both Friend and Kah said they realize roster depth will be especially important this season due to the berth in the CONCACAF League that comes with being defending CPL champion.

“Our depth will be strong but this season will certainly be a test of our team and our medical and training staff,” said Friend.

The top six in the 2022 CONCACAF League will advance the following year to the 2023 CONCACAF Champions League, this region’s equivalent of the UEFA Champions League.

Forge FC was a 2021 CONCACAF League semifinalist and has advanced to play in the CONCACAF Champions League this year, making it an attractive destination for top players.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com