By Farhan Devji/whitecapsfc.com
In the first installment of 'Caps Coaches - a three-part series on the head coaches of Vancouver Whitecaps FC since the team's first season in 1974 - club correspondent Farhan Devji features the Whitecaps days in the old North American Soccer League (NASL).
A total of 13 coaches have made their way through Vancouver throughout Whitecaps FC's 36 years of existence. Though some coaches were more successful than others, they each played a part in shaping the club that now prepares for their inaugural season in Major League Soccer (MLS).
The Whitecaps were born on December 11, 1973, bringing professional soccer back to the city after a brief two-year spell during the late 1960's. When the Whitecaps hit the pitch on May 5, 1974, for their first NASL regular season match, Jim Easton was on the sidelines.
Easton, who had moved from his native Scotland in the early 1970's to take the 'Caps coaching role, missed the playoffs in his first and only two seasons with the club. Despite recording an even .500 record in the 1975 season, Easton was replaced by German coach Eckhard Krautzun for the 1976 campaign.
With Krautzun in charge, the Whitecaps finished third in the Western Division of the NASL’s Pacific Conference and made the postseason for the first time in club history. Their playoff run was short-lived, however, as Vancouver fell 1-0 to local rivals Seattle Sounders in the opening round.
The result was same the following season, in a year that saw the Whitecaps make two coaching changes. Krautzun was replaced by future Canadian national team head coach and current Australian national team boss Holger Osieck before Englishman Tony Waiters stepped in as manager before the season's end.
Waiters remained in charge in 1978 and led the club to a first-place finish in the Western Division and their first ever NASL playoff victory. The following season, with Waiters in charge, the Whitecaps became Vancouver's first professional sports team to win a major North American championship when they defeated Tampa Bay Rowdies 2-1 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on September 8, 1979. "It was a big day for the Whitecaps and for the city of Vancouver," Waiters told whitecapsfc.com. "Winning it and coming back to Vancouver where there were over a 100,000 people who showed up, it was quite the event."
Despite seeing the team's fan support increase considerably over his three years with the club, Waiters was not aware that a celebratory parade would be taking place following the team's Soccer Bowl triumph. "The reception was just totally unexpected," said Waiters in reminiscence. "Our general manager hadn’t informed us that there was going to be this parade. I had left my car at the airport, so I had to drive to downtown and jump in one of these open cars that they were parading through to Robson Square. The whole province of British Columbia seemed to have caught on to it."
Despite his fond memories of the championship final and the ensuing celebratory parade, Waiters' most vivid memory was actually the National Conference semifinal, when the 'Caps emerged victorious against Los Angeles Aztecs in a mini-game at Empire Stadium. "It was the eeriest atmosphere I've experienced at a soccer game," he said. "The crowd was mortified, in case we got beaten. They knew we had to win two in one night. They were really quiet; it was eerie. It was like playing in a church. That’s probably the thing that sticks out the most in my mind."
Incidentally, it was also in 1979 that the Whitecaps donned the Blue and White colours for the first time. The Whitecaps were unable to defend their NASL title in 1980, in a year that saw Waiters return to his role as head coach after fellow Englishman Bob McNab had started the season in charge.
With Waiters moving on to the Canadian national team, former Leeds United and Republic of Ireland star Johnny Giles took over in 1981. Giles, however, was unable to bring a championship back to the city, as the 'Caps suffered first-round playoff defeats in each of his three seasons as 'Caps head coach.
Former Whitecaps midfielder Alan Hinton succeeded Giles as head coach in the NASL's final year of existence. Although he managed to lead the Whitecaps beyond the first round in 1984, the Englishman could not help prevent a playoff semifinal series exit to eventual champions Chicago Sting.
Looking for the right fit, the Whitecaps saw seven different coaches throughout their 11 seasons in the NASL. It was a former Whitecaps player in Bobby Lenarduzzi that led the city's new professional soccer team, as the Vancouver 86ers emerged following the birth of the Canadian Soccer League in 1987.