“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
– Emma Lazarus
When that poem was written, in 1883, the city of Victoria was younger than Kadin Chung, coming off a gold rush that brought thousands to the island, and had already developed a right proper pissing match with New Westminster.
Lazarus was an American immigration activist helping Jewish refugees in New York, and her poem a testament to what America is supposed to be, but given that sentiment is better reflected in what British Columbia is and has become, it feels apt, especially given this year’s Pacific is a team of immigrants.
When Pacific launched, it wanted to be a team that would combine local youth with the appeal of living on Vancouver Island. The youth thing fell a bit by the wayside, but I did not expect Pacific to blow up the 2022 team that had mostly achieved exactly that goal.
But the idea, in this league, is you bring guys on fro a couple of years, you give them a chance, then you move on. Whether those guys are 26 or 18, it’s not a league of long-term signings. And with Vancouver FC setting up shop on the Lower Mainland, Pacific no longer have a monopoly on talent the Whitecaps missed or botched.
It might not be a bad change after all.
|Coming Ashore||Traveling On|
|Kieran Baskett||Callum Irving|
|Eric Lajeunesse*||Abdou Samake|
|Bradley Vliet||Nathan Mavila|
|Cédric Toussaint||Jordan Haynes*|
|Pierre Lamothe||Jamar Dixon|
|Easton Ongaro||Luca Ricci*|
|Abdul Wahid Binate||Umaro Baldé|
|Kekuta Manneh||Matteo Polisi*|
|Ayman Sellouf||Gianni dos Santos|
|David Brazao||Jordan Brown|
( * Local BC player)
There are still expectations, though, and so rather than go full-on youth movement, Pacific have instead brought in a bunch of guys from around the league who needed, for one reason or another, a new home.
We’ll jump right in, especially because goal is the place where we are going to see an all-out youth movement, with a pair of 19-year-olds battling for the job.
I suspect (hope?) it will be a battle, because I’m not sure either is that good. I think Kieran Baskett might be getting a real shot at being the #1, which is good and his play in 2021 for Halifax was promising, but he had some real maturity problems last year. Moving 5000km across the country is one way to deal with that. And though Pacific just signed Emil Gazdovto a multi-year extension, he has precisely 180 minutes of professional experience and is coming off an injury. It’s going to be an adventure.
The pairing in front of them is more settled, at least, though Pacific need Thomas Meilleur-Giguere to finally rediscover the pre-injury form that made him one of Canada’s top centre-back prospects. Amer Didic is one of Canada’s top centre-back prospects, but at 28 he’s running out of time to be called that. Paul Amedume is the
only other CB currently on the roster but he has only a handful of minutes between CanPL and North Texas. He’s more of an Abdou Samake replacement.
As I was writing this, the club signed top USPORTs centre-back Eric Lajeunesse, who was terrific at last year’s nationals in Kamloops. That’sa huge local get for Pacific at a critical position. They’ll likely rotate him this year and he’ll go back to school in August, but a few years from now, he’ll be a key piece. (They also signed a couple proto-academy kids — I hesitate to call the Wave thing a true academy, but local players are good. They’re both very young, though, so probably more about experience. Lajeuness might contribute more.)
Fullback is a touch stronger, with Georges Mukumbilwa returning from injury and Kunle Dada-Luke having developed into the kind of player who eases the blow of Kadin Chung playing for your cross-strait rivals. I’d love to see him sold this summer, though.
In another reclamation move, Pacific have added left-back Bradley Vliet to replace Nathan Mavila, swapping one former Cavalry man for another. Mavila’s a solid player but ha never seemed to settle in CanPL. I’m less keen on Vliet, but he gets a job done in a similar way.
Jamar Dixon has retired, leaving a hole in midfield, too, but as with a few of these departures, he was maybe more of an emotional force than a purely technical one by the end of last year, and I think this is mostly the green light for Sean Young to take over permanently.
In Pierre Lamothe and Stef Yeates, they’ve added two college grads with professional experience and the two-way mentality to cover for Manny Apraicio’s injuries and inevitable suspensions, which is a lot of what Dixon did so well. Cédric Toussaint also arrives from York to make sure Pacific meet quotas for disciplinary fines.
One of the realities of developmental leagues is you get weird age cut-offs, like CanPL’s new international rules and MLS NextTry’s U23 limit, which may be part of why Easton Ongaro is back in CanPL, as a veteran this time. But Pacific also really needed a big #9 to build around after Alejandro Diaz was sold last summer, and in Ongaro they’ve got one who can also play their system in the build-up. So much of his game is mental, with little lay-offs and runs that other bulky strikers don’t make. He doesn’t rely on his size, Ongaro, but he still needs a team that can work around him a bit, and this may be the best level for him to find it.
Adonijah Reid is another in the same age bracket and a similar situation, though he’s a much more direct player than Ongaro. He put up okay numbers for Miami FC in USL, but this could be his best chance to be a key contributor, and I think he’s an upgrade on Gianni dos Santos, at least in actual goal-scoring. He’ll have to beat Djennairo Daniels for minutes, but Reid’s domestic.
In key positions, Pacific have lots of good battles shaping up for playing time, which I always think bodes well, especially with a team that seems to relish a bit of extra edge and motivation. You give guys a challenge at this age, they’ll push themselves. There’s enough professionalism in this league now.
I remain very curious how the leadership structure will form in this team. Dixon was the captain until his minutes dwindled and Aparicio took over. But Josh Heard was named captain in the off-season, and has become more and more of the focal point in attack under James Merriman. Merriman himself has alternated between an energetic force who can will Pacific into a challenge and a slightly enigmatic one who sometimes seems to struggle to control the tone and temperature of his team. He’s still learning as a professional coach, but he’s doing so with a group that’s going through a lot of the same.
I like Heard, both as a captain and as a throwback winger who has enough skill to both cross and cut inside. I think he’s a good way to tie this group together and will flourish now the team can be more ruthless in transition without Marco Bustos.
It’s not that Bustos, who’s now at Varnamo in the Allsvenskan , is a bad player. But he has always been completely one-dimensional — he cuts in on his left foot and shoots. He made valiant attempts under Pa-Modou Kah to round his game out a bit, but it never really stuck, and it left Pacific playing the same way: always down the right, always into combinations in the middle.
When they go through Heard, they can be more direct in transition. There’s lots of pace in the team. While Ongaro’s not going to give you that, he does give you a better end-point for crosses and cutbacks than Bustos trying to finish off his own creations. The interpretative era ushered in by Issey is now truly finished.
Pacific have often done quite well with their international signings, even if a lot of them start off flying under-the-radar. There’s nothing in David Brazao or Ayman Sellouf that jumps out — both are similar players, 21-year-old wingers who have played mostly reserve and youth ball. Sellouf can score a bit. But keep expectations manageable and you might get another dos Santos or Daniels.
The club added Kekuta Manneh late this spring, just as I started writing this preview. It’s such a CanPL signing, just because it’s been framed as “one of the biggest signings in CanPL history!” Which it is not. and In keeping with Pacific’s open-door policy, Manneh has had a hell of a rough time since leaving Vancouver in the middle of last decade: he played about half a year with the Crew in 2017, got sent to FC Cincinatti for their legendarily awful first season, and has since bounced through Austin and New England, where he played 332 minutes across 16 games, landed at San Antonio, and was out three months later.
He is not and never has been the player Whitecaps management thought he was. You have to admire the effort he’s put in to keep his career afloat as a journeyman, though, and while I don’t think he actually changes much for Pacific, he is another player who can run direct and… well, he doesn’t actually score much but if they’ve got the cap space to have Manneh play about 500 minutes off the bench, why not?
If they were to play Manneh more than that I think there’d be a real risk of getting pigeon-holed again, just in a different way than Bustos forced. But I think it’s more that they have a bunch of maybes at right-wing and they’re all there to offer a long option for Aparicio to spring.
Tactically, there’s a lot I like about this. By now, we more or less know the style Merriman wants, but when you tweak the pieces — and this is the first off-season he’s had time to fully do that himself — you can start to see where different things can be emphasized within that general identity.
If he gets it right, I think Pacific can easily go to another final, maybe even to win it. But there are also gaps, particularly on that right side of attack and particularly if Aparicio misses any length of time. The team’s record without Aparicio last year was 2-4-5, which would put them down with Wanderers — and, worse, Vancouver FC — over a full season.
They’re unbeaten in pre-season, so that bodes well. They’re averaging about three goals a game, too.
Like Wanderers, they’ve mostly played lower-league opponents like Univ. of Washington and UVic. But they beat Valour 2 – 0 and got a win from Whitecaps 2, which will feel good.
The real meaning will come on opening weekend when they play Vancouver FC.
I think they care, no?
There’s real opportunity here for Pacific, too, and not just because having a local rival makes a nice change from being all the way out on the very tip of CanPL.
Last year was a step back after a title win, no doubt about it. The way they went out to Ottawa, seeing their approach jammed, might have been a wake-up call. There’s enough of the roster back that you can just see the familiar outline, but there is change, too. Change is healthy.
My feeling with these projections is that teams could, as they always do, move around a fair bit, but I’m quite comfortable with my playoff picks. Pacific will be in there. What will be really interesting is whether they can get into that Major Semi-final, the #1/#2 game. And whether they can host it, because if they can, they’re in the final. I think Pacific can beat Forge at home, and if you win that game, you host the big one. But all that requires finishing first.
This is why I like the new playoff format.
I don’t think Pacific have enough about them to finish first. There are holes in this roster that weren’t there last year, and while the identity may develop over the course of the season, I think there may be some need to strengthen, too. If they sell Dada-Luke, they’ll need to, but they may also have the resources to.
If this collection of talent works, it’s a testament to what both BC clubs can be, collecting players who are looking for a place to play and building a team out of the patchwork. If it doesn’t, I suspect a full-on youth movement is coming for Pacific.