Friendlies from the past

The past six years have seen Vancouver Whitecaps FC take on clubs from around the world.

Since the re-naming of the old Vancouver 86ers to the Whitecaps, the club have played six friendly games against opposition from Major League Soccer, England, Wales, and even India. With anticipation as to who will visit in the 2008 season, we look back at recent Whitecaps friendlies and how those opponents have fared in the time since they last played in Vancouver.

Before the club changed its name in 2001, the former 86ers played a total of eight friendly games between 1990 and 1998. The likes of Benfica, Chelsea, and AC Milan all visited during that time, with the club’s post NASL-era friendly record currently standing at two wins, six defeats, and six draws.

The first friendly that the modern-day Whitecaps took part in was on August 14, 2001, when former Canadian international Frank Yallop brought his San Jose Earthquakes to Swangard Stadium. In front of over 6,300 fans, San Jose defeated a Whitecaps side that included Liverpool and Newcastle United legend Peter Beardsley, 3-1. Two year later, Yallop brought the Earthquakes back to Swangard and defeated their hosts 4-3. Coincidentally, it was in the 2001 and 2003 seasons that San Jose won the MLS Cup after playing the Whitecaps.

By the end of the 2003 campaign, Yallop left his role with the Earthquakes to succeed Holger Osieck as head coach of the Canadian national team. His former assistant Dominic Kinnear took charge of the side following Yallop’s departure and helped San Jose claim the MLS Supporters’ Shield as the top team in the regular season in 2005. By the start of 2006 campaign, the Earthquakes had become the Houston Dynamo when the club’s owners in the Anschutz Entertainment Group moved the franchise to Texas after failing to secure a soccer-specific stadium in northern California. Under Kinnear, the Dynamo continued the team’s winning tradition by claiming both the 2006 and 2007 MLS Cup titles.

The Earthquakes, meanwhile, have been reborn in San Jose and will begin play in the 2008 MLS season. New owners Lewis Wolff and John Fisher plan to have a new stadium built for their club in the next few years, while Yallop has returned to San Jose to lead the new-look Earthquakes after leaving California rivals Los Angeles Galaxy.

While San Jose proved a draw for fans, the visit of English Premier League club Sunderland to Swangard on July 16, 2005, saw close to 7,000 soccer enthusiasts take in a fine Whitecaps performance, as Vancouver defeated The Black Cats 3-0 with goals from Carlo Corazzin, Joey Gjertsen, and Jason Jordan. The result may have been an omen for Sunderland, as Mick McCarthy’s side went on to record the worst-ever season by a club in the 16-year existence of the English Premier League. They amassed just 15 points and three wins in season 2005/06, with McCarthy being fired before that season’s end. By the time Sunderland started the following campaign in the English League Championship, former Black Cats striker and current chairman Niall Quinn was in charge of the side, but after a poor start to the campaign, they moved quickly to appoint former Manchester United captain Roy Keane as manager. The fiery Irishman would eventually lead the club to a miraculous turnaround and the League Championship title by the season’s end last spring. Now back in the EPL, the Wearsiders face another fight to remain in England’s top flight, with Sunderland currently sitting in the league’s relegation zone.

In the summer of 2006, the inaugural Whitecaps Nations Cup took place at Swangard, with the hosts defeating the Indian national team 3-1 to set up a final with Cardiff City, who defeated China’s U-20 national side 5-0 in the other semifinal. The Bluebirds, who are one of three Wales-based clubs that play in the English Football League, lost the Nations Cup final to Vancouver on penalties after a goalless draw on July 23, 2006. Under English manager Dave Jones, Cardiff went on to consolidate their position in the English League Championship last season by finishing 13th in the 24-club division, despite being the early pace-setters. The current campaign sees the South Wales outfit sitting in the bottom half of the standings and the club reportedly under pressure from creditors to pay back debts of nearly $47 million.

The most recent friendly may have been the best-known of Whitecaps games to date, as English superstar David Beckham and Los Angeles Galaxy played out a goalless draw with their hosts in front of over 48,000 fans at BC Place on November 7, 2007. Though the game was delayed for more than a month because of Beckham’s knee injury in late August, and the Galaxy’s eventual fruitless run towards the MLS playoffs in October, the friendly saw the Whitecaps far from overawed and deserving of a victory against their well-known opponents.

For the Galaxy, the Vancouver friendly was one of four end-of-season exhibition games that the southern California outfit played to end 2007. Before they arrived in the Lower Mainland, then head coach Frank Yallop parted company with Los Angeles after failing to lead them to the postseason for a second straight year. While Yallop headed back to San Jose, the Galaxy quickly named his successor in former AC Milan and Holland legend Ruud Gullit two days after the Whitecaps friendly. They moved on to defeat fellow USL First Division club Minnesota Thunder on penalties on November 11 before Australian club Sydney FC beat the Galaxy 5-3 on November 27. Los Angeles capped the year with a 4-1 win over New Zealand’s Wellington Phoenix on December 1.

Who will meet the Whitecaps in the New Year? Make sure you secure your seat for next season’s international friendly by purchasing 2008 season tickets. Buy your season tickets by January 10, 2008, and you will not only take advantage of our Early Bird prices, but also be eligible to win a Whitecaps VIP experience for you and nine friends. Click here for more information on Whitecaps season ticket packages.