With the sun on their backs and sand in their toes, Vancouver Island’s newly minted professional soccer team Pacific FC opened 2019 pre-season with a special four-day training camp in Tofino.
From March 7 to 10, the Canadian Premier League (CPL) club played beach soccer on Mackenzie, went for beach runs, and laced up at the Wickaninnish Community School field to kick the ball around with the local kids.
Coming together as a team on – and off – the field was the goal.
“The energy in Tofino is magical so we thought it’d be a great place to start the pre-season,” said Pacific FC co-owner Rob Friend, adding that the players were not allowed to try surfing due to liability issues.
Visiting different communities about Vancouver Island will be weaved into Pacific FC’s busy 28-game regular season that kicks off with a home opener on April 28 against the HFX Wanderers FC of Halifax and ends in mid-October.
READ: Pacific FC to face off against HFX Wanderers FC at inaugural match (Feb. 22, 2019)
“This is a team for the Island,” touts Friend. “Whether that’s here in Tofino or Nanaimo, Comox, wherever, we want to represent this Island, not the city, that’s why we are here in Tofino. Most of our players are from B.C. They respect this region and the West Coast region and they want to represent it. It’s important that we really dive into the communities around this Island to make this Island proud and have something to support from a professional sports level.”
Friend, a former professional international soccer player and member of the National team, said it took about three to four years for the Canadian Premier League to take flight.
“I never had the opportunity to play professionally in Canada. I had to leave. So we wanted to create an opportunity for Canadians. We are really the last developed nation to have a professional soccer league. Finally we have started one,” Friend told the Westerly News.
Comox goalkeeper Nolan Wirth, above, will wear jersey number one for the Island.
“All I can ask for is for the Island to recognize how important and how big this is for the Island and for Canada. We needed a professional league for years and now we are finally getting one. It will only help develop the soccer culture in Canada,” said Wirth.
READ: Comox-raised Nolan Wirth joins Pacific FC (Feb. 26, 2019)
The Tofino training camp was led by Pacific FC’s head coach Michael Silberbauer, the club’s director of sports science Randy Celebrini, and assistant coach James Merriman.
Merriman, who grew up in the small community of Cedar near Nanaimo, thinks Pacific FC can make a real positive impact on youth throughout the Island.
“That’s very important to us. That’s one of the reasons we’re up here [in Tofino]. We’re going to continue to get into all the communities throughout the Island. That’s one thing we’re going to make sure we do. The players are going to have a positive impact in different ways,” said Merriman.
Seven teams will compete in the CPL’s inaugural season. Pacific FC will share an expanded Westhills Stadium in Langford with Rugby Canada and the Westshore Rebels junior football team.
“A couple of the ownership teams are actually CFL clubs, you got the Hamilton Tiger Cats and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, they actually own a soccer team now. They will be playing out of their stadiums,” Friend said, adding that all the CPL games will be contested outdoors.
Soccer is a beautiful sport, notes Friend.
“It’s the most popular sport in the world. Canada doesn’t have a soccer culture like the rest of the world, but we’re excited to change that. Anyone can play it. All you need is a ball. There’s a reason it’s the most popular sport in the world and we’re excited to bring it here on the Island,” said Friend.
The CPL rulebook was written to give Canadian players more opportunities. For example, each team roster of 22 has a limit of seven foreign nationals. The League also announced it will be hosting a series of open tryouts in cities across Canada for players over 16.
“Hey, maybe one day there will be a kid from Tofino playing [professional] soccer,” Friend said.
READ MORE: Christine Sinclair named Canadian Women’s player of the year again (Dec. 11, 2018)
READ MORE: Teenager Alphonso Davies wins Canadian Men’s Soccer Player for the Year Award (Dec. 12, 2018)