The long-awaited return of Pacific FC to Langford on Friday night also saw the return of large crowds filling the stands for live, major sports in Greater Victoria.
After 16 months of enduring shuttered or bubble seasons, more than 2,500 fans wearing the Pacific purple filled the Starlight Stadium bleachers to witness the hometown side earn a 2-0 win.
When the pandemic hit, raucous crowds were non-existent, and instead, cheers belted out from balconies and backyards to applaud front-line workers.
“It’s been tough and we’ve got to give credit to the health-care workers and all the humans who have been affected by this pandemic,” said PFC coach Pa-Modou Kah.
“It’s very easy to get lost because you’re not doing what you love, but then (think of) the people who have been lost to the pandemic. So, my focus was to make sure that we understand that we’re privileged to do what we love.”
Langford’s mayor echoed the support for essential workers while addressing the crowd pre-game.
“I just want to recognize all those front-line workers who made this possible – without their hard work we wouldn’t be sitting here today,” said Mayor Stew Young.
Fans made themselves heard in the stadium for the first time in 689 days, as they took over to sing the national anthem.
At the three-minute mark, all 2,661 in attendance erupted in unison when the Pacific opened the scoring. Team-leading goalscorer Marco Bustos stripped the ball from the Cavalry defence and, after a slight stumble, managed to stay on his feet before punching one past the Calgary keeper.
Cavalry keeper Marco Carducci thwarted several attempts by the West Shore team in the first half, with many coming from prime scoring areas. His best came in the half’s final minutes when a Bustos corner kick was headed into the air in front of the net. Jamar Dixon picked the ball out of the air with a left-footed strike – bound for just below the bar – before a leaping Carducci deflected it up and out of play.
After outshooting Cavalry in the first, Pacific sustained offensive pressure in the second half, but the Calgary keeper shut down their multiple strong chances.
It remained a 1-0 match until the waning minutes, when Pacific attacker Gianni dos Santos ran down an overhead pass and broke free on the right side in Cavalry territory, sending a bullet strike into the top right of the net.