Pacific FC welcomes weekend-heavy CPL schedule

These are heady days for soccer on the Island.

Tickets for the Canada-Trinidad international on March 27 at Westhills Stadium, with ramifications for 2022 World Cup qualifying, went in in a matter of hours Thursday, resulting in one of the fastest sellouts in Canadian national team history.

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“It shows this is a soccer community,” said Pacific FC CEO and GM Rob Friend.

That was followed Friday by the release of the full Canadian Premier League schedule. The nation’s long-awaited domestic pro league enters its second season with Pacific FC opening with three consecutive home dates at Westhills Stadium in Langford against FC Edmonton on April 11, HFX Wanderers of Halifax on April 17 and Valour FC of Winnipeg on April 26. Nine quick points at Westhills would do a lot to set the trajectory of the season for PFC, as would the corollary in the opposite direction.

The first Pacific FC road game is May 2 at Spruce Meadows in Calgary against Cavalry FC.

Each CPL team will play 28 league fixtures, 14 at home and 14 away. Over 90 per cent of the games will be played on weekends or holidays. The few weeknight matches have been squeezed into the summer months.

“It is huge for us to play the majority of our games on the weekends,” said PFC president Josh Simpson.

Friend and Simpson noted having an even number of eight teams this season — with the addition of Atletico Ottawa — made the scheduling process easier because of balance. Each of the other seven teams will visit Westhills Stadium twice.

Friday Night Soccer will become a new CPL staple in 2020. Also, all eight teams will play on Canada Day, with PFC hosting Atletico Ottawa at Westhills. All final games of the season will be played Oct. 4, with PFC hosting York9 that day.

“We want to find ways to create traditions,” said CPL commissioner David Clanachan, in a statement.

“When I was a young lad, my grandfather took me to games, and it was always a Saturday afternoon. We, in this country, as we build this new league and the game here, need to find ways to help supporters create their own traditions. The idea around Friday night does that. It’s always going to be a good night out.”

Clanachan also pointed to the Canada Day fixture: “These are the days where we can really create traditions, and you reminisce about the days you used to go, too. Ours is the kind of sport that is absolutely made to be handed down from generation to generation.”

The most significant departure from the inaugural 2019 CPL campaign is that the split-season format has been ditched in favour of a single-season table.

“The one-season table emulates all the big European leagues, so we are very happy with [it’s adoption],” said Simpson, a Juan de Fuca soccer product and former European pro, who was capped 43 times for Canada.

Friend, the 32-time Canada capped former Bundesliga pro, concurred: “It’s cleaner, easier and a simpler process to follow.”

Clanachan said he heard loudly that’s what fans wanted: “When we went back and looked at what happened last year, we realized that more clubs could stay in the hunt for a longer period of time in a single table.”

There will also be a new playoff format with the top three teams making the post-season, up from the top two last year. The second and third seeds will meet with the winner advancing to play the top seed in the CPL championship final.

“The idea of more clubs staying in it until the death is an awesome opportunity to keep everyone hyped,” said Clanachan. “It ups the ante, and you’re never really out of it.”

Meanwhile, PFC has scheduled only one regular-season game in June. The club wants minimal clash with hoops as the FIBA men’s basketball Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifying tournament, June 23-28 at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, takes over the city. PFC’s lone regular-season home game that month is June 6 against Valour FC of Winnipeg.

But there will be a second, non-league home game in June. Pacific FC will meet FC Edmonton in the first round of Canada Soccer’s 2020 Canadian Championship tournament. The first leg will be played between June 16-18 and second leg June 23-25. Westhills Stadium and Clarke Stadium in Edmonton will each host a game in the total-goal aggregate set with the order to be determined. PFC has requested the earlier window for its home date because of the Olympic basketball qualifier overlapping the second window. The winner between PFC and FC Edmonton, nicknamed the Eddies, will advance to play the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer in the two-leg quarter-final round between July 7-16. The semifinal round is Aug. 12-19 and the championship round Sept. 16-23.

CORNER KICKS: Pacific FC announced Friday the signing of six-foot-two defender Abdou Samake out of the Montreal Impact MLS Academy and the NCAA University of Michigan Wolverines. The 23-year-old native of Mali, who moved to Montreal when he was seven, was named to the all-Big Ten tournament team in his fourth and final NCAA season with the Wolverines. This is his first pro contract as he becomes the 16th player inked by PFC for the 2020 CPL season.

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