Friend On Concacaf, Chemistry, And Selling Your Star Player
We recently had the opportunity to check in with Pacific FC co-owner Rob Friend during one of his many trips on the ferry that routes Vancouver Isle and the mainland, and there’s been a lot to catch up on: the reigning league champions have made several significant roster moves as they chart course for a playoff spot and, of course, a hopeful run in the Concacaf League, too.
Here’s what the former Canadian international had to say about all of Pacific’s goings-on ahead of his own departure for Langley, which is still on target to make its league debut next year.
On The Sale Of Diaz
The sale of the Canadian Premier League golden boot leader came fast and furious for the public, who heard rumours of it mere hours before the side’s top goalscorer departing for a club record fee.
As it turns out, Pacific had put a pretty tough stance on the transfer: they didn’t want to lose him, and went pretty hard in negotiations to reflect the ‘hands off’ nature of things – but there’s a value attached to every player, said Friend, and even after being told ‘no chance’ numerous times, second division Norwegian promotion pushers Sogndal Fotball raised their offer to a point where Pacific FC ultimately accepted the move.
“This is the objective of our club,” states Friend. “We want to move players on. We want to prove the model, and we’re starting to do that with Kaden and Lucas going to Toronto FC.
Friend states that when a club has a player turning heads, they’ve got to balance how well they’ve prepared the squad to lose a player of such impact while doing right by the player and bringing value to the club both in terms of transfer fees and their reputation amongst players who know they can do well and be sold upwards. There’s a value attached to that, says Friend.
“It’s great for the CPL. Players are starting to move on for transfer fees, and clubs from around the world are paying CPL clubs and keeping watch. If you ask us a few years ago if that’d be happening, I think there’d be a lot of question marks. So, I’m proud of it. We’re going to celebrate it, and have trust in the players we have.”
Friend is also confident in the club’s forward trio of Josh Heard, Gianni Dos Santos, and Djenairo Daniels, and urges for patience as they seek out the right replacement for Diaz. In the meantime, there’s whispers that Jordan Brown may rejoin former teammate Nathan Mavila out west.
On The Concacaf League
After hoisting the North Star Shield in Hamilton last year, Pacific FC became just the second CPL team to qualify for continental competition. The club finally took its first steps in the competition last month, almost selling out the stadium for their absolute drubbing of Waterhouse FC, with a roudy crowd turning up to the club’s contest against Costa Rican side CS Herediano, too.
Friend believes this shows that continental action means a lot to the fans and the Vancouver Island community who watched them win the league last year.
“It really moved the needle of awareness from fans, and there’s certainly been an uptick of bums in seats, merchandise sales, and people wearing our colours who are proud to represent the club. That’s something we’ve been harping on – it’s important to grow these communities across the country, and grow the game too.”
It’s not without sacrifice, however: the long hours of flight time – the trip to Jamaica was an exhausting 50+ hour trip that began with a red-eye hours after a league match, for instance – mean the club expects to sacrifice some league form at a pivotal moment of the campaign.
“We had to turn around and go to Valour, and luckily we had a result there,” reflects Friend on their first continental away match. “The boys were tired, it took them some time to get their feet back on the ground, so that hurts. I’m sure if you talked to any Forge player last year, it hurt them too. It hurts your form in the season, but you’d take Concacaf all day long for the experience, for the club exposure, and for what it does to the valuations on our players.”
On Cedric Toussaint
In a move that can largely be described as a player-swap, Pacific FC took in midfielder Cedric Toussaint from York United, while loaning Matthew Baldisimo to the Nine Stripes for the final months of his contract. It’s a move that largely favours the west coast club, though Friend was keen to say both were happy with the deal.
“We needed a younger player. It’s part of our philosophy, and I think we’ve done a good job of bringing the right balance of young and experienced players. We wanted a young, dynamic midfielder for the future of this club, and we believe Cedric is one of the most talented in the league.”
Friend also believes that we’ll see more player-swap type deals in the future: as every club finds its identity, they’re more willing to work together for their individual goals. Conversations between clubs are picking up behind the scenes, though it remains to be seen when the next move of a similar nature will take place.
On A Generation Of Roster Passing
Baldisimo’s exit means that every single face from the original Pacific FC squad has now parted ways with the club’s active roster. They’re the second team to reach that milestone after FC Edmonton, and are even on their third head coach after sacking Michael Silberbauer and seeing Pa-Modou Kah depart for MLS NEXT Pro.
“I think it’s normal to evolve,” reflects Friend on the changes. “I’ve always said that we don’t want our players here long-term, and if you’re here more than three or four years that it’s time to change your environment. It’s part of our process to challenge players to reach the next level, and if you’re not willing or able to do that, I think it’s time to move on.”
On Vancouver 2023
The past week saw Rob Friend begin his formal exit as Pacific FC CEO as he prepares to go all-in on the Langley expansion club, with former CPL President Paul Beirne set to assume Friend’s day-to-day duties on the isle.
While the club’s social media has teased predominantly red branding, Friend assures us that the side’s colours aren’t yet final, and that they’re being extra particular on everything from the colours, to the name, to the logo. This has led the expansion club’s full unveiling to be a little more delayed than initially hoped, though things are still on track for an early fall brand launch as they prepare for the 2023 CPL Season.
“I think new clubs coming in need to challenge the level across the board, both on and off the field. With this new club, we’re coming in with a lot of experience. We’re going to challenge ourselves with this club, from everything from the brand to the product both on-and-off the field,” says Rob.
Having originally aimed for a mainland team prior to the launch of the league, the former national team player ended up planting a flag on the isle instead. While he’s been active there, it’s been ‘five years of stress mode’ as he simultaneously prepared for this venture, too. Suffice to say, he’s been on a lot of ferry rides.
Now on the precipice of launching Langley, the expansion side has more-or-less finalized stadium plans which he promises will deliver world class fan experiences for a club with an identity of which people will want to wear its colours and represent what it means.
“We’re building up behind the scenes quietly, all day every day,” he says of Langley, “hopefully in the early fall, we can launch everything, then it’s go time and we start signing some new players.”