Carl Valentine takes a look back at the inaugural MLS season for Whitecaps FC
Well, there it is. We have finished our first Major League Soccer season, and if you look at the standings it does not look pretty – and that is certainly disappointing for everybody. That’s life though. We have to put this season’s on-field results behind us and come back stronger next year.
It’s a funny thing though, if you don’t look at the standings (which I often didn’t for obvious reasons), it still feels like we had a good season. Before you call me biased or call it Whitecaps spin, hear me out and see if you can relate to some of what I am saying.
First off, the fans made this season a success. You have probably heard the club say that a number of times, but that’s only because it’s so very true. Since the opening match of the season against Toronto FC, coming to a ‘Caps match has been a truly exceptional soccer experience. I will never forget that first game at Empire Field when the fans started chanting “White” “Caps” in unison all over the stadium. It didn’t feel like our first match in the big leagues. It was as though the sell-out crowd had been working together for a number of seasons. Whitecap fans sung and chanted throughout the game, and that brilliant atmosphere continued for each and every home match we played.
Our fans this season have also proved very knowledgeable. They could appreciate the efforts of the team on the field and knew that they were a lot better team than their record showed. New fans that came to experience a soccer environment for the first time were blown away by the atmosphere in the stadium. We even went head-to-head with the Canucks on a number of occasions – including important NHL playoff games and more recently their home opener – but still we filled our stadium. Vancouver is a sports city that can support all of its teams, we now have no doubt about that.
Vancouverites clearly care about their ‘Caps. Just look at the media coverage that we’ve received. Yes, not all of the media attention has always been what we’d like to hear, but it must be positive when we have had so much exposure. Talking to some of our players who have played in other MLS cities, they cannot believe the coverage we have got from the Vancouver media this season. We live in a very diverse city and most everyone has been interested. We’ve had consistent coverage in languages such as English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Cantonese and Punjabi. I have been able to get to know most everybody who has reported on the Whitecaps this year, and for the most part all have been impressed with the professionalism of our organization and have enjoyed covering the ‘Caps in our first MLS season. It certainly helps to capture that ‘major league’ feeling, and as they say, in the end any news is good news since it shows that people in this city want to know what is happening with our Vancouver Whitecaps FC.
This is a club that is near and dear to my heart, one that I truly care about. So like any fan, I’ve been disappointed and frustrated at times this season. But to be perfectly honest, a lot of the performances on the field have not only been exciting, but also very good for long stretches. Unfortunately we just found ways to make wins into draws and draws into losses. Coaches, players and media from all around the league have commented that this team is better than their record showed, and I absolutely agree. You only have to look at the first 40 to 60 minutes of matches – both at home and on the road – against quality teams like Seattle, New York and Los Angeles. We simply could not capitalize on our strong play and get the killer goal, or we’d make one mistake or errant play and get punished at key times in the match to turn the momentum against us. But trust me, I’ve been in this game a long time and I am absolutely confident that we have the right building blocks in place and the right people steering this ship.
True, many results did not go our way, but the ones that did will be remembered fondly. There were memorable moments such as our home-opening 4-2 win against Toronto FC, or the 3-3 comeback against Sporting Kansas City after being 3-0 down. Let’s not forget the heroic 1-1 draw with New England, as we played the second half with only nine men. Our first goal (Camilo) and first win (3-0 against Real Salt Lake) on Bell Pitch at BC Place were also really special; and what about the goals by Eric Hassli (in Seattle) and Davide Chiumiento (in New York), which may very well be the top two contenders for MLS Goal of the Year, not to mention a series of sweet strikes from Camilo.
So yes, I do call this season a success. As hard as it is to look at the standings, in lots of other ways it feels like we had a really good season. Better days are yet ahead, and I can’t wait to see what the future brings.