Much of the story in Wednesday’s first leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final focused on the unorthodox lineup head coach Martin Rennie selected for his Vancouver Whitecaps FC for their clash with the Montreal Impact.
Before the game even started, however, something else quite peculiar was taking place down in the locker room, as Rennie invited a fan to address the team ahead of their pre-match warmup.
The idea of asking a supporter to speak to his players had come to the Scottish tactician a few days prior to the match – and initially the plan was to have one or more fans give a brief speech ahead of the home leg in Vancouver on May 29.
But when Rennie learned Zach Meisenheimer, a member of supporters group Curva Collective, had made the trip to Montreal to watch the match, he decided the time was right.
“He just made the players aware of how much it means to the fans that the Voyageurs Cup was originally created by the fans and it’s something that has eluded the Whitecaps up until now,” Rennie said of Meisenheimer’s address during a phone interview with MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “He wanted the players to know that they had the full support of all of the fans and that everybody was behind them.
“Even though there wasn’t many in the stadium [on the night], they wanted to be in a position to support the team in the second leg at BC Place – and that it was a chance to do something for the first time.”
For Meisenheimer – a recognizable figure at training sessions and matches with his big red beard – it was a whirlwind night. Upon touching down in Montreal on the day of the game, he found a text message from a Whitecaps official which requested him to call back.
When he did, he was asked if it was alright if Rennie gave him a call, as the coach had a request.
“So then he called, and asked, would you do this?” Meisenheimer said by phone on Thursday. And, like any good supporter, he was happy to oblige – assuming he could get to the stadium in time. So, he had 45 minutes to navigate Montreal traffic and prepare a speech to a team about to compete in a cup final.
“It was kind of crazy,” Meisenheimer confided, saying it was a much different experience than his previous interactions with players. “It was really intense – it was crazily intense. Usually when I’m around players I try to be very light-hearted and humorous, encouraging – on the lighter side. But it was awesomely strange to walk in and just have all these eyes looking at you.
“Martin basically said, to end his team talk – ‘we have a guest here who wants to share with you how important this competition is.’ I’ve never had that sense of intensity or sense of focus from the players.”
But, what Meisenheimer said worked, in the estimation of Rennie – whose team secured a battling backs-to-the-wall scoreless result in Montreal on the night.
“It seemed to resonate well with the players, which is what I was hoping for,” Rennie said. “Obviously, you never know how these things will work out, but I think it definitely helped.”
As for the fan who has supported the team since the turn of the new millennium, first in the lower tiers and now in MLS, it was a night he’s not likely to forget soon.
“Strange evening,” Meisenheimer reflected. “But in a good way.”