Time to Run it Back?: Pacific FC’s 2022 CPL Season Preview

After a long offseason, the defending Canadian Premier League champions, Pacific FC, are back in action this weekend. Ahead of that, here’s our season preview for the Tridents.

It’s pretty rare to see a reigning league champion undergo so many changes. But for Pacific FC, that’s exactly what happened this offseason. It was a dream season all around for them in 2021, from defeating Whitecaps FC en route to a semifinal appearance in the Canadian Championship, to lifting the North Star Shield in Hamilton. However, it’s also been an offseason wrought with departures of key figures.

This season, the mentality remains the same as last. Yes, they are the defending champs, but that’s not how they’re going to approach this year. The Tridents will be eager to defend their crown, albeit with a new look crew than the last time out. 

Here’s our preview of the 2022 Canadian Premier League season for Pacific FC. 

Big Changes

Before the dust even settled on their title win, two big transfers were already afoot. After a resurgent campaign and a young career beginning to blossom, Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour moved from the league champions to the runners-up, Forge FC.

It was a stunning transaction. Both players were key contributors to the title run, with Hojabrpour scoring the only goal of the game to deliver PFC to the promised land. Meanwhile, Campbell stepped up to fill the net with goals, bagging 11 to lead the side. He departs as the club’s all-time leading scorer. 

Losing these two to a rival in the CPL was unexpected and a big blow. Unfortunately for the Tridents, it was also the start of a number of departures. Kadin Chung and Lukas MacNaughton moved onto the greener pastures of the MLS, both signing with Toronto FC. The two were key figures of the Pacific backline from the opening day, and it will be strange to see a lineup without them. 

Ollie Bassett also left the club, the Englishman spending one year on the island before joining up with Atletico Ottawa in the offseason. Though he finished the year off in a reduced role, the midfielder was a key creative force in the middle of the park and provided plenty of depth in the lineup. 

An underrated departure is in the form of Christopher Lee. The young fullback chose not to return to Pacific after a year with the Canada West champion UBC Thunderbirds, instead trading the purple and teal for a familiar white and blue. Lee opted to join Whitecaps FC 2 in MLS Next Pro, with the team where he spent his academy days in. It’s tough to see young talent leave, especially when they were trending so well. 

But possibly the biggest loss of the offseason came in the form of the manager. After carefully molding Pacific FC and building them from challengers to champions, Pa-Modou Kah has joined with North Texas SC of MLS Next Pro. While a well-deserved move for one of the most impressive young managers in the continent, it’s a huge hole on this Pacific FC team. They’ll be defending their title with many key players gone along with the manager who guided them to the top. Not an easy task, by any means. 

Additions to the Foundation

However, it isn’t all bleak for the Vancouver Islanders. After all, they still have a championship core intact, and it isn’t as if the front office has been quiet either. They’ve gone out and targeted experienced players to come in and replace the losses, hoping to continue their upwards trend. 

Two key pieces were brought in on the back end to replace the losses of MacNaughton and Chung. Amer Đidić and Nathan Mavila project to slot in their places with the skill and expertise to not miss a beat. Đidić, a dual citizen of Bosnia and Canada, is one of the league’s best central defenders. In 2021, he led the CPL in both interceptions and clearances, along with finishing top 5 in aerial duels won.

As for Mavila, the former Cavalry fullback has spent time across the pond, most recently with Wingate & Finchley FC of the English 7th tier. He possesses good poise on the ball along with plenty of experience. 

Pacific has also done their usual thing of bringing in intriguing young talent. One such addition is Djenairo Daniels, the 20-year-old Dutch forward arriving after a season spent on loan with Sassuolo Primavera, the youth side of the parent Serie A team. He’s also been a feature in the youth systems of PSV Eindhoven and Utrecht, playing in the Dutch Eerste Divisie. Daniels has previously featured for the Netherlands at the U17 and U18 levels, and it will be interesting to see what exactly he can bring to the Tridents this year. 

Another young transfer is Umaro Baldé. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder is a product of both the Sporting and Rangers academies. The Portuguese youth international brings a lot of high-level youth experience to the CPL, and it remains to be seen what he can do at the senior level. 

Elsewhere, the Tridents have also taken advantage of the close proximity to their Mainland rivals, signing former Whitecaps homegrown right-back Georges Mukumbilwa on a free transfer and loaning promising attacking midfielder Kamron Habibullah from the ‘Caps. These two will be interesting prospects to watch, with plenty of talent ready to be polished. Both have received call-ups to play for Canadian youth teams, with Habibullah playing a crucial role in helping Canada qualify for the 2019 FIFA U-17 World Cup. 

And taking the reigns of the manager is someone very familiar with the club. Spending the past three seasons as associate head coach, James Merriman now steps into the limelight, to hopefully continue the momentum of the team he has been so integral to.

“I’m excited to build off what we did last year and what we built over the last three years, and take it into the next season,” says Merriman, “I definitely didn’t think I’d ever have the chance to coach a professional team on Vancouver Island but that’s what the Canadian Premier League is doing, creating opportunities like this. It’s obviously very special to be able to live my dream of being a head coach for a professional team, especially on Vancouver Island. I’m very grateful for the opportunity.”

Being a familiar face will help Merriman a lot and his technical know-how is definitely an asset. It remains to be seen how he will fair, but there’s plenty of reason to back the man who currently holds an undefeated record as a stand-in manager.

What to Expect

Outside of the departures previously mentions, Pacific FC has done a good job keeping their main core together. Marco Bustos, Manny Aparicio, Alejandro Wero Diaz, and Jamar Dixon are all returning in purple, while players like Matteo Polisi and Matthew Baldismo will get opportunities to step up in elevated roles. A large portion of the title foundation is still there, even if the losses were heavy. 

There should be confidence in PFC’s ability to develop. Adding in intriguing young talent seems to be the modus operandi for this club, which prides itself on refining talent into shining gems. Just look at MacNaughton and Chung. Players like Daniels, Baldé, Mukumbilwa, and Habibullah will all have opportunities to improve their games and leave their own mark, bolstering the side with youthful talent. 

But with all of this, can Pacific defend their crown? They’ll be in tough, especially with the rich getting richer in the mighty Forge FC. They’ll be hungry to prove last season was just a fluke, reasserting their dominance by winning their third title in four years. Forge has a wealth of talent to call their own, and their matches against Pacific will definitely be ones to watch, starting with their opening game next weekend.

Then there’s Cavalry FC, a budding rival for the Tridents and a team determined to rewrite narratives. They’ve been the second-most successful team in CPL’s regular-season history. Unfortunately, the Calgarians have no hardware to show for that. They’ll want to change that, and the transfers they’ve made show it. 

Pacific FC has tasted the success of a title win. The structure and foundation of the team have been laid. They surely want to taste more – and they are more than capable of it. However, unlike last season, there are a lot more question marks surrounding the side. Will Merriman stack up to Kah? Can Pacific’s additions replace those that departed? Are they able to recapture the magic of last season, this time without a Kickoff bubble? 

These all remain to be seen. The Tridents will be a top-four team in the CPL, there’s no denying the talent of this team. The only question now is where exactly they will finish. While they may not be as solid of a contender as they were in 2021, Pacific FC will be a force to be reckoned with in 2022. And, if things unfold all according to plan, the purple-and-teal might just be standing alongside Forge FC as the titans of the league. 

The first match of the 2022 Canadian Premier League season kicks off Sunday, April 10th, with Pacific taking on Forge at Starlight Stadium, kickoff set at 4:00 PM Pacific. All matches can be streamed live on OneSoccer.

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