from left: Pacific FC CEO Rob Friend, new signing Marcus Haber and Pacific FC head coach Michael Silberbauer. Photo credit: Catherine Davies.

© Copyright – 2019 – Victoria Sports News

Pacific Football Club, Vancouver Island’s professional soccer club in the nascent Canadian Premier League, this morning revealed men’s national team player Marcus Haber as its second new signing, three months before the first ball will be kicked at the club’s Westhills Stadium in Langford.

Haber, a Vancouver native with 27 appearances for the senior Canadian Men’s National Team, is returning to the West Coast after spending most of the last decade playing for first and second-division clubs in England and Scotland – most recently at the Scottish Premiership’s Dundee and second-tier club Falkirk. He said he is thrilled to be coming back to Canada, and that it was an “easy decision” to move to Vancouver Island and be part of the new league, which kicks off at the end of April.

“I can’t wait to get started,” Haber, who turns 30 this week, said in a press conference held at Pacific FC’s downtown store, adding that he had been welcomed back with “open arms”.

“I’m excited to be a part of something that is brand new… to be a part of history,” he said. “It’ll be good to be able to inspire young kids. When I was growing up, playing soccer, we didn’t really have that. But now, for kids growing up on the island, having a professional team and players you can look up to will only inspire them to go and be involved in a professional environment later on in their lives.”

Michael Silberbauer, head coach of Pacific FC who has just moved to Victoria to take up his post after wrapping up a contract as assistant coach at Swiss Super League side FC Luzern, said he was delighted that the club was able to attract a player of Haber’s calibre.

“Marcus is an experienced national team player who has also played abroad for years,” said Silberbauer. “He still has some of his best years ahead of him. He’s a target striker who can play with his feet and is flexible on the attack, and he will create chances both for himself and for his teammates. Not only that, he has a great personality – he’s someone the young guys can look up to.”

Silberbauer’s comments were echoed by Rob Friend, Pacific FC CEO and a former Canadian international who also plied his trade in Europe – in his case, with clubs in Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. 

“Marcus has played in over 300 professional games and has scored more than 65 international goals – he’s one of the biggest names in Canadian soccer right now. Michael wanted a tall striker (Haber is 6’3”) with international experience who can score and Marcus ticks those boxes. He’s also from the West Coast, which will help us in our quest to build a club with a west coast identity.”

Haber told Victoria Sports News that he has high hopes for the league and expects the standard of play to be “up there” with what he is used to in the Scottish first and second divisions. Silberbauer agrees, adding that he believes that the level of play will certainly be good, “much higher than I initially expected”. 

The Canadian Premier League will kick off in late April with seven teams, from Victoria to Halifax, and as such will be the first top-tier Canadian professional league in any sport that stretches from coast to coast. A number of teams are expected to join the league from 2020, including Ottawa Fury, which currently plays in the USL, the US second division, as well as clubs from cities like Montreal, Quebec, Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo, Saskatoon and Surrey, with the league projecting a total roster of 20 clubs by 2022.

The league’s first season, which runs through to October, will coincide with the launch of the ‘new and improved’ Canadian Championship, the cup competition that in 2019 will involve all seven CPL teams as well as the three Canadian teams playing in Major League Soccer (the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and Montreal Impact), along with Ottawa Fury and the champions of League 1 and the Première Ligue de Soccer du Québec, the semi-pro leagues in Ontario and Quebec respectively.

Pacific FC will announce further signings in the coming weeks to join Haber and Kadin Chung, the 20-year old Port Coquitlam native who has represented Canada at the U17, U20 and U23 levels, and who has played both in Germany and with the Vancouver Whitecaps’ second team in the USL.

The launch of the Canadian Premier League is a milestone for Canada, as the league will provide a clear pathway for young male players to play professional soccer at home: Victor Montagliani, former head of Socer Canada and now president of Concacaf, the North and Central American and Caribbean soccer federation, recently noted that Canadian players are treated as “second class citizens” in Major League Soccer, where they are classed as “international” players if they play for an MLS team south of the border, while American players are designated as “domestic” players regardless to whether they play for Canadian or American teams. 

In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian in 2016, Montagliani warned that a failure to address the issue could lead to action that would block the Whitecaps, TFC and Impact from continuing to play in MLS, which is essentially a foreign league. In a twist that hinted at further developments down the line, Concacaf announced last month that it had withdrawn its sanction allowing Ottawa Fury to continue playing in the USL, the American second division, now that the CPL represented a “viable alternative” for the team to play professional soccer in Canada. Ottawa threatened to take its case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland, only for Concacaf to back down – for now – and issue a sanction permitting its participation in the USL for the 2019 season.

The CPL also arrives at a time when soccer as a sport is growing rapidly in popularity: soccer is the number 1 team sport in Canada in terms of youth participation by a significant margin with around 42% of boys and girls who participate in sport playing soccer, compared to 20% for hockey. According to a survey conducted by Rogers Sportsnet in 2017, soccer is the second most-watched sport on TV among millennials (those aged between 22 and 38) after hockey. Over 25 million Canadians tuned in to watch coverage of the 2018 Fifa World Cup on TV, and with Canada co-hosting the 2026 World Cup, together with the USA and Mexico, the sport’s popularity will only continue to grow.

The CPL has already made waves in the global soccer industry: Macron, the Italian sportswear brand that was recently acknowledged by European football governing body Uefa as the third most important sports brand in the game after Nike and adidas, signed a long-term deal in September to be the official kit provider of the CPL. An announcement is expected later this month regarding a major new partnership with a leading global player for the media rights to the new league. 

The fact that corporate backers have come on board before a ball has even been kicked is a testament to the vision of the league’s leadership, including former Tim Horton’s Canada president and CEO David Clanachan and founders Scott Mitchell, CEO of the CFL’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Bob Young, the Ticats’ owner and an iconic Canadian tech entrepreneur. Clanachan was named as the CPL’s commissioner 12 months ago, while Mitchell came on board three months later as CEO of Canadian Soccer Business, the commercial entity that will manage the sponsorship and media rights to both the CPL and Canada Soccer, as well as Ontario’s League 1, which was acquired by the CPL in November.

Soccer industry observers have noted that the launch of the Canadian Premier League is a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Before the new CPL was announced last year, Canada was the only country among the top 100 or so nations in the world by GDP not to have its own top-tier men’s professional soccer league. In just over three months’ time, the CPL will become a reality. To get involved, check out the following links for more information.

For more on the Canadian Premier League, visit canpl.ca
For more on Pacific FC, vist Pacific FC
For getting involved as a fan, check out local soccer supporters’ club the Lake Side Buoys https://www.lakesidebuoys.org/

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