As the Canadian Championship returns for 2023, this great cup competition featuring sides from MLS, Canadian Premier League as well as League 1 sides is here to entertain us all once again.
For Pacific FC, they come off a home win over newly formed Vancouver FC, a 1-0 home victory for the season opener at the Starlight Stadium. Finally, they had the chance to put work they have been putting in during the off-season onto the pitch and head coach James Merriman was able to see how his players got up to speed in a competitive environment.
“I think the group did an excellent job of applying everything we have been working on during preseason, I’m happy with the performance, of course we would have like to have opened the game a little quicker and score more goals from the chances we had, but it’s always going to be a tight game in the first match of a new season and overall we take confidence in knowing what we are trying to do and feel good as a group” Merriman stated at the clubs pre-match press conference.
Manny Aparicio scored the goal which separated the new rivals and brought his side a welcome three-points as well as a confidence boost going into their Canadian Championship tie with Cavalry FC on Thursday April 20.
With such a quick turnaround, focus immediately needs to shift, and for James Merriman, he has confidence in the experience and professionalism of his squad.
“We have enough experience in the locker room and we are humble enough group to know that we had the first league match and a quick turnaround. We enjoyed the moment for sure, in a full stadium, it was a great match to start the season, but we quickly changed our focus to this game tomorrow. I’m not worried about the group at all in terms of focus or understanding of the importance of the match we are going into.”
Manny Aparicio joined his head coach for the press conference and echoed the sentiments of a team ready to get out on the field and do their job, knowing exactly what is at stake.
“We have been saying we have been missing the season, it’s a long off-season and we are just excited to get back out on the pitch. It’s a short turnaround but it’s for the Canadian Championship, we know what’s at stake so we will be up for it.”
Cavalry got off to a decent start on the weekend with a tie against the CPLs most successful side, Forge, in Hamilton.
Head Coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. will have his side arriving with confidence as well with the two teams having a great history of well-fought matches. On their last visit to Vancouver Island Cavalry lost 3-0, though got their revenge in the home tie after with a 1-0 win.
Pacific will expect a tough match once again, with Cavalry edging their head-to-head ties with eight wins to Pacific’s seven across the 18 times they have met.
“I expect a good fight, they will be prepared and hungry for this one as it’s a one-off match and in the league they are still searching for their first win. We are expecting two tight matches knowing both teams will be up for it” Merriman told the media.
What is a real bonus this season for Pacific FC is the opportunity to play their Canadian Championship matches at home. The hassle of travel does not need to be dealt with and full focus can go into their on-field preparations.
“To be able to play at home and have that advantage is a huge plus. To have that behind us and we keep on progressing in front of the fans at our own stadium will be a huge driving factor to get the wins” said Aparicio.
With three games in a week, having a competitive squad is vital and this gives those who missed out on the opening day the opportunity to show what they can bring to the team whether it be tomorrow night or on Sunday.
“Yeah, we have been speaking about it, with three games right at the start, players are going to have their opportunities in this or on Sunday and it’s about them taking their opportunity.”
New signing, and former Vancouver Whitecaps winger, Kekuta Manneh is one of those players who Merriman was asked about their possibilities of featuring this week:
“He is fit, been training with the group, he’s eligible, he’s there and he’s ready. He wants to get his first minutes tomorrow or on the weekend.”
While MLS sides have dominated the Canadian Championships so far, they CPL is now moving into its fifth season and its clubs continue to grow and improve. Reflecting on the gap between the two leagues, Merriman was positive in the steps his side is making, as well as clubs around the league.
“I think this season will be the most prepared all the CPL teams are, you’ve seen Forge have great games, Cavalry too, ourselves here with the Vancouver Whitecaps, we’ve played Toronto FC and I think there has been enough experiences for CPL sides to know what to expect and make sure that your organised and prepared and do the best you can going into those matches. Of course, we know the quality of those MLS team, but that’s also where many of our players want to be. It’s an opportunity to prove yourself as well which is great for our players and those games are also really important for the fans.”
(Image Credit: Pacific FC)