The year that so many Vancouver Whitecaps FC fans have been waiting for has now arrived, and it could be the most memorable year yet for the Blue and White.
76 days from now, head coach Teitur Thordarson and his side make their bow in Major League Soccer when they host Canadian arch-rivals Toronto FC at Empire Field. It is one of many dates that 'Caps supporters will have circled in their calendars in 2011.
Of course, preparations for Vancouver's inaugural MLS season have been ongoing for some time, with things having come more into focus in the past couple of months. With much still to do before the first game on March 19, this month will provide a couple of important events for Whitecaps FC.
On Thursday, January 13, the 2011 MLS SuperDraft will take place in Baltimore, Maryland. The 'Caps hold the first and eighth overall selections, as well as the first picks in the remaining two rounds.
Then on Monday, January 24, Thordarson's squad will reconvene for preseason training ahead of the new MLS season. Whitecaps FC will have two months to prepare, with Vancouver being one of 18 clubs to play a 34-match regular season campaign over the span of 32 weeks. Regular season action will begin on Tuesday, March 15, with 'MLS First Kick' week and conclude on Saturday, October 22. The 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs will then take place following the end of the regular season schedule.
'Caps fans will sure to note the big 'derby' contests this coming season, with the Cascadia Cup rivalry being renewed in MLS form with Seattle Sounders FC and 2011 MLS expansion cousins Portland Timbers. Many are expecting this Pacific Northwest rivalry to be one of the most passionate in the league for years to come.
Beyond the excitement of being an MLS club this year, Whitecaps FC will also look to claim the title of Canada's top club side in the fourth edition of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship. Toronto FC have won the title the past two years, while Montreal Impact won the inaugural championship in 2008. Newly-formed FC Edmonton will be newcomers to the competition in 2011.
This year's Nutrilite Canadian Championship winner will qualify as Canada's representative for the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League. Should Whitecaps FC win the Canadian Championship and make it through the Champions League's Preliminary Round stage, they will have the opportunity to face some of the top club sides in the CONCACAF region come the group stage later in the year.
A New Year always brings new hope and new aspirations. Whitecaps FC have a lot to be excited about in 2011!