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Alejandro Diaz, the CPL's leading scorer, heads to Europe with blessing of Pacific FC

Pacific FC forward Alejandro Diaz is shown in a handout photo. Diaz, who leads the Canadian Premier League with 13 goals this season, has been sold for a club-record fee to Norway's Sogndal Fotball. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Pacific FC **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Pacific FC CEO Rob Friend lost a lot of goals Wednesday but still celebrated the day.

In selling Mexican forward Alejandro Diaz to Norway's Sogndal Fotball, Friend said goodbye to the Canadian Premier League's leading scorer with 13 goals this season. But he was also fulfilling the Canadian Premier League's mission — to help develop players and further their career.

"The reality is this league is built by Canadians for Canadians, but also for players to come here in this country and showcase themselves," said Friend, a former Canadian international striker. "Obviously we're still very new … To be at the stage where we're at, where (other) clubs are respecting the level and paying transfer fees — and substantial transfer fees now for players. And Diaz is a great example now.

"I think it just shows how much we've grown as a league. And the respect we're getting outside of our country."

Pacific is also benefiting financially. The club did not detail the Diaz transfer fee but said it is the second-largest transfer in league history, with the potential to become the largest based on conditional performance objectives.

The CPL's largest transfer was the January 2020 sale of Forge FC attacking midfielder Tristan Borges, the league’s MVP and Golden Boot winner at the time, to Belgium's OH Leuven, reportedly for between $300,000 and $500,000.

Borges was loaned back to Forge in March 2021.

Diaz has accounted for almost half of Pacific's 28 goals in league play this season. The 26-year-old Mexican scored 31 goals and added nine assists in 62 games in all competitions over three seasons with Pacific.

Sogndal (8-6-5) currently stands eighth in Norway's second-tier league. The club is coached by former Chelsea and Rangers forward Tore Andre Flo.

Diaz, who won CONCACAF championships with Mexico’s under-17 and under-20 teams, joined Pacific in March 2020 from Mexico’s Club America where he came up through the youth ranks. He made 56 appearances in Mexico for Club America’s senior team and, via loan spells, at Necaxa, Atlas and second-tier Zacatepec.

Friend says Pacific couldn't believe Diaz was available at the time.

"But I think ultimately he wanted a change. He needed a change to get out of Mexico, maybe remove himself from the pressure that he had. And sort of carve out his own career without all the pressure in his own country," he said.

"A fantastic character and I think he's going to succeed in Europe now," he added.

Friend knows his football. He won 32 caps for Canada and played in Norway before embarking on a successful career in Germany with Borussia Moenchengladbach, Hertha BSC, Eintracht Frankfurt and TSV 1860 Munchen. He finished out his career in MLS with the Los Angeles Galaxy, his career cut short by in 2014 due to concussions.

Pacific (9-4-5) currently stands second in the CPL standings and has advanced to the round of 16 in the Scotiabank CONCACAF League after eliminating Jamaica's Waterhouse FC. The defending CPL champion hosts Costa Rica's Herediano in the first leg of their matchup next Tuesday.

"Obviously you never want to lose your top striker in the middle of a season and we're in a CONCACAF (League) run but that's part of the game. It's why we're doing this," said Friend. "We have to set our egos aside and say 'Look this is what's best for the league, best for the club and what's best for the player.' And we celebrate it. And we hope to do that to the next player that replaces him and does the same thing."

Pacific, which lost forward Terran Campbell to Forge FC prior to this season, now looks to Dutch youth international forward Djenairo Daniels to help the attack.

"Ultimately it's about us believing in the next player and we have some very, very talented offensive players," said Friend.

The 20-year-old Daniels joined Pacific in February and has two goals in 19 appearances, 12 of which were off the bench, in all competitions.

Daniels worked his way up the ranks as a youth with Almere City and PSV Eindhoven before joining Jong PSV. He went on to play for Utrecht's reserve team before leaving the Netherlands on loan to join Sassuolo's under-19 team in Italy last year.

Josh Heard, a Welsh-born attacking midfielder, is second in Pacific scoring this season with four goals.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press