The long and intriguing story of Whitecaps FC versus San Jose Earthquakes

It all started in the NASL

Whitecaps FC San Jose Earthquakes NASL

Photo Credit: 
Kent & Anita Kallberg

Our game on Wednesday night against San Jose Earthquakes will be the first game against one of the other three Major League Soccer clubs named in honour of their city’s North American Soccer League (NASL) predecessors. The other two, aside from Whitecaps FC and the Earthquakes, are Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders FC.

This week’s match brings the club back to a very special moment in team history. In 1974, Whitecaps FC joined the NASL and the club’s first-ever match was versus none other than San Jose Earthquakes. That inaugural match didn’t go quite as well as Vancouver’s MLS debut, as San Jose won the match by a score of 2-1.

The Earthquakes enjoyed playing the ‘Caps in the early days, as they won five out of the first seven matches. The 'Caps quickly turned that around, though, winning eight of the next ten games from 1977 through 1981, while winning every home game and outscoring the Earthquakes 25 goals to eight.

One interesting and impressive stat is that four players from Whitecaps FC scored hat-tricks against San Jose in the NASL. “King” Kevin Hector got the first hat-trick in 1978 in a 6-0 home victory, while Trevor Whymark, Peter Beardsley, and Peter Ward later followed Hector by tripling up against the Quakes, a feat not equalled by any San Jose player against the ‘Caps.

One of the most bizarre and exciting games between Whitecaps FC and the Quakes was played in 1979 at Spartan Stadium, San Jose’s former home. The Quakes had lost their first four games of the season and were desperate for a win. Our ‘Caps, meanwhile, were coming off of a 3-1 win in San Diego, a fourth win in their first six games. We were playing with a lot of confidence and fully expected another win against a winless, struggling team.

However, the match took a turn midway through the second half when San Jose were awarded a penalty and Whitecaps FC captain John Craven was ejected for, shall we say, rough play. German midfielder Bernie Gersdorff scored from the spot to put the Earthquakes 1-0 up, as we went down to ten players. That was when Whitecaps FC legend “Wee” Willie Johnston took over the match.

Not only did Johnston set up the tying goal from Hector, he also led the ‘Caps to victory in the most bizarre fashion that I have ever seen in a soccer game. After we were awarded a corner kick on our right side of the field, Willie went over to take the kick. Spartan Stadium was a small venue and the walls on each side of the field were only a foot away from the sideline. As Willie went to take the kick, there was a fan right above his head with a beer in his hand. The fan offered Willie a swig, and the Scotsman promptly accepted, downing the beverage in one swift gulp. After the drink, Willie put the can on the wall right next to the field, and took the corner kick, which Whitecaps FC centre back Peter Daniel headed home for the winning goal.

Former sportscaster John McKeachie described it best when he said "Peter Daniel scored his first goal of the season, and Willie Johnston got refreshed."

Don’t expect to see any Whitecaps FC players go to such extremes to score against San Jose this week. Another hat-trick, though? That, I will gladly take.