2021 CPL regular season (The Kickoff) — Match #2 Pacific FC vs. HFX Wanderers FC June 26, 2021 at 5:00 pm ET/ 4:00 pm CT IG Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba Watch Live: OneSoccer.ca

For the third season in a row, the two teams furthest apart from one another geographically will kick off their season against each other, as coastal sides Pacific FC and HFX Wanderers begin their 2021 campaigns on Saturday afternoon. Meeting right in the middle of the country at IG Field in Winnipeg -- the site of The Kickoff, the single-site environment to start the 2021 CPL season -- the two clubs will both be looking to start their seasons on a high note after impressive 2020 seasons. Pacific FC made it to the second round in 2020, finishing fourth but impressing enough to establish themselves as contenders in this league. Marco Bustos had a season to remember, and was nominated for the Player of the Season award, and will be hungry to win it this year. He was one of several Pacific players to put up big performances at the Island Games, and head coach Pa-Modou Kah will be hoping that the success last year is also making the trip to Winnipeg. The Wanderers, meanwhile, came within 90 minutes of winning the North Star Shield, ultimately falling to Forge FC in the final following an impressive run to the final. After finishing second to Cavalry in the First Stage, they drew with Forge and beat Cavalry in the Group Stage, earning themselves a spot in the final, where they fell 2-0 in a closely-contested match. The last time these two played each other was in the last match of the Group Stage in 2020. Knowing that qualification for the final was secured already, Hart opted to rotate the squad, and Pacific ended up crushing them 5-0. The HFX boss insists that he isn't thinking about that result in the leadup to Saturday's match. "What's in the past is in the past," said Hart. "We made the decision to try and rest some players, because we were already in the final, and what happened has happened. It made no difference to the tournament whatsoever, I've forgotten about it really." Both sides have kept their cores together from a year ago, making preparation for this match slightly easier than if they cleaned house. By keeping the core together, and spending the offseason filling in the gaps, the two managers are both hoping that their squads have improved even further. "We have depth this year that we didn't possess last year," said Kah. “We added players that we believe strengthen the group. We're looking forward to everybody getting their chances and staking their claim in the first eleven." It's hard to predict an outcome for the first match of a season, especially without a preseason, but one thing is for certain: this match will be end-to-end, and an interesting tactical matchup. Both sides have attacking threats and resilient defenses, so this should be an entertaining way to start their seasons.

RELATED READING: The Kickoff: Pacific FC 2021 CPL season preview || The Kickoff: HFX Wanderers 2021 CPL season preview


  • How will clubs prepare without a preseason? Like every other Canadian Premier League club (with the exception of Atlético Ottawa, who managed to do a preseason with their parent club in Madrid), Pacific and HFX haven't played any preseason games. The only preparation they've had ahead of The Kickoff is training sessions, which some clubs are only just beginning due to health restrictions in their home provinces. Clubs will have to look at 2019 and 2020 scouting reports, and as Stephen Hart said before the match, they need to "focus on our own strengths instead of their own."
  • Fitness levels after nearly 300 days between matches: With no preseason matches to get players fully match-ready, Hart admitted that the start of the season will essentially act as a competitive preseason from a fitness perspective. "As the games go along, we'll work our way into match fitness, and everything else that goes with it."
  • Marco Bustos vs Akeem Garcia: This match will feature two of the best attackers over the past few years in the CPL -- Marco Bustos and Akeem Garcia. Both are entering their third season in the league, and are at or near the top of multiple CPL all-time leaderboards. Garcia -- who won the 2020 Golden Boot -- is tied with Easton Ongaro and Tristan Borges atop the all-time scoring list with 13 goals, while Bustos is tied with Pacific teammate Terran Campbell one spot back with 12. Bustos is also tied for the league's all-time assists record, equal with Forge's Kyle Bekker with six assists, and is tied for ninth in all-time league appearances with 35.

ALL-TIME SERIES Valour wins: 0 || Cavalry wins: 4 || Draws: 1

Previous match: August 16, 2021 – Cavalry FC 2-0 Valour FC


"We know what they're about. In my estimation, from the last tournament, they were one of the better-playing teams. They move the ball well, use both sides of the park very well, and have the capacity to get the ball into dangerous areas in the penalty box. Of course, they have those individuals, that when things are not going well, have made a difference for them. They've added some more firepower." — HFX Wanderers head coach Stephen Hart

"I don't think Stephen Hart is going to change much in his playing philosophy, he has a way that he plays and he's been very successful with it. We came out of the gate in the first game a little bit slow, so I'm hoping we can be better this year. You don't know, none of us have played games in seven months, so it's difficult to predict what the game is going to be like. We'll see on Saturday." — Pacific FC head coach Pa-Modou Kah

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