The second year in Major League Soccer for Vancouver Whitecaps FC was marketed as Round 2. We had a new coaching staff, some new players, and lots of optimism going into the new season.
Preseason had gone well in Arizona and Florida and everybody wanted to get the season started. Martin Rennie – in his first year coaching in MLS – liked the look of his Whitecaps FC squad and felt his team could challenge for a playoff spot. Getting there would be no easy task though.
The season began in fine fashion as our ‘Caps won their season opener at BC Place with a 2-0 victory against expansion side Montreal Impact. Optimism was high, but we all certainly knew that an opening day win does not make a season (see 2011 opening win vs. Toronto FC).
The next game, however, provided further proof that this would be a historic year. The boys got their first away win in MLS by beating Chivas USA 1-0 on a Jay DeMerit header. This was a sign that the mentality of this team had changed; Rennie was slowly but surely building a winning culture.
The next two games would end up as 0-0 draws, which meant the ‘Caps remained undefeated and had shut out the opposition in every match. The run of form continued as the team achieved an MLS record for longest shutout streak to start a season.
It was a great start for the team, but this was only the beginning. Much work remained.
Proving their mettle
April saw the ‘Caps hit with their first taste of adversity. A blown lead and first loss on the season at San Jose and a home loss to Sporting Kansas City could have sunk the ship early, but Vancouver persevered. The Blue and White grinded out a pair of 1-0 wins, at home to FC Dallas and on the road to Columbus Crew.
The early season success altered expectations. Suddenly fans and media were dreaming big, how good could this second year team really be?
The season was steadily moving along until the ‘Caps faced off against Toronto FC in the Amway Canadian Championship finals. A 2-1 aggregate loss to the team that would end up finishing dead last in MLS was nothing short of a massive disappointment.
Having been brought back down to earth, it became easier to reflect and evaluate. Clearly there was still work to be done.
Rome was not built in a day
Despite the positives from the first portion of the campaign, questions also remained from fans, media, and the club itself. What is the ultimate goal for this team? Is winning the only thing that matters? What about entertainment value, many asked? Was the team scoring enough goals? What about the young players, shouldn’t they be playing more? Why aren’t there more Canadian players?
These are all important questions that need to be posed and each of them are part of the values that the club is looking to instil moving forward. But it can also be easy to lose sight of the big picture. This remained only the second year for the club in MLS. All of these questions will be answered over time, but only so many aspects can be managed at once. Building a winning team, an entertaining team, a team filled with Canadian talent on the field – it’s all a process. For now, the most important thing was to allow coach Rennie to put his own stamp on this team. He has built a winning culture at every club which he’s coached, but that takes time and patience. If he could get this team to the playoffs in his first year, it would be a massive achievement and a big step in the right direction.
Many coaches would not tinker with a team that was picking up points fairly regularly, but Rennie had made it clear that he was not just building for this year; he was looking at a team that could be one of the best for years to come.
Tough decisions had to be made before the season, and it was felt at the midway point of the season that more changes were needed.
This was not an easy time for players to come into the team. It’s never easy to adjust to a new team, a new city, a new culture, and a new league. It’s especially difficult to do it in the middle of the season during a stretch of nine out of 13 games on the road.
Results were mixed, but sometimes it takes one step back to take two steps forward.
With 39 days away from home and a rough winless stretch, it would have been easy for the team to fall apart and look for excuses, but you never heard that from the coaches or players. The team showed great resiliency, and in the end the season’s body of work achieved the main goal at the beginning of the year – a first ever playoff spot for a Canadian MLS club.
Their reward? A date with the defending MLS Cup champions, the star-studded LA Galaxy, on the road no less.
In the end the boys gave them the fright of their lives – probably much more than they expected. Not only did we score an early goal, but we also nearly doubled the lead to 2-0 with 20 minutes to go. Unfortunately it was not to be, as the Galaxy eventually came back to win 2-1.
I was so proud of the performance in our first playoff game and it just reinforced what I already knew: we belonged in the playoffs after competing all season long in a tough Western Conference.
We have a coach in Martin Rennie who is not afraid of making big decisions. Of course not everyone will agree with every decision – you can’t please everyone. And not every decision will be correct either. As a coach you make some choices that will work and some that will not. The key is that everyone learns from the process. That is why I am really excited for next year.
This team has come a long way from last year and has shown it can compete with the best teams in MLS. Now Rennie and his coaching staff have a season under their belt and are more familiar with what works in this league. They will also have a squad of players that are also more accustomed to playing in North America, with the physicality and the travel.
Of course there will be more changes, but having made the playoffs this year, expectations will again be raised. There will be highs and lows again next season, as there always will be, but I’m confident that the best is yet to come.
WATCH THE 1979 NASL NATIONAL SOCCER CONFERENCE FINAL VS. NEW YORK COSMOS (courtesy of canadianblaster09)
PART 1: http://youtu.be/Tm2WkDW7stc
PART 2: http://youtu.be/tsMbk02WhHI
PART 3: http://youtu.be/ZPO1bfdgiiM
As we look forward to playing in our first Major League Soccer (MLS) playoff game against the mighty Los Angeles Galaxy, the task at hand appears quite daunting. The Galaxy are the reigning MLS Cup champions, and they boast three of the top players in the league in Robbie Keane, Landon Donovan and of course, David Beckham.
If you are looking at this game on paper it is hard for anyone to really believe that we have any chance of going to LA and getting a result. Fortunately the game is played on the field, and not on paper. In fact, our boys can look at some playoff history that will show them they can do it.
To be the best …
It was back in 1979 when we were to face the cream of the North American Soccer League (NASL), the two-time defending Soccer Bowl champions New York Cosmos. In their team were World Cup winners Franz Beckenbauer (Germany) and Carlos Alberto (Brazil), as well as Giorgio Chinaglia (Italy) and Johan Neeskens (Netherlands) – the latter of whom led Holland to the runners-up spot in back-to-back FIFA World Cups in 1974 and 1978. Not to mention the wealth of other talented players they had on their team.
The Cosmos had finished with the best record in the NASL (24W-6L). In order to get past them, we needed not only to beat them once, but twice in a two-match home-and-home series – or in an extra mini-game should we win one match each.
We had confidence from beating them twice during the regular season, but this was the playoffs, and they had the added incentive of hosting the Soccer Bowl at their home venue – Giants Stadium.
Up against the odds
I have to say in looking at both teams’ rosters, our chances did not look too good. But we knew as a team that once both teams got out on the field that we were not going to be outworked by New York.
There was no doubt that there was more quality in their team, but mentally we felt that we had the edge. We were confident that we were more of a team and that we really trusted each other and could overcome anything that the Cosmos threw at us. But as they say, talk is cheap, and in the end you have to do your talking on the field.
Who wants it more?
We played the first game at home in front of a sell-out crowd (32,875) at Empire Stadium. The game was tense, hard fought, and very close. But we remained focused throughout the match and held strong. Eventually they were the first to blink and we came away with a 2-0 victory on goals by ‘Wee’ Willie Johnston and Trevor Whymark. The job was half done, but there was still plenty of work left to do going back to New York.
Even winning the first game did not change people’s opinions; the prevailing thought was still that the vaunted Cosmos had too much firepower for us and that would show with them playing at home.
When you go into a game as an underdog it is said that you really have nothing to lose and can play freely. There is some truth to that – there was definitely more pressure on New York than us – but we had a lot to lose. We had a chance to get to the Soccer Bowl and we were not going to let this team stand in our way.
We lost the game in a shootout, which meant that we would immediately play a 30-minute mini-game. The mini-game also ended tied, meaning the contest would go to a second shootout. After going toe-to-toe for almost four hours, we eventually came out on top.
David had conquered Goliath.
Our ’Caps face a mighty challenge against the Galaxy and will have to play their best game to advance. But I know firsthand that even the most talented of teams can be beaten.
The first step is believing that you will win.
Before the season, Whitecaps FC head coach Martin Rennie set a goal to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. That may have seemed a lofty goal for a club coming off of a last-place finish in 2011, but after a long season the 'Caps achieved that goal. Along the way the team got their first MLS road victory, set a record for the longest shutout streak to start an MLS season, and put together an impressive home record by losing only three of 17 matches at BC Place.
We will most definitely be underdogs going into next week’s playoff clash versus LA Galaxy on the road, but one fact remains: this team is one of only 10 clubs left that can win MLS Cup this season.
On weekend of Saturday, September 15, I spent time on the Sunshine Coast working with all of their teams over two days as part of a partnership between Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Sunshine Coast Youth Soccer Association.
This was my fourth visit this year with at least one more visit to come. The experience I have had so far has been excellent, and as we continue to build our partnership I expect the experiences to get better and better.
Whitecaps FC are committed to growing the game of soccer in British Columbia and being an asset throughout the community. There is no way we can make this happen on our own though. In order to achieve these goals we need to build partnerships that we can nurture and grow.
I first traveled to the coast with Sam Lenarduzzi to meet with the SCYSA board and present a proposal that would see us enter into a partnership. The ‘Caps have done many camps here before but this would see our coaching staff be present on the coast throughout the year. It would involve camps, schools, evaluation support and coaching at all levels.
Before this weekend Sam Lenarduzzi and I spent two full days visiting eight schools, where we demonstrated some soccer skills and communicated a healthy and active lifestyle. The kids seemed to enjoy our time together and the principals and teachers of each school indicated that it was very beneficial.
I also had the pleasure to be at the evaluations as all the teams were being put together. Being there as part of the SCYSA & Whitecaps partnership gave me a chance to meet many parents’ players and coaching staff and observe the many talented players on the field.
During the weekend many of the SCYSA teams were getting together for the first time, where they met some new players and received their kit for the season. And all the teams were able to participate in a 90-minute training session with our Vancouver Whitecaps FC staff. It was also an opportunity for the coaches to watch and take notes of the sessions provided by our quality staff.
There was good weather over the two days and lots of happy players as they walked away with Whitecaps FC posters and some knowledge of how to improve their soccer skills.
I really enjoyed my weekend working with a number of teams and being able to talk soccer with a number of coaches. It was also encouraging to see many kids turn up with their Whitecaps jerseys, and knowing that the ‘Caps are supported and loved not just in the lower mainland.
I will be back on the coast with our Residency coaches to work with the Rep teams, and I am excited by how well the first year of our partnership has gone. When I was playing for the ‘Caps back in the day we were very much the province’s team. Now with more kids playing soccer than ever before and the commitment of the club to help grow the game of soccer and be an asset in the community, I hope that all British Columbians can feel the same way about our Whitecaps now.
Today is a historic day, perhaps even more than we can appreciate right now.
This major announcement of the National Soccer Development Centre (NSDC) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) is what Vancouver Whitecaps FC have been waiting to have built for years, and what a difference it’s going to make to our club!
In this partnership between Whitecaps FC, the Government of British Columbia, and UBC, we have something here that will benefit all levels of the game, from youth to professional.
We now have a place to call home, a place that will house our men’s and women’s teams, as well as our Residency, Girls Elite, and other youth development programs.
It starts at the top
Our ownership team have lofty goals for this club and for the sport of soccer, and there has been a need for first-class facilities for some time.
Now, with a proper training centre, Whitecaps FC look to move to the next level as we try to establish ourselves as one of the very best soccer clubs in North America.
Having grass and turf fields and a state-of the-art fieldhouse is going to open many doors on numerous fronts for the game of soccer here.
Our owners have already invested greatly in our Residency and youth programs, so it will be great for our Whitecaps FC youth players – and other BC Soccer players – to be at the same fields as our first team players and to be able to watch them more closely as they try to realize their own dreams of becoming pro players.
Attracting the best
With top facilities we will finally have a firm attraction for top talent to train in Vancouver.
The NSDC will provide a place on the West Coast for Canada’s men’s, women’s, and youth national teams.
We will also be able to attract the top teams from around the world, instead of having to travel to see them. We have seen the likes of Manchester United, Roma, and Benfica come to Vancouver in the past and now we can look forward to again seeing the very best teams here in our home city.
These are exciting times for the club. We’re in the midst of a heart-pounding playoff race and we’re pumped to have four home matches on the trot and an electric atmosphere created by our fans.
And now we can look forward to moving into a new training home as we enter into another chapter of this club’s proud history.
The game is growing, and the ‘Caps are more than happy to help plant the seeds.
As many of our fans prepare to head to Portland for another big Cascadia match, I thought I’d share my experience from last weekend when I had the opportunity to experience the rivalry as a fan on the road for the first time.
I hosted a bus load of Whitecaps fans on a day trip down to Seattle courtesy of UNIGLOBE Vision Travel. I had been to a game in Seattle before to watch the team I had supported as a boy, Manchester United, as they played Celtic. But this was my first time watching the ‘Caps play the Sounders in Seattle, and my first time going to the game as a fan.
I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to travel down the I-5 to Seattle and Portland for a Whitecaps FC game, and now here I was about to get a new perspective of this Cascadia rivalry. The meeting of the bus was nice and early at 6:45 a.m. and the wait at the boarder was longer than usual, but these things took nothing away from the excitement and anticipation of what was to come when we reached our destination.
As soon as we entered the city of Seattle there was lots of evidence of the upcoming game, as we began to witness more than a few green shirts worn by the Sounders fans, and the closer to the stadium we got the more green we saw. We arrived around kick-off, so most of the ‘Caps fans were already inside singing their heads off.
When we left the bus in our Whitecaps jerseys and scarves, we took some good-hearted ribbing from numerous Seattle fans that were still tailgating and getting in the mood for the game. I loved it, rival fans baiting each other before the game started. I was now chomping at the bit to get inside with the rest of the 55,000 plus crowd.
As I showed my ticket at the gate and began to walk up the stairs to my seats I got chills as I heard the chanting and the singing coming from both sets of fans. The atmosphere was electric and I hurried as fast as I could to join in the action.
When I arrived at the Whitecaps section the place was rocking. I did not reach my seats as some ‘Caps fans recognized me and pulled me into their section. I was not going to argue with them. Our 2,000 or so fans were certainly outnumbered, but we were not drowned out as they roared on their team. This is what I remembered as a boy growing up in Manchester.
There is no doubt in my mind that this Cascadia rivalry is the best of Major League Soccer, and a small taste of what the future holds for the league. We are only into the second year of the Cascadia rivalry in MLS and it will continue to grow on and off the field.
I really hope all of our fans can experience travelling to Seattle or Portland for a game, as it truly is a unique experience. I hope to again travel with our fans soon so I don’t miss out on all the fun!
Recently I had the privilege of representing Vancouver Whitecaps FC at this year’s BC Summer Games, which were held in Surrey from July 19 to 22. I got to attend the opening ceremonies with nearly 4,000 athletes who would participate in 20 sports over three days. The dignitaries and athletes were treated to some great entertainment before the lighting of the torch.
Surrey put on a great BC Summer Games with over 3,500 volunteers making sure that everything ran really smoothly. For the games to be successful they need the support of the many partners, and this year Vancouver Whitecaps FC were happy to be a part of this special event.
The soccer tournament was held at Newton Athletic Park where many exciting matches were played on both the girls and boys . The coaches had scouted these players throughout their zones looking for the best players in each community.
Myself and a number of Whitecaps FC players were in attendance to present the gold, silver and bronze medals to each winning team. Following this event the coaches got to choose two players from their team to attend a clinic with the Whitecaps FC Residency coaches on August 11, and attend the game that evening against Real Salt Lake at BC Place.
The clinic was run by staff coaches Bart Choufour (U-14 boys), Martin Nash (U16 & 18 boys), and women’s head coach Jessie Symons. ‘Caps MLS defender Greg Klazura was also there to lend a hand.
Overall, 16 boys and girls were put through their paces, and Whitecaps FC head of player management and advancement Stuart Neely was on hand to do some evaluations of any potential Whitecaps FC prospects.
When I talked to our coaches they were really encouraged by the quality of play on the field. The young BC Summer Games players were thrilled to be in this challenging environment and to have the chance to impress the ‘Caps coaches. There were also a number of BC Summer Games coaches in attendance and they were thrilled to be able learn from the ‘Caps staff in a classroom session, and then on the field.
All in all, it was a great opportunity for Whitecaps FC to foster this partnership with the BC Summer Games as we continue to help grow the game of soccer throughout British Columbia.
On Wednesday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC will host over 70 of the club’s men’s and women’s alumni at BC Place for our match against FC Dallas. Included on this list are ‘Caps alums Sophie Schmidt and Emily Zurrer and Maple Ridge native Karina LeBlanc of our recent bronze medal-winning Canadian women’s national team!
LeBlanc, Schmidt and Zurrer will be signings autographs along with Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit from 6-6:30 p.m. PT at the Bell Box on Terry Fox Plaza before the match.
This will be a fantastic opportunity to honour the many members of our Whitecaps FC family who have made this club what it is today, and who continue to make us proud to the utmost degree.
I am personally really looking forward to seeing some old faces and reminiscing about the fond memories of the ‘Caps storied past. It is going to be a special day and an exciting match on the field as the ‘Caps try to establish themselves as one of the strongest clubs in Major League Soccer. Plus, we have history on our side.
Today we can see the legacy of our alumni continuing with our current team. Last week, I took my second trip to the Okanagan to visit a Whitecaps FC camp. In my previous visit I spent a day in Vernon with midfielder John Thorrington. I was amazed at the number of Whitecaps FC jerseys worn by the kids at the camp. The kids were thrilled to meet and get autographs from John, and were also really excited to meet and play with our leading goalscorer and number one draft pick, striker Darren Mattocks, who was so happy to put on a bib and get involved in the games at the camp.
This reminded me so much of the time I had playing for Whitecaps FC in our heyday. As players we were always encouraged to be active in the community, and we looked to grow the game of soccer at every opportunity – much like we’ve seen with our inspiring Canadian women’s national team.
I am thankful that I took my role seriously as I have met so many fans that remember me from going to their schools, being at one of the camps, or just from meeting me on the street. I had a picture sent to me when I was in Victoria to visit a school. In this picture I’m getting ready to shake the hand of a very young Steve Nash. Imagine that!
One of the club’s goals is for the ‘Caps to be an asset in the community – not just in Vancouver but in British Columbia as a whole, and to all of Canada – just like we were back in the day. From my travels so far it looks like we are making some big strides.
(Carl Valentine signs autographs for youngsters at Oak Bay Soccer Club Awards Dinner, including Steve Nash on the far left)
Vancouver Whitecaps FC currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference and are in a good position to challenge for a playoff spot this season. The team has seen a number of roster changes in the last month as head coach Martin Rennie looks to shape up his team into a strong playoff contender this year, and for many years to come. When being interviewed before the season started coach Rennie said he wanted to bring in character players that the fans could relate too, while continuing to add quality to the squad. So far he’s accomplished this job!
In the first 23 games of the season, our Vancouver Whitecaps FC have tied seven of them and they have won seven games by one goal. Another of Rennie’s goals was to build a team that was hard to beat, and to make BC Place a home that Major League Soccer teams would not look forward to visiting. Early on in the season as our ‘Caps were wining these close games or fighting to get draws, the fans were happy with the results and the effort the team was putting out on the field. Even in a couple of games that they did not play well in, like good teams do, they found a way to win or tie and get a positive result.
Martin Rennie would like his team to win every game playing an attractive style of soccer, but that is not realistic. But what is attainable is to try and put in a performance every single match, to try and outwork the other team and give the fans a team they can be proud of.
The most exciting thing about this team is its going from strength to strength. After five games on the road our ‘Caps faced two of the form teams in MLS – LA Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes at home, followed by back to back games against Real Salt Lake. I for one was concerned with how we would perform in this tough part of the schedule, and how many points we could acquire. There was no need for me to worry as Vancouver played some of their best soccer of the season in tying LA 2-2 and beating San Jose 2-1, and although they lost to Real Salt Lake 2-1, the team created enough chances to win the game by a couple of goals.
The new Whitecaps FC signings came into an already good team and made their impact on the fans at BC Place. Dane Richards scored his first goal and excited the crowd with his exciting wing play. Barry Robson scored a couple of goals and thrilled the crowds with his none stop action. Even Kenny Miller got in on the act by making a substitute appearance and nearly scoring with his first touch of the match.
Now Vancouver Whitecaps FC have added another key player in Andy Obrien, a central defender with lots of experience. He’s a player who has been a leader on most teams he has played for. There has been a buzz regarding this team for most of the season, as they established themselves to be one of the teams to watch in Major League soccer this year. Now with the additions that have been made it’s scary to think how good this team can be as the MLS season moves into its final third of the season.
One thing is for sure, this team has shown its going to be hard to beat them at home or on the road. And the fans in Vancouver have a team they can be truly proud of.
Dane Richards is becoming a crowd favorite with his play on the wing, and I have been thrilled by a number observations liking Dane to a young Carl Valentine. As a result, I spent some time with Dane to see how much we are alike, both on and off the pitch.
Dane is Jamaican and I have Jamaican blood (my dad is from Jamaica, so this is not just a good tan…), we both have lots of sisters - Dane has five to my four. We both have had some scary hairstyles and we both agree that our afros are not to be seen again.
On the pitch, we both played on the right wing, had speed to burn, and both of our left legs were for standing on. Both of us are not very tall, but learnt to bounce off defenders get to the byline, cross the ball, and energize the crowd with exciting wing play.
The only thing that separates us is our taste in food. Dane is a chef who likes good Jamaican food and I was brought up on your traditional English fish and chips.
In my playing days, my nickname was ‘Chalkie’, as managers told me to hug the sideline (chalk-filled lines). Now the ‘Great Dane’ (yeah, I made that up!) gets to do that job on the right wing for the ‘Caps and I will be feeling a little ‘Déjà Vue’ every time he speeds down the line.