Rob Friend is no stranger to big games, having played in them on both sides of the Atlantic. But the former striker is still getting used to them as an owner.
Friend and fellow former Canadian international Josh Simpson, along with investment entrepreneur Dean Shillington, are co-owners of Pacific FC, which topped the Canadian Premier League standings at 13-8-6 prior to ending a Canadian Championship journey Wednesday night, falling 2-1 to Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.
“I can certainly tell you as a co-owner, it’s more nerve-racking,” Friend said on the eve of that semifinal at BMO Field on Wednesday. “Its been a pretty wild experience being on the other side of the game for the last few years. These Canadian Championship games are that much special, playing these big games.
“Not having control like you do as a player is tough. It’s been tough. But I also love the emotional roller-coaster as well that comes with it.”
Friend, 40, has made the most of his business/managerial economics degree from the University of California-Santa Barbara. As well as his experience playing around the world.
Originally drafted by the Chicago Fire in 2003, he opted to sign with Moss FK and then Molde FK in Norway. He then spent time in the Netherlands with SC Heerenveen and Heracles Almelo before embarking on a successful stretch in Germany.
Friend signed with Borussia Moenchengladbach for the 2007 season, scoring 18 goals to help the team earn promotion to Germany’s top flight. He collected 28 goals in his three seasons with the storied club before moving on to Hertha Berlin, Eintracht Frankfurt and TSV 1860 Munchen.
He joined the Los Angeles Galaxy in January 2014 but retired later that year, at the age of 33, after missing more than five months of action due to concussion-related problems. Friend made 32 appearances for Canada.
Simpson, 38, played for England’s Millwall, Germany’s FC Kaiserlautern, Turkey’s Manisaspor and Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys. He retired in 2015 in the wake of a badly broken leg. An attacking midfielder, he earned 43 caps for Canada.
Friend is CEO of Pacific, while Simpson is president and Shillington chairman. The three are equal-part owners.
Friend doubles as managing partner of SixFive Sports and Entertainment, a global football fund “seeking investments in high growth markets, under-managed European clubs, and distressed or turnaround opportunities.” The name comes from Friend’s height.
He is also co-founder and partner in the DRG Investment Group along with Simpson.
Simpson is also co-founder and partner in Von Schwanau Invest AG, a Swiss-based international real estate investment group.
Shillington, also a managing partner in SixFive Sports, is president of the Knightsbridge Capital Group and owns Caffe Artigiano, which has branches in B.C. and Alberta.
Friend says he and Simpson decided early on that Pacific, which plays out of Langford, B.C., would be a 24/7 job. The co-owners literally built Pacific from the ground up.
“To start a football club from scratch, I tell people we didn’t even have a desk. We didn’t have a massage bench. We didn’t have heart-rate monitors. We had nothing,” Friend said. “We had to start that from zero. That was a full-time commitment”
In its third season, the club still takes up most of his time. “But it’s extremely satisfying to be back in the game, to be investing in the Canadian game. It’s something that I’ve always dream of.”
Friend knows how important the Canadian league is.
“There’s not a national team in this world that can be built to be a successful national team without their own domestic league. It’s plain and simple. We never had that. I didn’t have that as a player. And you need that foundation in your country.”
He acknowledges the league is a startup but points to his club’s Canadian Championship win over the Vancouver Whitecaps and Forge FC’s accomplishments in Scotiabank CONCACAF League play, among other successes.
“I think people are starting to take this league very seriously and really, it’s only the start. It’s Year 3,” he said. “It’s an exciting time and we’re only going to grow from here.”
—Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press