Where are they now: Sam Lenarduzzi

First-ever captain of the Whitecaps in 1974

WHERE HE WAS: Silvano “Sam” Lenarduzzi was born in Udine, Italy on December 19, 1949. But he grew up in Vancouver with his family, including his three brothers Vanni, Bobby, and Danny. They lived just a stone’s throw away from Empire Stadium, but little did Sam know that he, Bobby, and Danny would end up playing professional soccer for their hometown team on that very field.

At the age of 15, Sam joined brother Vanni on Vancouver Columbus.

"We played out of Callister Park in the Pacific Coast League," Sam recalled to canadasoccer.com in 2012. "Our teams were always strong. We had an Italian owner (Mainardi) and he would often bring an older pro, so we always had one or two calibre players.

"In those days with Columbus, you didn't get paid, but you were treated well," added Sam. "You would go to the restaurant and have great meals and they took care of everything. It was a fun time."

By 1969, the Lenarduzzi brothers helped Columbus become the best amateur team in Canada, beating Montréal Ukrainia 10-0 in what remains the most lopsided final in Canadian challenge Trophy history. Still only 19, Sam had two goals in the decisive victory.

"Everybody did what they needed to do to win,” remembers Sam. “We were a very passionate bunch of guys."

WHERE HE WENT: By 1968, Sam was playing for the Canadian men’s national team and played for his country in FIFA World Cup qualifiers.

In 1974, a new professional soccer team began in town, Vancouver Whitecaps. Sam was invited to try out for the new team.

“I knew that Harry Christie (scout) and head coach Jim Easton had been watching our games and I had already been made captain for Canada,” tells Sam. “But I still wanted to impress in the tryouts to make sure I was on the team.”

The legend, as he is now known to many in Vancouver’s soccer community, would captain the ‘Caps in their first ever professional game against San Jose Earthquakes on May 5, 1974. 

“I remember walking out and seeing the crowd and feeling very lucky,” says Sam. “But my favorite recollection was standing there alongside my brother Bobby singing the national anthem that was such a proud moment for me playing in front of friends and family.”

Indeed, it was a family affair for the ‘Caps, and each member of the family enjoyed the action their own way.

“My mother (Clelia Lenarduzzi) was at the first game but preferred to stay at home and sit outside our house where she could tell what was going on in the game by the noise coming from the crowd.”

Sam went on to play 98 games for the Whitecaps before being traded to Toronto Blizzard where he played until he retired in 1980.

He looks back most fondly on those days thinking of the times he shared with his brothers.

“There were a couple of games when all three Lenarduzzi boys  played in a game together, which was a dream come true,” remembers Sam. “In a game against San Jose at home, Danny came into the game with maybe 15 minutes to go joining Bobby and myself on the field. Bobby scored his second goal of the game on a play where every ‘Caps player touched the ball before it entered the net. That meant that all the Lenarduzzi boys contributed to a Whitecaps goal for a special moment.”

He enjoyed his career, where he played against some great teams and legendary players.

“One being Pele, whose shirt I got one time and now have it framed and hanging nicely on my wall.”

WHERE HE IS NOW: After retiring from the game Sam was approached by Labatt rep Howie Larky to come and work for them, which he did do for 25 years.

“Labatt were a sponsor of the ‘Caps and the Canadian national team, and I jumped at the chance to work for them,” says Sam. “I was as passionate about selling beer as I was playing soccer.”

In 1986 Sam would do the colour commentary for CBC in Mexico, covering all of Canada’s games and was in the stands when Maradona single-handily (no pun intended) beat England.

In April of 2000, Mr.Lenarduzzi was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame.

Sam now lives on the North Shore and still plays for Columbus “over-somethings”, he tells me laughing. And he is once again working for his beloved Vancouver Whitecaps as manager of regional community programs, including camps, clinics and school visits.

“My job has grown, but I love it,” says Sam about working with youngsters. “It is great to see the club thriving on and off the field and to be a part of this incredible journey we are on.”

On Saturday at the 40th anniversary at BC Place, the original captain of the Whitecaps will be on the field with the original coin and original ball. Make sure to give him a loud ovation!