LANGFORD, BC - With a brand new Scottish player on one side and bagpipes blaring through the airwaves in support of the other, Pacific FC made history in front of a packed Starlight Stadium, putting together an evening that could be a watershed moment for Canadian soccer.
In 2019, the Vancouver Whitecaps wrote themselves in the record books as the first Major League Soccer team to lose to a Canadian Premier League club when they fell to Cavalry FC in the first round of the Canadian Championship.
Fast forward a pandemic, and two years later, the Whitecaps still have plenty of ink left in their pen.
Before Thursday night, the Whitecaps could only be assumed to be the better team of the two professional sides in British Columbia. Their value, after all, was exponentially higher, and new signing Ryan Gauld’s salary of three million per season is more than triple Pacific’s entire roster.
After 90 minutes, those dollars did not matter. The Whitecaps haplessly fell 4-3 to a driven and excited Pacific FC side. Pacific took less than 10 minutes to take the lead through a Terran Campbell penalty kick, and although the Whitecaps tied the match just a handful of minutes later, they never looked like a winning team.
In the big picture, Vancouver is probably better than Pacific FC. Play this match 10 times; Vancouver would likely win more than half. Still, on a late August night, when the skies cleared after a rainy Vancouver Island day, the Tridents pushed themselves to a victory over the once “behemoth” Whitecaps.
The magic of the cup showed for the first time
Vancouver’s Christian Dajome, who some thought to be an MLS All-Star snub, brought the ‘Caps within a goal in the 90th minute, but the next kick of the ball brought the final whistle kickstarting one of the most magical moments in Canadian soccer history.
Canada has never had an FA Cup in the traditional sense. There is no 9th division side that makes a run to play a professional team. Heck, there is barely a fourth division to add to the tournament.
The Voyageurs Cup began with three teams in 2008, and it has grown since then. Still, Vancouver has only lifted the trophy once in 2015. With a geographical rivalry and an expanded field, the Whitecaps’ misery’s continued but came with an unbelievable night of Canadian soccer.
When the Lake Side Buoys (Pacific FC supporters) embraced the PFC players, it showed something Canada had yet to see; a true cup win, with supporters and the club, enthralled in a moment of pure jubilation.
Heartbreak for an established club, and a moment no fan will ever forget for Pacific, all putting together a hint of what could be in Canadian soccer.
Why does this matter?
When the Whitecaps fell to Cavalry FC in 2019, it was at BC Place. There were Cavalry supporters in the crowd, but only the diehards. At the time, the CPL was still a very new league, with little public knowledge outside of the echo chamber that Canadian soccer tends to be.
On Thursday, many of the 4,997 fans in Langford were taking in their first-ever Pacific game, lured in by the attractiveness of “The Big Club,” coming to town. The Whitecaps have been a staple in the BC Soccer scene since 1970, while Pacific find themselves on the outskirts of Victoria, having only one entire home season under their belt.
Whatever factors in the minds of island soccer fans who thought the CPL was low quality are extinguished. Those in attendance saw Pacific go toe-to-toe with the established MLS team, and for many, the sense of the CPL as a lesser league will begin withering away.
Pacific Head Coach Pa Modou Kah stressed post-match that he hopes that Thursday’s Cup performance invigorates the fanbase to come back into the stadium for league matches, and who knows, maybe another Cup match down the line.
While 4,997 fans may not seem like a big number to an MLS side, it is incredibly significant for Pacific, whose watershed moment against Vancouver could catapult the CPL into the minds of sports fans outside of the hardcore soccer supporters.
At the end of the day, it does not matter how much money players are worth; it is just 22 players, a ball and a referee, and maybe some bagpipes too. Even with Ryan Gauld and co. the Whitecaps could not push their way past Pacific, as the Islanders established themselves as a force to be reckoned with in Canadian sports minds.