Check-in with the Champs: How James Merriman's Pacific FC are preparing to defend CPL title
Proudly wearing the crown of champions upon their collective heads, 2022 presents a year of big changes at Pacific FC.
The reigning CPL champs saw five key departures this offseason, chief among them head coach Pa-Modou Kah, who moved on to take the helm of North Texas SC. Lukas MacNaughton and Kadin Chung made the move to Toronto FC, and Terran Campbell and Alessandro Hojabrpour now wear the orange of Forge FC.
That would be enough to destabilize most teams in the CPL. But, the confidence with which Pacific continues to operate is a testament to the sheer quality of their depth.
Taking over for Pa-Modou Kah is James Merriman. The 36-year-old has been with the club from the very beginning. After Michael Silberbauer and the club parted ways before the final match of 2019, Merriman took the helm and sparked the first embers of a winning culture.
Last season, when Kah was suspended with a red card, Merriman once again was the man to step in, and the Tridents came from behind to win that match as well.
That means that Merriman technically owns the greatest winning percentage in league history at 100%. This time around, the Nanaimo, B.C. native will have a full season to leave his mark.
“There’s been a lot of change, a big transition,” Merriman said in a pre-season sitdown with OneSoccer. “We celebrated our championship and now we’re looking forward to the new season. We’ve got a good core group returning from that championship team and I think we’ve added some really interesting pieces. We just got back on the field this week and everyone’s excited, motivated, and hungry for more.”
When Pacific hosts Forge to begin the campaign, they will take to Starlight Stadium without Chung and MacNaughton for the very first time. They’re tough to replace, yet progressing players is a part of the club’s mission.
“Lukas and Kadin have a lot of quality, we’re very excited for both of them,” Merriman said. “That was always the goal, always was the plan: to bring them in, to give them an opportunity, a platform to showcase themselves, to continue to develop. We celebrate both of them as a club.”
With the opening weekend just over a month away, everyone is starting to feel the buzz. Much of the hype can be attributed to the fact the CPL is ready to embark on just its second “normal” season, one that will hopefully not be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it gives everybody excitement,” Merriman said. “From the ticketing team and everybody that works here on game days at the stadium, being able to interact with our fans, and for all clubs in the Canadian Premier League to actually have a true start date, and to be able to plan for that, on and off the field. I think everyone is feeling that.”
GOAL 🔱🔱🔱— OneSoccer (@onesoccer) August 27, 2021
Make it THREE for @PacificFCCPL vs. @WhitecapsFC as Josh Heard goes it alone all the way through the backline before beating Max Crepeau, cool as you like 😎#CanChamp | #CanPL | #VWFC | 🔴 https://t.co/hishXepRT3 pic.twitter.com/wbum8HG1VH
With a return to normalcy and a busy year on the horizon, Pacific is preparing to participate in three different competitions: the Canadian Premier League regular season, the Canadian Championship, and, for the first time, the Scotiabank Concacaf League. As such, expectations are high on Vancouver Island.
“We want to win the league, we haven’t done that over three seasons,” Merriman added. “We won the championship last year, we know it’s a play-off league, but we want to win the league. So that’s a big goal for us and also to get maximum experience in all competitions. That’s obviously qualifying for the [playoffs] in our league, wanting to repeat and win another title, to get to the final of the Canadian Championship and to go as far as we can in Concacaf.”
Throughout their changes and new challenges, this Pacific FC team remains a confident group, one that aspires to a successful title defence. It will not be easy, of course. But for Merriman, the challenge is worth the effort.
“That’s what we play for every weekend. That’s what we want as Pacific. The players are motivated and hungry to try and achieve that and go after it every day.”
Pacific opens their title defence on April 10th at Starlight Stadium in a 2021 CPL Final rematch against Forge. Each Canadian Premier League and Canadian Championship match is available live on OneSoccer.
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