Vancouver will remember Empire Field fondly, as finale nears
It was built as a temporary facility, but many of the memories made on Bell Pitch at Empire Field will be permanent.
Saturday’s match against Seattle Sounders FC will be Vancouver Whitecaps FC's last at their interim facility before moving into the new BC Place stadium in downtown Vancouver.
Most prominent of the memories at Empire Field was opening day, as the club began life in Major League Soccer.
“You still look at the first game of the season that we played there, and the emotion behind it,” interim head coach Tom Soehn told whitecapsfc.com. “All of us, we worked tirelessly to set that day up - you never knew with the fans, how they would react, and that comes back as a really fine moment.”
For rookie Michael Boxall, who made his debut as a professional in that 4-2 victory over Toronto FC, things couldn’t have gone better.
“You have to put your finger on opening day [as the best memory],” Boxall said. “The weather, the fans, the performance – it was an all-around perfect day.”
A total of 22,592 fans filled Empire Field on that day, and the victory and the thrilling manner in which that game was played, helped reignite the city’s passion for professional soccer at the highest level.
Eric Hassli introduced himself in fine fashion with a brace on his debut and hometown boy Terry Dunfield’s goal and celebration became an iconic image for the club in the early part of the season, as he jumped into an adoring crowd.
“[The first game] really set up a lot of people being excited for this season,” captain Jay DeMerit said. "That’s carried through until now.”
Since then, the crowd at Empire Field has witnessed some thrilling moments, such as Camilo’s injury-time double against Sporting Kansas City in a 3-3 draw on April 2, Mouloud Akloul’s extra-time winner against Montreal Impact in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship semifinals and, more recently, Joe Cannon’s stunning clean-sheet performance against Houston Dynamo on August 27.
The fans have more than played their part as well, consistently filling Empire Field, and the club enjoys one of the highest attendances in the league.
“We’ve created great atmospheres and had a lot of entertaining games there, too,” DeMerit said. “So, it’s been a very good experience for fans, players, and the rest of the club, so those types of things will be missed.
“But, either way, we’re moving into one of the best stadiums in the world, so we have to look at that as a positive and a lift, and create an even better atmosphere, and that’s what we’ll look to do.”
Martin MacMahon covers Vancouver Whitecaps FC for MLSsoccer.com.