In the final edition of our five-part series looking back at Whitecaps FC's year in 2010, we review the men's team's final season at the North American second division level.
The Whitecaps FC men's team season of 2010 can be looked at in a variety of different ways.
There was the nostalgia of the year being the last for the Blue and White at the North American second division level and at Swangard Stadium, while it was also a season where Teitur Thordarson's side tried to put the theory of fulfilling the club's aims along "two parallel paths" into practice. Those "paths" were to claim a league championship title and successfully complete a period of transition and preparation for Major League Soccer in 2011.
It was also a season in which the second division league that the 'Caps played in for the final time changed early in the year. Following a dispute between the newly-formed North American Soccer League (NASL) - of which Whitecaps FC were a member - and the United Soccer Leagues (USL), the United States Soccer Federation formed the USSF D-2 Pro League for the 2010 season. The 12-club league was divided into two conferences, with the 'Caps part of the six-team NASL Conference.
With several new faces brought in during the offseason, Whitecaps FC enjoyed a solid season in USSF D-2, despite drawing half of their matches in the regular season. In fact, drawn results proved commonplace for Thordarson's side, and much to their frustration. Four straight draws in the 2010 Nutrilite Canadian Championship saw the Blue and White finish second behind tournament winners and defending champions Toronto FC.
Though they struggled to turn draws into victories, sound defending and steady performances nonetheless helped Whitecaps FC to a second-place finish in the NASL Conference with a record of 10W-5L-15D. As the fifth seed for the USSF D-2 playoffs, the 'Caps looked to make another memorable postseason run in October.
The 'Caps would end the second division era of Pacific Northwest rivals and 2011 MLS expansion cousins Portland Timbers with a 2-1 aggregate victory in the first round - much in thanks to a 2-0 first-leg win at Swangard on October 7. However, Vancouver's playoff magic would not extend itself to the semifinals, as Puerto Rico Islanders avenged the 2008 USL First Division Championship Final defeat to Whitecaps FC with a 2-0 aggregate win over the Blue and White. Former 'Caps striker Nicholas Addlery struck the decisive goals in extra time of the second leg at Swangard on October 17, with the loss bringing the club's second division era to a close.
While no league title was forthcoming, the 'Caps did claim some notable individual accolades at the end of the season. Greg Janicki was named USSF D-2 Defensive Player of the Year, while Jay Nolly earned the league's Goalkeeper of the Year award. By the year's end, both players were signed to Vancouver's MLS roster. Janicki and Nolly also made the USSF D-2's Best XI alongside captain Martin Nash. The award proved to be the last of Nash's long and distinguished playing career, as he announced his retirement on October 27.
One of the big stories of the season was the mid-season turnover of players in Thordarson's squad, as the 'Caps looked to shape their roster for MLS. A long and extensive scouting mission by director of soccer operations Tom Soehn led to new additions arriving from Africa, Europe, and Central America in the summer. One of those additions was Canadian international midfielder Terry Dunfield, who signed an MLS contract on December 10.
The latter stages of 2010 saw the 'Caps look ahead to MLS with a six-week offseason training camp, while on November 18, USA World Cup star Jay DeMerit became the club's first MLS signing. A further five players were then acquired six days later in the MLS Expansion Draft, while defender Wes Knight and midfielder Philippe Davies were also signed to the club's MLS roster on November 26.
With so much to look forward to in 2011, the 2010 season was a time of reflection for Whitecaps FC, as it said "goodbye" to Swangard after 24 consecutive seasons. Going back to the 1987 Canadian Soccer League campaign, the Burnaby, BC, venue was the sight of many great memories over nearly a quarter of a century.
As one chapter for the men's team ended in 2010, the arrival of MLS in the New Year will surely create new and exciting memories for years to come.