Most Wonderful Time of the Year: A look at Whitecaps FC's playoff folklore
It may not be the Holiday season as yet, but Vancouver Whitecaps FC and their supporters believe this is the ‘Most Wonderful Time of the Year’.
It is a time of year that has been celebrated often by fans of the Blue and White. In fact, in nearly 37 seasons of professional soccer, Whitecaps FC have only missed these occasions five times since 1974.
That’s right, folks: It’s playoff time!
The history of the ‘Caps in the postseason is, in many ways, the history of the club itself. If you include this year’s inaugural appearance in the MLS Cup Playoffs, Vancouver have been to the playoffs 32 times since the 1976 North American Soccer League (NASL) campaign.
In that time, seven championship titles have been won by Whitecaps FC - a statistic that provides the foundation to the club’s rich playoff folklore.
Vancouver’s playoff odyssey started in their third NASL season after the club missed the postseason in 1974 and 1975. Yet, it was not until 1979 that Whitecaps FC enjoyed playoff success when it claimed Vancouver’s first and only major North American sports championship - the NASL Soccer Bowl title.
Under the guidance of Englishman Tony Waiters - who led Canada to their lone FIFA World Cup appearance in Mexico 1986 - Whitecaps FC defeated Dallas Tornado and Johan Cruyff’s Los Angeles Aztecs before facing a star-studded New York Cosmos in a thrilling National Conference championship series.
After the ‘Caps won the first match in Vancouver, the return game saw the Cosmos win 3-2 at Giants Stadium to force a mini-game and an eventual shoot-out. It was in the shoot-out that Derek Possee scored the winning goal to book Whitecaps FC’s place in the Soccer Bowl on September 8, 1979.
Thanks to two goals by Trevor Whymark, Whitecaps FC earned a 2-1 victory over Tampa Bay Rowdies at Giants Stadium, and with it, the club’s only Soccer Bowl title.
Following the NASL’s demise in 1984, Vancouver 86ers were formed two years later and established a dynasty in the short-lived Canadian Soccer League (CSL).
Bob Lenarduzzi’s side made the postseason in all six CSL seasons (1987-1992) and dominated the league by winning four straight championship titles (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991) - all of which were won at the club’s former home in Swangard Stadium.
In 1993, the club moved to the North American second division level, where Whitecaps FC reached the playoffs 16 times over 18 seasons (1993-2010). Among those postseason appearances were two United Soccer Leagues First Division (USL-1) championship titles in 2006 and 2008.
After finishing fourth in the regular season, Bob Lilley's side defeated Romario’s Miami FC and Canadian rivals Montreal Impact before winning the club’s first USL-1 title with a 3-0 victory at Rochester Raging Rhinos on September 30, 2006.
That was followed by a second USL-1 title in three years, as Icelandic coach Teitur Thordarson led Whitecaps FC to a second-place regular season finish, then eventful playoff series wins over Minnesota Thunder and Montreal.
In what was the only USL-1 championship match to involve two clubs from outside the United States, Whitecaps FC defeated regular season champions Puerto Rico Islanders 2-1 at Swangard on Thanksgiving Sunday (October 12, 2008).