New roof at BC Place puts Vancouver in the fight for an MLS franchise
The Vancouver Whitecaps played in the first sporting event at BC Place Stadium on June 20,1983. It was a North American Soccer League game and the Whitecaps were victorious to a 2-1 count over the Seattle Sounders in front of 60,000 fans.
Often forgot in the victory was defender Bob Lenarduzzi kicking the ball off the goal-line when Seattle seemed certain to take a commanding 2-0 lead early in the first half.
It's no wonder Lenarduzzi was feeling a little nostalgic on Friday when he confirmed the expected and announced the Whitecaps will make BC Place their home to start the 2011 season.
"I was fortunate to be a part of the first sporting event in this stadium and I recall it very vividly," said Lenarduzzi, following the details of a major renovation of the stadium, including a retractable roof.
"The fact that it was state of the art then and the fact that with all the renovations it will once again be state of the art in 2011, it's very exciting to be a part of it, indeed. I look forward to the Whitecaps being the first sporting event to play in the refurbished BC Place in 2011 also."
More than anything, the move affords the Whitecaps the opportunity to bid for a Major League Soccer franchise.
It's no secret the Greg Kerfoot-owned club covets a spot in North America's top professional soccer league and time is running out. MLS has 14 teams this year and will add Seattle in 2009 and Philadelphia in 2010.
The league has said it will cap its number of teams at 18. Montreal and St. Louis are also in the running.
The Whitecaps currently play in the second-tier United Soccer Leagues First Division at 5,200-seat Swangard Stadium, which doesn't come close to meeting MLS seating requirements.
The Whitecaps still intend to pursue their proposed soccer-specific waterfront stadium on downtown Vancouver's central waterfront and rail lands, but with talks moving at a glacial pace there was no guarantee it would be built in time.
"It gets us back in the game," said Lenarduzzi, adding plans to make soccer games in the cavernous building more intimate have already been discussed with BC Place staff, including seat configuration to get fans closer to the field and the draping off the upper bowl.
"The decision to pursue a lease in a refurbished BC Place is a necessary adjustment to course."
MLS commissioner Don Garber has said BC Place would be acceptable to the league in the interim, as long as assurances of a more soccer specific stadium were in place.
"We look forward to continuing our discussions with the Whitecaps," he said. "There is no doubt the market for professional soccer exists in Vancouver."
Lenarduzzi said there was no out clause should the Whitecaps Waterfront Stadium be built before 2016 and preferred not to think about what the team would do if its bid for a MLS franchise was denied.
"For us to be thinking about those sort of things ... the example I would provide is it would be like our team worrying about losing," he said. "We can't worry about what might happen. All we can do is try and control what happens. We've taken a significant step here today by committing to this venue and that allows us to pursue the MLS opportunity."
B.C. Lions general manager and head coach Wally Buono welcomed the addition of the Whitecaps to BC Place.
"At the end of the day it puts good pressure on the organization to stay healthy," said Buono, who jokingly challenged the Whitecaps for the rights to be the first team to play in the updated stadium. "We'll even play them in soccer - it's not that tough."
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