In the lead-up to the Canadian Premier League’s inaugural season, Rob Friend worked tirelessly to bring a club to British Columbia’s Lower Mainland.
The former Canadian Men’s National Team forward had meetings with multiple different municipalities within the market, but was unable to find a fit in time for the league’s 2019 launch.
The timing, Friend said, just wasn’t right.
Instead, Friend partnered in 2019 with Dean Shillington and fellow Canadian men’s national team alumni Josh Simpson to bring a team to Vancouver Island. Pacific FC was born. The 2021 Canadian Premier League champion became club CEO Friend’s focus, but his hopes of bringing a team to the Lower Mainland didn’t wane.
“We kind of put Vancouver on the backburner,” Friend told CanPL.ca this week. “But especially Dean and I, being from Vancouver, it was a market we always wanted to bring a CPL team to.”
Friend accomplished a dream, leaving Pacific FC for a project that was “five years in the making” as on Wednesday night, Vancouver FC was officially unveiled as the CPL’s latest expansion side. The Langley, B.C.-based club will play its inaugural CPL season in 2023.
Getting to Wednesday night’s launch event at the Langley Events Centre was a long process, one that took countless hours of conversations and collecting community input to make sure Vancouver FC was launched right.
“There has always been one professional soccer team in the Lower Mainland,” said Friend, “and I really believe this market is ready for something different, something new, something fresh and we are excited to bring that.”
The process started to accelerate about a year ago, when Friend and his company, SixFive Sports & Entertainment, settled on the township of Langley as the club’s home base. Friend’s team began putting together focus groups and completing close to 1,000 interviews and surveys. They gleaned key information from that process, including the fact that interest in this team extends far beyond Langley.
“We are talking Whiterock, Surrey, we are talking Abbotsford, we are talking North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam,” said Friend. “Everybody was interested in this new club. So as it started to develop when you look at Vancouver as a whole, it’s a combination of all these different municipalities as one. It is one Vancouver. When you talk to people, and when you travel and leave your market, you say ‘Vancouver.’ We wanted to be very inclusive of all the markets.”
So the club was named Vancouver FC, a moniker that aims to encompass and serve all of these different communities. It is meant to acknowledge and celebrate soccer history in the area, while also creating something new that points toward a bright future for the game in the province.
Vancouver FC’s logo and branding, also officially revealed on Wednesday, aims to serve a similar purpose. The logo depicts an eagle, which represents strength, style and grace. When undergoing the process of selecting an icon for the new club, Friend and his team wanted something that would set them apart.
“We approached it again as, ‘How do we differentiate within the market?’ We wanted something a little bit edgier. Something that really resonates in those communities,” said Friend.
“When you look at the colours, you look at the branding, it’s raw, it’s gritty, it’s a little bit street, which I think is the essence of football. The game is played in the streets around the world, so I think having a little bit of that street edge, rougher tones, and a very simple clean name, all of the branding elements come together nicely when you see it.”
Friend knows a club is more than just its name and branding. The elements announced on Wednesday will not set Vancouver FC apart on their own. It is what Vancouver FC does in the community with their platform going forward that will define the club’s identity.
“It’s really about what the club does, the actions behind the name and the brand,” he said.
In fact, when SixFive underwent their survey process, the name of the club actually scored relatively low in terms of what was important to supporters, administrators and players within the region.
“A lot of the comments were about local players, which is important and we have to serve that market, we have to create an opportunity for aspiring kids in these communities, that was important,” said Friend.
That resonates with Friend. He didn’t have close to the opportunity that players within the region have today as a young footballer. He carved out a career for himself abroad, in Norway, the Netherlands, the Bundesliga and even the United States with LA Galaxy.
British Columbia was among the leaders in talent development within the country when Friend was coming up in its provincial soccer system. Since then, he feels the province has fallen behind other provinces, particularly Ontario, when it comes to developing national team calibre players. It is something that he thinks Vancouver FC is positioned to help change.
“I look at this as an opportunity to bring B.C. back within this country and to be relevant again in the soccer market,” said Friend. “Obviously, you’ve got the one MLS team here, but ultimately is that enough? I think this market — as in B.C., the province — can support multiple CPL clubs. I think there is enough talent here to provide the pipeline into the CPL clubs and provide the opportunity for the young Canadian players within British Columbia.”
Friend said the success of both Canada’s men’s and women’s national teams has led to the growth of the sport being on fast forward of late. As someone who played 32 times for the Canadian men’s national team he is incredibly proud of where the game is headed in this country.
“I can only imagine what’s going to happen a month from now with the hype around the national team,” said Friend. “That is certainly going to trickle down across this country all the way to the grassroots and it’s up to us with the CPL clubs and these markets across Canada to create something different.”