My fondest opening match

Valentine talks season openers

It’s official! The 'Caps first game in Major League Soccer will be on March 19th against our old rivals Toronto FC. When the players get to hear the news, it’s going to get the juices flowing, with many wishing the game was going to start right now.

Having played professionally for some 32 years, I’ve been involved in many opening games that start a season, and it’s hard to say one was more special than another. Before a ball is ever kicked, there are the nerves and high expectations of having a successful season. Everybody starts level, and with new players in your team, there is a chance to get off to a fast start that will kick off your season.

Saying that, there is one game that does stick out to me. Whitecaps FC were coming off the 1978 North American Soccer League (NASL) season with a record of 24 wins and six losses. I was a 20-year-old rookie starting his first season with the Blue and White and thinking I would get little playing time in the early games.

So, my first game in 1979 at Empire stadium against Dallas Tornado, I started on the bench. 10 minutes into the contest, Bob McNab got injured, so head coach Tony Waiters decided to switch Bobby Lenarduzzi from right midfield to right fullback, and insert yours truly into the right-wing position.

During the match, there was a brawl (…I was not involved…) and we ended up tying the game before losing it in a shootout. Not really the way I wanted to start my first and opening game in Vancouver, but we went on to post a record of 20 wins and 10 losses, and go on to beat Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 in New York to win the NASL Soccer Bowl.

There’s no question March 19th will be a huge game in Whitecaps FC history, and all of us - fans, players, and coaches alike - will want to remember the match for all the right reasons. Great atmosphere, an exciting game, and the opportunity to face our Canadian counterparts Toronto FC in the first MLS game between two Canadian clubs should make for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Roll on March 19th!