CA & C Cafe: Water In Babylon – One-On-One With Pacific’s Jamar Dixon
Editor’s Note: As part of showcasing the diversity of footballing talent from across Central America and the Caribbean involved with Canadian soccer, we’re pleased to deliver the fifth edition of CA & C Cafe, a feature focused on how the rest of our confederation is shaping our game.
Pacific meets the Caribbean Sea in Jamaica tonight, as Waterhouse FC will seek to ‘skittle’ Canada’s western Islanders at Sabina Park (July 25, 2022 at 5:00 p.m. PT/8:00 p.m. ET). Jamaica’s Concacaf League veterans – who will be pumped up to play Pacific at a venue better known globally for Test cricket than soccer since 1962 – are Jamaica’s regular season victors for three years running. Prior to Pacific’s 3-0 win against Cavalry, Caribbean-Canadian Captain Jamar Dixon graciously spoke to Northern Tribune to give his thoughts on the ‘sticky wicket’ that lies ahead.
The following has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
NT: Pacific FC were in a tough run of form seized back to back wins against FC Edmonton and in dramatic fashion against York. Do you feel like the club has fully turned around this slump ahead of tomorrow’s match and the trip to Jamaica?
JD: Football is full of ups and downs – that’s why it’s called a season. It’s about the longevity of what you do. You will always face with difficulties [during the season] be it injuries or suspensions, you’ll be faced with different things. I think we’re just going through a little bit of slump; but this is a moment to check ourselves, look at ourselves in the mirror and get back to basics of the game, like the hard work that [won us the League Championship] last year. I don’t really look at those losses or ties as a negative. It’s part of our growth and we needed to go through that. That being said, we’ve now gotten back-to-back wins after drawing Calvary [3-3 on June 30th]. While we scored a lot of goals in those games, we gave up a lot of goals as well. So, there are definitely things to work on and positives we can take from it, but the most important thing is we have this run of games at the right time, especially going into Jamaica.
We have got to have the right mentality [against Waterhouse FC], because it’s another world [in Jamaica], we have to tap into another mentality – this is the right time.
NT: Jamar, lets talk about that – the ‘other world’ that is Jamaican football and Concacaf soccer…
JD: Concacaf soccer is different, you know – you have different types of players and a different dynamic. I mean, the Jamaican team, they have a lot of athleticism on that squad – a lot of pace and strength, and that’s something you can’t really teach. If you’re a really fast player, it’s hard to defend against that – it’s just another part of the game, and a huge aspect of the game. We just have to go into the match with how we want to approach it. Obviously, we have studied them and we will continue to study them. We will do everything possible tactically to get our results so we can advance. We also have to take into consideration the heat; Waterhouse is used to that and that’s what they live in, and is normal to them. So we’ve got to acclimatize as fast as we can – I think those are the little details we can control; some things we really can’t. It’s mainly preparation for us as a whole, from the staff to the players. We just need to be dialed in, and be prepared for what’s ahead.
NT: Forge FC turned a lot of heads in this continental competition, all the way up to their match at the Estadio Azteca and now the pressure is on Pacific to do the same. How is the squad handling this?
JD: In regards to Forge FC, they did a fantastic job, and they represented the league in the way [Canadians would] want the League to be represented. Now with Pacific, we won the League and that is something that people can’t take away from us – from earning the North Star Shield to now getting the Canadian Premier League, it’s massive for any club to get to this point. I told the team you can never think about the pressure of what is to come – tomorrow is not promised. For me, I explained we needed to take one day at a time and that is all we can really look at. There’s no point in planning for the future especially in this game when things happen quickly in football. My mentality towards the team is we want to show out, you want to put Canada’s league on the map, you want players on our team have different looks – you want to accomplish those great things – while focusing on what we need to do to achieve our individual and club goals. That’s most important for us.
NT: Obviously, a trip to Jamaica is quite an unusual mid-season departure, even for Concacaf. Are you and the team looking forward to the break from the usual – or, for that matter, playing in what is typically a cricket pitch (which certainly brings its own challenges)?
JD: I don’t know if [our team] is even aware of [the fact they will be playing on a cricket pitch], what it’s going to feel like or what it’s about. I can explain a little bit to them and I’ll be doing that. In terms of a break – I don’t think it’s a break at all – our league is still going at full pace. If we qualify for the next round it’s more games. So, it’s not really a break at all. Sure, it’s nice to go to Jamaica, but it’s not for leisure, or vacation – it’s a business trip. It’s important that the team understands what we’re trying to do here and accomplish. I definitely think it’s going to be a lot, it’s going to be hard work, and it’s definitely not a break in our season!
NT Historical Note: Soccer Pitches are called Pitches because when football started, games were commonly played in England on the existing community Cricket Pitches. The Sabina Park pitch was once fearsomely hard, dry and fast – but has slowed somewhat in recent years.
NT: In Northern Tribune’s previous interviews with Coach Kah, he was pretty adamant that a lot of media favoured Forge in coverage leading up to the final. Now it’s Pacific’s turn in continental action – has the media buildup occurred on a level that you’ve expected?
JD: No, I haven’t heard that much media to be honest with you. I don’t know if it’s because we had a bad spell of games…I have no idea. I’ve seen a couple postings, but it feels like we are Pacific, and we are just going to have to attack this on our own. In terms of the build up [which Forge experienced], no, not as much. I mean, it’s fine – we just have to go there and worry about ourselves, and take care of business.
NT: What is it like on Vancouver Island?
JD: On the island? Oh it’s fantastic – the team is buzzing for it, the fans are supportive, there’s a lot of media trying to cover certain things, and the lead up has been good. So I think we’ll see a lot of fans [at Starlight Stadium] for the return leg, and we are definitely excited about that.
NT: Pacific FC look to have handled Kah’s departure well – there was a lot of continuity, and some big signings to replace outbound players like Lukas MacNaughton. How would you describe the transition – has there been any significant differences in their coaching styles or philosophies?
JD: The change has been one of personality – when a coach like Kah leaves, he wanted to bring a lot on himself – what they like off the field – he was always asking questions, just to get to know every single player. Now, with how we’ve been playing this year and the new players we’ve got, I think it’s more of an adaptation period. Players that have come in now – there are higher expectations of them. Our players from last year know how intense trainings and games were; how much it mattered. So it’s a matter of getting the [new players integrated early] and seeing how they handle it when things get tough…sometimes I just observe and comment, and sometimes I keep it to myself. The way Coach James Merriman has handled has been good; new guys who come over need to understand our culture, and try to adapt to what we’re trying to do….it’s never easy for any coach coming in after the club has won it all – especially following a personality like Kah; definitely a unique individual….James has made little tweaks to enable us to get better and adjust, which have been great; we just got to continue to roll with it.
NT: You brought the Victoria area its first national championship since 1966, but knockout cup competition is a different beast. What does it mean to you, to represent your island on the intercontinental stage?
JD: This has been one of the biggest blessings of the playing career; personally I set out to do certain things, and this is one of the last things to check off. Having won the League and then qualified for this Concacaf tournament just means everything. Now, the bigger picture, showing these kids, the ones that I coach on Vancouver Island that it’s possible for them to not only go pro but to make it to the Concacaf Champions League in the future. It’s great for the Island, and they need it – there’s a lot of untapped potential here. I think it’s good for our fans, good for our community, and great for the Island, this opportunity. It’s not just Pacific you know, it’s legitimately one Island going to this tournament – we need everybody!
NT: Specifically on that, you mention you coach – can you speak to the reputation Pacific FC has for connecting with the Island community?
JD: It’s special is the one word I would say. The way they deal with the indigenous community; the love Pacific FC has for them – it’s just amazing to see. It’s so supportive; we are continuously working on multiple projects with the indigenous community – the indigenous community is supportive of our squad, they are at out games and you’ve seen our new jersey. There is also the Vancouver Island Wave program, which is the Island’s highest level of youth soccer participating in the BC Soccer Premier League – there’s so much talent on the male and female side. I coach the U14 Boys, and we just won the Championship this year! It was fantastic to see where these boys started to where they are now. That’s one thing that I really appreciate about being at this club – there are so many other things that are developing around the community and this club specifically. That’s what you want, and how you build the game in the country – you have to demand so much from where your club is and make that the focal point as you continue to expand.
Will Pacific FC, the triumphant symbol of Vancouver Island, and its’ ‘One Club. One Island. One Community’ survive its first continental test? Find out tonight!
Skittle (in the sport of cricket): (adverb) to dismiss (batsmen) quickly.
Sticky Wicket (in the sport of cricket): (noun) a difficult or delicate problem or situation.
Show out: (verb) Attend or be visible.
Fire in Babylon: A 2010 British documentary film about the record-breaking West Indies cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s, and the profound cultural effect the team’s success had in the region.