With the Canadian Premier League fifth season almost ready to begin, I caught up with Josh Heard who has been named the new captain for Pacific FC going into the 2023 season by head coach James Merriman.
Heard has been a key part of this Pacific FC side since returning to the island from Real Monarchs in 2020. The winger has 14 goals and nine assists in 66 matches for Pacific and will now don the armband and lead his side out each week as he and his teammates look to get back to Championship winning form.
For Heard, it’s an incredible honour to be named captain of his hometown side.
“It’s a huge honour and something I am very grateful for. I grew up in this town and the fact I’m leading the team now is something I’m very happy about. It’s an exciting new challenge that I’m ready for. “
He is an entertaining and talkative person, happy to chat away with everyone and, according to his head coach, a player who is well respected, great fun, but very professional too. I mentioned James Merriman’s comments on him in a previous interview and it really seemed to ring true in what he feels he brings as a captain.
“I think I bring energy and I have a passion for the game that can set an example for a lot of the guys. What it comes down to is, I’m not a ‘Friday Night Lights’ kind of speech guy, but day in and day out I set an example of the standards we set, it’s a lead by example kind of thing.”
He is the leader of a very young squad. Pacific FC are a club built on a philosophy of developing young talent, helping players reach their future goals and ambitions as well as winning Championships and where possible, earning from future sales.
At 28, only Kakuta Manneh is the same age, and the rest of the squad are younger. Their two goalkeepers on the roster are Emir Gazdov (19) and Kieran Baskett (21) and key players like Sean Young and Kunle Dada-Luke are 21 and 23 respectively.
“It is funny, these guys make me feel old sometimes and I have to check myself and tell myself I’m still a young guy! I’m still only 28. We have a young team, but we are not short on experience amongst the group.”
Those young players with plenty of experience include Thomas Meilleur-Giguère (25) and Sean Young who already has 66 appearances at 21 years of age. Even Amer Didic and Manny Aparicio are only 28 and 27 years of age. Most of these players were part of Pacific FCs Championship in 2021.
There has since been a lot of turnaround on the playing side, with a number of incoming and outgoing players. This offseason was no different with the likes of Easton Ongaro, Bradley Vliiet and most recently, Kekutah Manneh arriving. For those younger players coming in, like Ayman Sellouf from the Netherlands, the leadership group do all they can to help players settle at their new club as well as in their new city.
“On a personal level it’s about being open and making an environment where the guys feel comfortable coming to you with anything. I think that’s really important, especially with having a lot of young guys in the locker room. But there is a core group of us [Amer Didic, Manny Aparicio, Thomas Meilleur-Giguère] those guys have been with this team a while and been here when we have been successful. To have those guys in the locker room to lift everything is so important, its vital to a successful team, it takes more than one or two guys, it’s a good group of us.”
“All the new faces have done so well and fitted in seamlessly. They(management) have done so well recruiting the players and credit to the guys who have come in, they have adapted and adopted our identity and culture immediately.”
It’s not just a new club for most, it’s a whole new environment in a new city. Heard has grown up in Victoria and is often the go to player for advice and recommendations outside of training and match-days.
“As there’s just a few of us, like me, Sean Young and James Merriman, who grew up here. I’m usually the go to and have to brush up on my recommendations so I give out something good.”
With the long off-season, maybe a message round to local businesses at the end of the season needs to be sent out before you do a little tour round the city to brush up on your recommendations?
“You’ve given me an idea there, I need to turn this into a sponsorship kind of thing” he jokes.
Back to the football though and Saturday brings a much anticipated, brand new derby for fans in British Columbia to get involved with.
“It’s very exciting, I think its good for Canada soccer, I think the more rivalry games we can have the more important it can be for us and the more exciting it can be for fans.”
There are still many questions about what we can expect from this Vancouver FC side. The expansion team have played some friendlies which were available to watch, though it can be tough to be confident on what to expect from Afshin Ghotbi’s side.
“We know nothing about them, I don’t think anyone really does. We just have to trust what we do and to be honest we don’t really change for opponents anyway; we stick to who we are and to our identity.”
With a few home games to kick off the season, the travel will eventually start up, and across this massive country it can really take it’s toll. Preparing for this will be vital in the long run when building momentum and confidence to compete going into the end of the season.
“It’s tough, it’s a skill in itself to travel in this league, The teams that travel the best will do the best over a full season. The guys are professionals, they all want to win, they motivate themselves. I don’t need to do much as captain in that sense (as the team is so focused).”
The Canadian Premier League season is only just about to start but I was curious as to how the captaincy has maybe let his mind wander. Captaining your hometown side, I imagined he had thought of the game on Saturday and leading his team out as captain. Having already won a championship with Pacific FC, it was during the pandemic and in strange times, if Heard can lead his side to another this season, as captain, with fans in the stands, is it something he is thinking about?
“I haven’t given it much thought to be honest, but thinking now, id be immensely proud, but we are really early doors. I got to focus on today, tomorrow, and then Vancouver.”