Hungry for More: Manny Aparicio signing latest show of ambition for growing Pacific FC side

Pacific FC recently made waves around the Canadian Premier League with the signing of Manny Aparicio, the creative midfielder who the Island side poached from York 9. In this, we look at what he can bring to their squad, as well as Pacific’s promise to keep building for the long-term with their moves this offseason. 

After taking a step forward in 2020, they want to make sure to keep that positive momentum on their side. 

Pacific FC has wasted no time in hitting the ground running this offseason, confirming the return of 9 players from their 2020 squad, including Marcel De Jong, Matthew Baldisimo, Josh Heard, Sean Young, Jordan Haynes, Alejandro Diaz, Kadin Chung, Thomas Meilleur-Giguere and Lukas MacNaughton. 

Along with the projected return of Marco Bustos, Terran Campbell, Alessandro Hojabrpour, Callum Irving and Noah Verhoeven, among others, Pacific is expected to take a big step forward again in 2021. 

Considering that they finished 4th out of 8 teams at the Canadian Premier League’s ‘Island Games’ in P.E.I., after finishing 5th out of 7 teams the year before, it felt like they took a strong step forward this year. 

And while the results suggest the improvement was marginal, seeing Pacific quickly gel into one of the most entertaining teams in the league suggested that their jump in the standings actually sold their progress a bit short, making them a team to watch in 2021. 

A big reason for that? The arrival of Pa Modou Kah as head coach, as the former Vancouver Whitecap defender is credited for having given this Pacific team new life this year.

Having been the only team to fire a coach at the time of his arrival, one did wonder how he’d handle the expectations of this young yet ambitious club, but from what we saw and heard in 2020, he passed the test with flying colours. 

Adding to the mix: 

So it’s no surprise to see them hit the ground running in terms of re-signings, but also in terms of new players brought in, as they made a huge splash on November 6th by signing the 25-year-old midfielder, Manny Aparicio, who was recently released by York 9. 

Regarded as one of the more technically sound midfielders in the league, Aparicio is the sort of tricky player that defenders hate to face, as he is dangerous every time that he gets the ball. 

Having seen the damage that Aparicio can inflict first-hand, as the Canadian was one of the standout players at the ‘Island Games’, scoring two memorable free-kicks in the 6 games that he played, Pacific immediately targeted him as a player to sign. 

Even though he didn’t score against Pacific, he put his stamp on that game, as he did on many others, something that Kah certainly didn’t forget when it came to signing him. 

“Against us, he showed a little glimpse of things that he did that make me say, yeah, when you have a player like him, if he comes available in your squad, you make your squad stronger,” Kah said during a press conference for Aparicio’s signing. “He’s young, he’s Canadian, he’s hungry, and you know he wants to win. That shows our mentality. And he tried to cheat us for a goal on a free-kick. That’s when I knew that alright, that’s the type of player you need to put in your squad.”

And when you look at the stats, you can see exactly why Pacific immediately jumped at the chance to grab Aparicio when it was announced that he wouldn’t be returning to York. 

In his 6 games, he was persistent in the attack, tallying 3 shots, including 2 on target, both of those being the aforementioned free kicks. He was also a creative hub for the team, creating 1 big chance and 10 chances total, all of them coming in open play. 

But while his offensive contributions are no surprise to see, he was also quite involved defensively, winning 9 out of 14 tackles (65%), which for an offensive midfielder, is always good to see. 

He also won 36 of 76 (47%) of his duels, which isn’t great, but again, for a 5’7” offensive midfielder, that he gets stuck into so many of those duels is a positive sign. He also added 8 interceptions, which over 6 games, gives him an average of just over one a game, which is very strong for a player of his position.

So for Pacific, it gives them yet another swiss-army knife in a squad full of them, which for Kah, will be a boost to have. 

Flexibility was something that he and his staff target in the offseason, as they wanted to compensate for having a smaller squad by having more players that could fill in across different positions.

They’ll probably have a fuller squad next year, especially given the time that they’ll have to fill out their squad alongside the players that are already back or projected to return, but it’s always good to have versatility in a squad. 

Hearing Aparicio talk about it, he’s not shy to get stuck in wherever he plays, so that means no matter what role he’s in, be it as an inverted winger role with 2020 MVP candidate Bustos alongside him, or as a #10/#8, he’s confident that he can help the team win. 

“I mean, I won’t really know that until we can get into training and get myself into the squad and with the coaches and stuff like that, so that’s gonna take a little bit of time, but I’m willing to help out the club in any way possible,” Aparicio said during his introductory press conference, when asked about a preferred role. “I think from my style of play, obviously a little bit more in the midfield, but that’s about it, I usually am usually the type of player that I just want to do the best for the club.”

“I don’t really care about where I’m playing or how I’m playing or anything like that, as long as the club’s doing well, I’m happy. So it’s going to depend on what the coaches want for me, what they want me to do on the field, and hopefully, I can do that at the best of my ability.”

Either way, when looking at Aparicio’s and Bustos’s attacking profiles, you can’t help but expect big things from the pair of them next year, especially when you consider that they’ll have solid goalscorers in Terran Campbell and Alejandro Diaz in front of them. 

To give an idea of how profitable this partnership might be, here is a look at Bustos’s and Aparicio’s stats over the course of their two respective seasons in the CPL (2019 and 2020). 

Considering that they generate chances like it’s nobody’s else’s business, you have to be excited if you’re Kah, as you imagine Diaz and Campbell getting on the end of Aparicio’s and Bustos’s dangerous deliveries. 

Keeping the long-term vision:

Pacific’s squad has been one of the youngest in the CPL these past 2 seasons (David Chant/Chant Photography/CPL)

And while Aparicio’s signing is a good start to Pacific’s offseason, rest assured, they’re not done working yet.

As CEO Rob Friend said when Aparicio was signed, he and his staff are hungry to win, and that was shown in how they underwent the process of signing the midfielder after the ‘Island Games’. 

“Pa came back, and the staff came back from P.E.I., we had our debrief, and immediately we set our sights on 2021 and beyond,” Friend said. “What I love about our staff, about Pa, is he’s hungry to win, as this club is, we’re ambitious. This is a long term project, this club, in terms of where we want to be in the future and I think people are seeing now the building blocks we originally put in place, and by bringing Pa in who’s an absolute monster competitor, leader, I think we turned a lot of heads with he foundation we put in place, and how we improved in P.E.I. and the direction this club’s going.”

“So, to my point, we’re extremely ambitious, by bringing in Marco Bustos last year from the league, and now I think we’ve made a huge statement by bringing Manu in. Like I said, when Pa came back, he said there’s one player I want in this club that can take us to the championship and to win this league and  to be the standard in this league, and it’s Manu. And I said: ‘well let’s get him’.” 

While it’s going to be a unique offseason, mostly due to the circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s still one where Pacific feels like they can make some more big splashes, as they’ve done so far. 

Stability is going to be a big focal point of what they do, as they look to build off of what they’ve done in the first two years, but as they try to prove that they can be a team that consistently challenges the Forge’s and Cavalry’s of the CPL, they’ll need to be smart with their acquisitions. 

So keep an eye on them for the rest of this offseason. Ever since they were introduced as one of the first 7 teams to join the CPL, they’ve probably been the team that has bought in the most to a long-term vision, as exemplified by their affinity for playing youth and build around younger players. 

Now, as a result, they’ve got some of the most talented youngsters in the league, and with the additions of players like Bustos, Aparicio and Diaz, among others, they’ve started to surround them with the final pieces they feel that they need in order to win. 

As we saw last year, their plan seems to be on the right track, so it’ll be very interesting to see how 2021 looks, especially as they continue to navigate the hurdles brought about by these unique times. 

“Yeah, in terms of the overall business side of things, yeah, it’s certainly a challenge,” Friend said. “This year, across around the world, has been a challenge, whether you’re a small business or whether you’re a football club or any other sports club, to really plan. Honestly, a testament to all the players across this league, and to the coaching staff and the staff around the entire league, to do what we’ve done to pull off what we did this season, I think is a testament to the character of this league and where it’s going. And to the individuals that are involved in this league, this is a long term project.”

“This year certainly, it was tough, it was challenging, and building for the offseason, building for next season is also a challenge because we don’t know what the season looks like, when Pa and I have these conversations that we do, we are planning like it’s going to be a normal season, again, we’re an ambitious club, and we need a few of these key players like Manu, to join this club, to really build on what we have already.”

While no one knows what the 2021 season will look like, it’s expected to look a lot more like a normal campaign than it did this year, with Pacific looking to use it as a chance to show off the fruits of the labour that they’ve put in these past 2 years. 

“So we’re planning like it’s a normal season next year, and for the future,” Friend finished, “I mean, I think ultimately this, and I don’t like to talk about the pandemic, but it’s a short term, and we need to plan for the long term of this club and this organization, so that that’s how we’re approaching this.”

Cover Photo via: David Chant/Chant Photography/CPL

Stats via: Centre Circle Data

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