Team will kick off its inaugural Major League Soccer season at the former Empire Stadium site before moving into renovated BC Place
By Ian Walker
A temporary stadium on the outskirts of town. It's far from an ideal start to the Vancouver Whitecaps' foray into Major League Soccer.
It's a point not even worth arguing. So Bob Lenarduzzi doesn't. Short-term pain for long-term gain is the Whitecaps president's mantra these days.
Walk into the club's plush Gastown office and an artist's rendering of a renovated BC Place welcomes you at the doors. It serves as a daily reminder for staff and visitors alike of what awaits the team -- retractable roof, soccer-specific upgrades, field-level seating and a flexible draping system -- when the stadium reopens its doors a few months into the 2011 MLS season.
"It means a bit of an inconvenience for a few games, but then there's a pretty good trade off at the end," said Lenarduzzi, carekeeper of Greg Kerfoot and Co.'s $35-million investment. "The most important thing was getting the certainty of the retractable roof and everything else that comes with the improvements."
The fate of the dome was in question until just last week, when the government followed through with its promise to provide a $458-million loan needed to pay for the aging stadium's facelift. BC Place's major construction is set to begin after the 2010 Winter Games and the project is scheduled for completion by summer of 2011. It is not known at this time how many home games the Whitecaps will play in a temporary facility on the old Empire Stadium site near the PNE. The MLS season runs from March through November.
"They [MLS] were originally concerned, like we all were, but once the financing for the upgrades got done they were more than okay," Lenarduzzi said.
Diehard fans will remember a similar scenario for the original Whitecaps midway through the 1983 North American Soccer League season. It was then that the team made the move from Empire Stadium to a brand-new BC Place. The Whitecaps beat the Seattle Sounders 2-1 in front of more than 60,000 people in the first sporting event played inside the dome on June 20 of that year.
Lenarduzzi played in that game and made a momentum-shifting goal-line clearance with the Sounders leading 1-0 at the time.
Although the novelty of the stadium drew capacity crowds for the first few games, attendance quickly waned. But this was largely due to the decline of the NASL, which along with the Whitecaps folded following the 1984 season.
Lenarduzzi doesn't see history repeating itself. MLS welcomes its 15th franchise next year (Philadelphia) while Vancouver and Portland will bring the total to 17 teams the following season.
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