Gazdov: Pacific Is The ‘Perfect Place’ For The Young Number One Goalkeeper
2023 was a big year for Emil Gazdov: aged just 19 years at the start of the season, perennial title contenders Pacific FC showed big faith in the youngster by naming him their number one shotstopper ahead of the 2023 CPL season.
The British Columbia native made 25 appearances throughout the stretch, recording five clean sheets and a track record of clear growth in a season that wasn’t without bumps and bruises.
Looking back on 2023 as a whole, he recently told Bulgarian outlet Gong.bg there were a lot of good moments – but a lot of learning moments that he’s taken to heart, too.
“I’ve found it’s not easy with these things and experience is a very big factor with goalkeepers,” says Gazdov. “Without it, you learn lessons very easily in football.”
Pacific found themselves early front runners for just about half the season before falling down the rankings a few notches by the end, something Gazdov says the Tridents were far from pleased with despite their strong playoff push afterwards.
“Overall, I think it was a good season. There were more good things versus bad things. We’re ready for next season to do more.”
Gazdov notched three postseason appearances under his belt (with two clean sheets, no less) and earned two starts in the Canadian Championship, winning a penalty shootout over Cavalry before MLS neighbours Vancouver Whitecaps eventually secured a 3-0 revenge win over the Tridents.
“It was a great experience for me against a team like them. There’s a reason why MLS is a bigger league: they play faster and more accurately. It was just a great experience for me and I’m very happy to play against a team like that,” adds Emil.
It was after the Whitecaps game when Gazdov faced the biggest test of his professional career so far: being benched and losing the number one spot he fought his entire life to earn,
“My coach said he hadn’t lost confidence in me, but he wanted to give me a little bit of a break because he thought it would be good for me, and he wanted me to practice more on some things.”
The youngster spent the subsequent eight games on the bench, working hard to pry back an opportunity to play from Kieran Baskett, who enjoyed a stretch of three consecutive clean sheets in that stretch. Eventually, he had a run of three matches with two goals conceded apiece. Gazdov was ready for his chance when it came.
“I was working harder than before. Coach always knew how good I was and what I could do. So when he saw that I worked on what I needed to work on and he could let me go again, he did.”
His return saw him procure a clean sheet against York United, and after riding the bench against Forge he wrestled back his starting spot for the final 12 matches of the season.
Gazdov found particular strength in the season’s closing stanza, procuring some big saves and putting forth solid moments where maybe he would have faltered earlier in the season – a nice display of growth from the British Columbia native.
“I’m happy it was at the end of the season because that’s when it’s most important. That’s when the playoffs are, that’s when the league finals are, that’s where you have to be at your best,” he reflects.
He has a specific memory of his Father telling him that no one would remember the beginning of the season, but everyone would remember the end – so that’s when he had to shine.
“I think a lot of people saw that even though there were a lot of learning moments, I learned my lessons and got better and found my form at the end of the season.”
One aspect the youngster had worked hard on was when and how to come out of his box: with Pacific playing an aggressive style, he had to learn to play higher and get better on long balls, too.
Pacific had a rotating roster of goalkeeper coaches over the last calendar year: after Mark Village ferried to the mainland with Vancouver FC, the club brought in Daniel Ortiz, who later left for Premier League side Brentford and was replaced by Pedro Guerrero.
Gazdov learned strengths from all of them: after a fruitful time under the tutelage of Village, Daniel Ortiz brought in a different perspective from Barcelona’s fabled La Masia Academy, putting a strong focus on Gazdov’s footwork, while Pedro Guerrero had him putting a shine on a multitude of small details in his game.
“I can’t ask for better goalie coaches,” reflects Gazdov, who has been hard at work putting their lessons to practice in the long Canadian offseason. He had hoped to secure a training stint abroad, but is in the midst of a local training routine while he awaits preseason to begin next month on the Isle.
“Next season I need to play the way I played at the end, but have it be all season. Maybe then there will be more interest in me going somewhere. For now, I’m happy to be the first goalkeeper at 20 years old. Not many teams will do that, giving me that. I’m happy to be playing here. I’m close to family, which is always nice, I know everybody and I think it’s a perfect place for me at this point.”
Emil wants to help Pacific win the league, win the golden glove, and land the league’s Best Canadian U-21 Player of the Year award while he’s still eligible for it. After the year he’s had, it’s easy to forget just how young he is.
Remarkably, the 2024 CPL season will Gazdov’s fifth as a professional. Having signed with the club in the summer of 2020, he went on a two-year loan in Germany before making his first two CPL appearances in 2022. Spending last season as the club’s number one was a big step upwards, and his ambitions clearly don’t stop there.
It’s also important to note that as difficult it is for a young player to absorb so much pressure, but equally important to note he’s enjoying himself out there, too.
“I just want to play and be happy. I was talking to my coach about how I was really nervous at the beginning of games and if we were winning, I just wanted the game to be over quicker, go home and be all good. At the end of the season, I learned how to be happy and relaxed, love being on the pitch, and want the game to be longer and longer, play more, and not stop. That’s what I want for next season,” he concludes. “Just to be happy in every game and have a good year.”
Header Image Photo Credit: Canadian Premier League