Vancouver FC, which will miss the Canadian Premier League playoffs, is the unlikeliest of hot teams. VFC has won its last two games and three of its past four entering Saturday’s B.C. derby against Pacific FC at 2 p.m. at Starlight Stadium.
Third-place PFC has clinched a post-season berth but still has all to play for with two games remaining as it targets second place behind regular-season champion Cavalry FC of Calgary and a more favourable route through the five-team Page playoff system the CPL is utilizing.
“We can stop other teams’ dreams,” said Vancouver FC defender Kadin Chung.
“Once we missed the playoffs, we wanted to build something for the start of next year. There is still something for us to play for, like staying out of the bottom. And it’s a derby match which is also a lot to play for.”
Not to mention a lot to play for personally for former PFC players Chung, Alejandro Diaz and goalkeeper Callum Irving, now with the VFC Eagles.
“These [Tridents] are old teammates of mine and guys I like and respect,” said Chung, who was the first signee in PFC club history, and who made it to a season in MLS with Toronto FC.
“You’re always thinking about that when playing an old club. But that goes away once the whistle blows.”
There will be plenty of time to commiserate about old times, including the 2021 league championship with PFC, following the final whistle.
“These were important players in our club and part of our championship and I have a lot of respect for these guys,” said PFC head coach James Merriman.
Chung, Diaz, Irving have nothing to lose any more this season and can play with abandon, something that makes Merriman wary: “They are not going to the playoffs and can play more freely, and that makes teams dangerous.”
VFC head coach Afshin Ghotbi said his Eagles just ran out of time: “It’s fantastic to see how they’ve grown. It’s better late than never. It’s sad it’s going to end soon. I wish we had 28 more games. At this point in my life, every game is a gift.”
VFC made its debut this year as an expansion franchise and entrusted the inaugural season to veteran mentor Ghotbi, who has coached in eight countries including as head coach of Iran, and been on the coaching staff at three World Cups with the U.S. in 1998 and South Korea in 2002 and 2006.
“This was one of the most difficult projects of my career, starting a team from scratch,” he said.
“You can see the progress the team is making. We are in a good place and peaking. Unfortunately, the season is ending.”
But Ghotbi sees good things not only for the future of VFC and the Eagles-Tridents derby but Canadian soccer as a whole: “There is tremendous potential in the CPL because of the talent in Canada. As it gets closer to co-hosting the World Cup in 2026, that will become more evident. I saw it with USA 1994 and South Korea 2002. I believe all the ingredients are there. Soccer is going to take over the Canadian sports scene.”
CORNER KICKS: PFC’s all-over-the-pitch and ever-hustling non-stop engine, Kunle Dada-Luke, has gone through the concussion protocols and been medically cleared following last week’s frightening collision in the 3-1 loss to Forge FC at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. But don’t look for him in action today. “Kunle has had a great recovery but I’m not sure we want to risk it this quickly,” said Merriman.