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VANCOUVER — Pacific FC has been here before. The Canadian Premier League club is the underdog heading into the semifinals of the Canadian Championship and will face Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps in a two-game series that begins in Langford, B.C.

VANCOUVER – Pacific FC has been here before.

The Canadian Premier League club enters the semifinals of the Canadian Championship as underdogs and will face Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps in a two-game series on Wednesday in Langford, BC.

In the other semi-final of the tournament, MLS club Toronto FC will face Forge FC from the CPL.

It’s no secret that Pacific has only a fraction of the Whitecaps’ resources, but results still depend on what happens on the field, head coach James Merriman said.

“This is tournament football, this is cup football,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s 11 against 11. And our approach, our attitude, our humility, our discipline give us a chance, give us a chance to get a result. We focus on what we can control and that is ourselves.”

This year, Pacific and the ‘Caps will face each other for the third time in the annual tournament. In their first meeting in 2021, the CPL team surprised Vancouver in the preliminary round with a 4-3 win.

“We came in absolutely fearless,” Merriman said. “We came in on the front foot. We had so much energy that I think we overwhelmed them in some ways. Maybe they underestimated that or didn’t expect it, and that’s what ultimately got us a result.”

Vancouver won 3-0 in last year’s semifinals, but the club has not forgotten the 2021 result, said assistant coach Michael D’Agostino.

“They are a good team. We learned the hard way that you can’t go against a CPL team and think it’s not going to be a difficult game,” he said. “We’ve played Pacific in the past and they’ve beaten us in the past. We need to make sure we play our best (on Wednesday).”

Pacific secured a spot in the semifinals with a 2-1 aggregate win over CPL rival Atletico Ottawa and climbed to fourth place in the league with a 5-4-4 record this season.

Wednesday’s game comes amid a hectic schedule. Pacific were in the nation’s capital last weekend, beating Atletico 1-0, and are in Hamilton on Sunday to face Forge FC.

“With the extra games, the Canadian championship games, it’s a packed schedule for our season,” Merriman said. “We know the country is big and we have a lot of travel to do.”

The Whitecaps sit sixth in the MLS Western Conference with a 9-7-5 record after holding CF Montreal to a 1-1 draw on Saturday. They travel east again this weekend to face St. Louis City in Missouri.

Vancouver enters the Canadian Championship having won the Voyageurs Cup in 2022 and 2023, but this year’s season has not been smooth sailing. The ‘Caps faced CPL side Cavalry FC in the quarterfinals and advanced on away goals after Cavalry claimed a 1-0 win in the second leg to level the aggregate score at 2-2.

“We went into the Cavalry series with the firm intention of doing our best. But at the end of the day, we underestimated them a little bit. They are a good team, well coached, well organized and a difficult opponent,” said D’Agostino.

“I think we learned. I think these guys went into this series with maybe a little more attention to detail. And hopefully we can win and get to the finals.”

Pacific has learned that being the underdog in the Canadian Championship doesn’t mean much.

“The gaps in football have always been small and in cup tournaments they are getting smaller and smaller,” said captain Josh Heard.

“In world football, you always hear about the ‘magic of the cup’. And it really does exist. And we see it here,” he said. “We see the results that have been achieved here at CanChamp. And hopefully there will be more in the future. In football, anything can happen sometimes.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2024.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press