1974 – 1979
The Whitecaps played their first game on May 5, 1974, when they fell to a 2-1 home defeat to San Jose Earthquakes. Though the first match was a loss, the crowd saw defender Neil Ellett write his name in the history books that day by scoring the Whitecaps first-ever goal in the league. The Whitecaps steadily improved over the next couple of years and made their first playoff appearance in 1976 against the Seattle Sounders.
Though the Whitecaps failed to go all the way in their playoff runs from 1976 through 1978, 1979 was a different story. That year, Vancouver won it all and became the city’s first professional sports team to win a major North American Championship when they defeated the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Upon return to Vancouver on Sept. 9, 1979, as many as 100,000 people lined Vancouver’s Robson Street to salute their heroes during a championship parade, arguably creating the most historic moment in Whitecaps history.
1980 – 1985
The few years following their championship win of 1979, the Whitecaps were unable to defend their title. Hopes were high for a second NASL title in 1983, as Vancouver played host to the Soccer Bowl championship match at the newly-built BC Place Stadium. In fact, the Whitecaps 2-1 victory over Seattle on June 20, 1983, was the first sporting event to be played in BC Place and attracted a crowd of 60,342. Though the Whitecaps finished top of the Western Division standings that year, another first-round playoff exit followed – this time to Toronto Blizzard.
1986 – 1991
The demise of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1984 resulted in the formation of a new league, the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), in 1986. This change in leagues was accompanied by a change in team-name, as the Whitecaps became the 86ers, which name came from the year of Vancouver’s incorporation as a city (1886) and the year of the club’s founding (1986).
From 1988 – 1991, the 86ers established themselves as a powerhouse, winning four-straight league championship titles. The club also set a North American professional sports record by playing 46 consecutive matches without defeat (37 wins and 9 draws). For this accomplishment, the 86ers squad of 1989 was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
The 86ers entered a new era when the CSL folded and they became members of the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). With a new look, logo, and colours (red, black, and white) in 1993, the 86ers finished top of the APSL regular season standings before their season was abruptly ended in the playoff semifinals, as Los Angeles Salsa won 3-2 in a shootout at Swangard. The match was also Bob Lenarduzzi’s last as 86ers head coach, as he turned his sole focus to his other role as head coach of the Canadian men’s national team after being appointed to that position in the spring of 1992.
Former Whitecaps, 86ers, and Canadian international Carl Valentine succeeded Lenarduzzi as head coach. After missing the playoffs in his first season in charge in 1994, Valentine led the 86ers to the postseason in 1995, where they lost to Seattle Sounders in the Semifinals. The 86ers made it to the semifinals again in 1997, but fell to eventual champions Milwaukee Rampage. That year (1997) also saw the return of Lenarduzzi to the club as general manager after his spell as Canadian National team head coach had come to an end.
While playoff activity in 1998 and 1999 was limited to the first round, this was a time of significant activity for the Whitecaps off the pitch. The turn of the millennium was accompanied by both a coaching and an ownership change. On October 26, 2000, after widespread public support, the 86ers formally changed their name back to the Whitecaps after their new owner, David Stadnyk, purchased the naming rights from former NASL Whitecaps director John Laxton.
The Whitecaps continued their respectable success in the playoffs, making it to the semi-finals in 2001 and the finals in 2002. Of more concern to Vancouver soccer fans was Stadnyk’s decision to step down from his ownership of the club midway through the 2002 campaign, forcing the Whitecaps to search for a new owner. Their search led to local businessman and current owner Greg Kerfoot taking ownership of the Whitecaps on November 13, 2002. On February 24, 2003, the Whitecaps men and Breakers women were brought under a new club structure called Whitecaps Football Club (FC), with the set-up to include an extensive youth development program.
In 2004, the club announced plans to build the Whitecaps Training Centre on the campus of Simon Fraser University, demonstrating Kerfoot’s interest in investing in the club’s future. While the club didn’t make it past the first round in 2005, a memorable year ensured for Whitecaps fans in 2006, as both the men’s and women’s teams claimed an unprecedented double of USL titles. Despite a fourth-place finish in the USL-1 standings, Lilley’s side defeated Miami FC and Canadian rivals Montreal Impact to reach the championship final against Rochester Raging Rhinos, whom the Whitecaps defeated with a 3 – 0 victory in upstate New York .
The club won it all again in 2008. The men’s team had surprised many with their earlier win that season in a friendly vs. MLS club LA Galaxy, and carried that momentum all the way through to the championship. It was a memorable playoff run as the ‘Caps defeated Minnesota and Montreal on route to the Whitecaps first championship final at Swangard since the 1992 CSL season. The team almost had another championship year in 2009, making it all the way to the finals before suffering defeat to Montreal Impact.
Having submitted a proposal in 2008 to enter MLS, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced on March 18, 2009 that Vancouver would be the home of the 17th team in MLS, with the new side to start their inaugural season at a temporary stadium on the site of the Pacific National Exhibition’s Empire Fields (formerly Empire Stadium) in March 2011. It was also announced that later that year, the new team would make a renovated BC Place their new home.
In preparation for MLS the club made many changes including the hiring of former D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn as Director of Operations. The Whitecaps also added Richard Grootscholten as the new Technical Director and Head Coach of the club's full-time Residency program.
2011 – Present
In March 2011, Vancouver Whitecaps FC kicked off their first season in Major League Soccer at Empire Field, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in an exciting and riveting match. The club made a coaching change in May 2011 placing Tom Soehn as interim head coach. In August 2011, the club announced the hiring of Martin Rennie as head coach for the 2012 season. The ‘Caps closed Empire Field in October 2011 and moved to BC Place, where they played four matches to finish their inaugural MLS season.
On April 11, 2012, former chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), John Furlong, was named executive chair of Whitecaps FC. On September 6, 2012, Whitecaps FC joined the government of British Columbia and the University of British Columbia (UBC) in announcing the construction of the National Soccer Development Centre (NSDC) on the campus of UBC.
The 2012 season saw Whitecaps FC make a huge turnaround as an MLS club. Among their achievements that season was setting a new MLS record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal to start a season at 427. On October 21, 2012, they became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs after securing fifth place in the Western Conference standings.
On November 1, 2012, Whitecaps FC played their first-ever MLS postseason match and scored their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs through Darren Mattocks. However, Vancouver’s maiden venture into the MLS playoffs was brief, as defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy defeated the 'Caps 2-1 in the Western Conference First Round Knockout match at The Home Depot Center in Carson, California.