On December 11, 1973, Denny Veitch and Herb Capozzi officially announced the Vancouver Whitecaps franchise on the top floor of a downtown Vancouver Davie Street hotel as the club began life in the original North American Soccer League (NASL).
Veitch is known for creating the club’s name. It came to him while he was driving across Lions Gate Bridge on a beautiful sunny afternoon. He looked down and saw the whitecaps on the ocean and looked up and saw the whitecaps on the mountains, and thus Vancouver Whitecaps Football Club was born.
1974 – 1979
The original Vancouver Whitecaps played their first ever match on May 5, 1974, when they fell to a 2-1 home defeat to San Jose Earthquakes. Though the first match was a loss, the crowd saw defender Neil Ellett write his name in the history books that day by scoring the club's first-ever goal in the league. The 'Caps steadily improved over the next couple of years and made their first playoff appearance in 1976 against cross-border rivals Seattle Sounders.
Though Vancouver came up short in their playoff runs from 1976 through 1978, 1979 was a different story. That year, Vancouver won it all and became the city’s first professional sports team to win a major North American Championship when they defeated Tampa Bay Rowdies. Upon return to Vancouver on Sept. 9, 1979, as many as 100,000 people lined Vancouver’s Robson Street to salute their heroes during a championship parade, arguably creating the most historic moment in Whitecaps history.
1980 – 1985
The few years following their championship win of 1979, the 'Caps were unable to defend their title. Hopes were high for a second NASL title in 1983, as Vancouver played host to the Soccer Bowl championship match at the newly-built BC Place Stadium. In fact, the Whitecaps 2-1 victory over Seattle on June 20, 1983, was the first sporting event to be played in BC Place and attracted a crowd of 60,342. Though the Whitecaps finished top of the Western Division standings that year, another first-round playoff exit followed – this time to Toronto Blizzard.
1986 – 1991
The demise of the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1984 resulted in the formation of a new league, the Canadian Soccer League (CSL), in 1986. This change in leagues was accompanied by a new CSL franchise in Vancouver purchased by the West Coast Soccer Society. Like the Whitecaps before them, the new team needed an identity befitting of its origins. And so, Vancouver 86ers were born, a name derived for several reasons: the year of Vancouver’s incorporation as a city (1886), the year of the club’s founding (1986), the first ever year that Canada qualified for the FIFA World Cup (1986), and for one more reason – there were 86 members who originally invested to help fund the start of the team.
From 1988 – 1991, the 86ers established themselves as a powerhouse, winning four-straight league championship titles. The club also set a North American professional sports record by playing 46 consecutive matches without defeat (37 wins and 9 draws). For this accomplishment, the 86ers squad of 1989 was inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
The 86ers entered a new era when the CSL folded and they became members of the American Professional Soccer League (APSL). With a new look, logo, and colours (red, black, and white) in 1993, the 86ers finished top of the APSL regular season standings before their season was abruptly ended in the playoff semifinals, as Los Angeles Salsa won 3-2 in a shootout at Swangard. The match was also Bob Lenarduzzi’s last as 86ers head coach, as he turned his sole focus to his other role as head coach of the Canadian men’s national team after being appointed to that position in the spring of 1992.
Former Whitecaps, 86ers, and Canadian international Carl Valentine succeeded Lenarduzzi as head coach. After missing the playoffs in his first season in charge in 1994, Valentine led the 86ers to the postseason in 1995, where they lost to Seattle Sounders in the Semifinals. The 86ers made it to the semifinals again in 1997, but fell to eventual champions Milwaukee Rampage. That year (1997) also saw the return of Lenarduzzi to the club as general manager after his spell as Canadian National team head coach had come to an end.
While playoff activity in 1998 and 1999 was limited to the first round, this was a time of significant activity for the Whitecaps off the pitch. The turn of the millennium was accompanied by both a coaching and an ownership change. On October 26, 2000, after widespread public support, the 86ers formally changed their name back to the Whitecaps after their new owner, David Stadnyk, purchased the naming rights from former NASL Whitecaps director John Laxton.
The Whitecaps continued their respectable success in the playoffs, making it to the semi-finals in 2001 and the finals in 2002. Of more concern to Vancouver soccer fans was Stadnyk’s decision to step down from his ownership of the club midway through the 2002 campaign, forcing the Whitecaps to search for a new owner. Their search led to local businessman and current owner Greg Kerfoot taking ownership of the Whitecaps on November 13, 2002. On February 24, 2003, the Whitecaps men and Breakers women were brought under a new club structure called Whitecaps Football Club (FC), with the set-up to include an extensive youth development program.
In 2004, the club announced plans to build the Whitecaps Training Centre on the campus of Simon Fraser University, demonstrating Kerfoot’s interest in investing in the club’s future. While the club didn’t make it past the first round in 2005, a memorable year ensured for Whitecaps fans in 2006, as both the men’s and women’s teams claimed an unprecedented double of USL titles. Despite a fourth-place finish in the USL-1 standings, Lilley’s side defeated Miami FC and Canadian rivals Montreal Impact to reach the championship final against Rochester Raging Rhinos, whom the Whitecaps defeated with a 3 – 0 victory in upstate New York .
The club won it all again in 2008. The men’s team had surprised many with their earlier win that season in a friendly vs. MLS club LA Galaxy, and carried that momentum all the way through to the championship. It was a memorable playoff run as the ‘Caps defeated Minnesota and Montreal on route to the Whitecaps first championship final at Swangard since the 1992 CSL season. The team almost had another championship year in 2009, making it all the way to the finals before suffering defeat to Montreal Impact.
Having submitted a proposal in 2008 to enter MLS, MLS commissioner Don Garber announced on March 18, 2009 that Vancouver would be the home of the 17th team in MLS, with the new side to start their inaugural season at a temporary stadium on the site of the Pacific National Exhibition’s Empire Fields (formerly Empire Stadium) in March 2011. It was also announced that later that year, the new team would make a renovated BC Place their new home.
In preparation for MLS the club made many changes including the hiring of former D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn as Director of Operations. The Whitecaps also added Richard Grootscholten as the new Technical Director and Head Coach of the club's full-time Residency program.
In March 2011, Vancouver Whitecaps FC kicked off their first season in Major League Soccer at Empire Field, defeating Toronto FC 4-2 in an exciting and riveting match. The club made a coaching change in May 2011 placing Tom Soehn as interim head coach. In August 2011, the club announced the hiring of Martin Rennie as head coach for the 2012 season. The ‘Caps closed Empire Field in October 2011 and moved to BC Place, where they played four matches to finish their inaugural MLS season.
The ‘Caps started their second season on March 10, 2012 at BC Place against expansion side, and Canadian rivals, Montreal Impact at BC Place with a 2–0 victory. The 2012 season saw Whitecaps FC make a big turnaround as an MLS club. Among their achievements that season was setting a new MLS record for consecutive minutes without allowing a goal to start a season at 427. Whitecaps FC joined the government of British Columbia and the University of British Columbia (UBC) on September 6, 2012 in announcing the construction of the National Soccer Development Centre (NSDC) on the campus of UBC. On October 21, 2012, they became the first Canadian club to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs after securing fifth place in the Western Conference standings. Whitecaps FC played their first-ever MLS postseason match and scored their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs through Darren Mattocks on November 1, 2012. However, Vancouver’s maiden venture into the MLS playoffs was brief, as defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy defeated the 'Caps 2-1 in the Western Conference First Round Knockout match in Carson, California.
As in their two previous seasons, the 'Caps began their 2013 campaign against Canadian competition, this time facing off against Toronto FC as they did to open their inaugural season. Similarly to those previous years, Vancouver were once again victorious, with a goal from midfielder Gershon Koffie leading the Blue and White to a 1-0 win. The 'Caps were dealt a blow, however, as captain Jay DeMerit ruptured his Achilles tendon just six minutes into the season opener and would not return until September.
Among the more noteworthy moments of the season was a first ever victory over LA Galaxy on May 11, led by the first two career goals for Residency product Russell Teibert, as well as a first win against rivals Seattle Sounders FC on July 6 at BC Place. The 'Caps later earned a 4-1 win over the Sounders on October 9 at CenturyLink Field – in which rookie Kekuta Manneh became the first Whitecaps FC player and youngest MLS player ever to score a hat-trick. As it turned out, that result also sealed a fourth Cascadia Cup title for the 'Caps – making them the winningest club in competition history – and the first trophy since joining MLS.
An inability to produce results in September eventually led Vancouver to miss the playoffs; however, the club did have much to celebrate in their season finale at BC Place. Facing Colorado Rapids on October 27, striker Camilo Sanvezzo scored his first career hat-trick in a 3-0 win, giving the Brazilian the MLS Golden Boot as the league's top scorer with 22 goals. The last match of the season also saw a symbolic changing of the guard on the 'Caps backline. Residency product Sam Adekugbe started and played in his first career professional match at left back while South Korean legend Young-Pyo Lee bid farewell with his final match at right back before retiring. Following the season, it was announced that head coach Martin Rennie would not have his contract renewed.
In December 2013, Carl Robinson - formerly assistant coach - was appointed as the 15th head coach in club history.
2014 – Present
The 'Caps won their fourth consecutive MLS season opener at BC Place on March 8, 2014, defeating New York Red Bulls 4-1. During their fourth year in MLS, the club celebrated 40 years since the first Whitecaps season in 1974, and the city’s 28th consecutive season of professional soccer. Whitecaps FC are the longest running professional soccer club in United States and Canadian history. The 2014 season saw the 'Caps capture a second consecutive Cascadia Cup, while also making the MLS Cup playoffs for a second time. The season came to an end with a 2-1 defeat at FC Dallas in the Knockout Round of the playoffs. As the top Canadian team during the regular season, Whitecaps FC also qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time, as was designated due to a timing change for the Canadian Championship tournament.
The end of the calendar year also saw Whitecaps FC announce a second team on November 21, 2014 - Whitecaps FC 2 (WFC2), which would play in the United Soccer League (USL) beginning in the 2015 season, as part of the official partnership with USL and MLS. Alan Koch was named first head coach of WFC2 on January 30, 2015.
'Caps win first Voyageurs Cup, become Canadian champions
2015 was a banner year for Whitecaps FC in their early MLS existence. The 'Caps won the Voyageurs Cup for the first time when they captured the Amway Canadian Championship with a 4-2 aggregate win over Montreal Impact. The 'Caps also played in the CONCACAF Champions League for the first time, finishing in third in Group F behind Seattle Sounders FC and CD Olimpia of Honduras. During the MLS regular season, the 'Caps finished in second place in the Western Conference with a club record 53 points and 16 wins. As one of the top two teams, Robinson's side earned a bye to the Western Conference Semifinals where they faced rivals Portland Timbers. The two teams played to a 0-0 draw in the first leg at Providence Park before the 'Caps hosted their first ever playoff game at BC Place, falling 2-0 to see their season come to an end as Portland went on to win the 2015 MLS Cup. Individual recognition also came to the team in 2015 as David Ousted was named to the 2015 MLS All-Star team and finished the season as runner-up for Goalkeeper of the Year, while centre back Kendall Waston finished runner-up for Defender of the Year, and Robinson was named a finalist for MLS Coach of the Year.
On the USL front, WFC2 played their inaugural USL season in 2015. A number of young Canadian players saw their first professional action as the young 'Caps finished the season with a record of 8W-14L-6D and 11th place in the Western Conference. WFC2 won their first match on April 1, 2015, a 3-0 road victory at Austin Aztex. The team hosted their inaugural home match on April 19, 2015 at UBC's Thunderbird Stadium, playing to a 1-1 draw against Canadian rivals Toronto FC II.
After a strong MLS season in 2015, the 2016 season brought heightened expectations for head coach Carl Robinson and Whitecaps FC. The 'Caps would go on to play in the CONCACAF Champions League for a second season in a row, this time sweeping through Group C with a perfect 4W-0L-0D record and the top seed going into the quarterfinals. The 'Caps also captured a record sixth Cascadia Cup, needing a three-goal win over Portland Timbers in the regular season finale and getting a 4-1 victory to hoist the trophy in front of the home supporters. Individually, Kendall Waston was named to the 2016 MLS All-Star team. Not all expectations were met though. Looking to defend their Voyageurs Cup, Vancouver agonizingly saw Toronto FC steal victory in the second leg of the Amway Canadian Championship final when Will Johnson fired a spilled ball into the net in the dying second of the match after a collision between 'Caps goalkeeper David Ousted and centre back Kendall Waston. Come the end of the season, the 'Caps missed the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2013, finishing in eighth place in the Western Conference.
2016 did bring a positive second year for WFC2 in the USL. Koch's squad began the season on a 10-match unbeaten streak before eventually finishing in fifth place in the Western Conference and qualifying for the playoffs for the first time. The 'Caps then went on a terrific run, defeating Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC 2-1 on the road in their first ever playoff match, then returning home to beat Oklahoma City Energy FC 3-2 at Thunderbird Stadium. WFC2 finally bowed out in the Western Conference Final, falling 3-0 at Swope Park Rangers - the affiliate of MLS side Sporting Kansas City. On the player development side it was also a successful year for the team with both 15-year-old Alphonso Davies and Saskatchewan's Brett Levis earning MLS contracts with Whitecaps FC. Davies became the second youngest player ever to play an MLS match when he made his debut at home against Orlando City SC on July 16, 2016. Levis followed suit with his debut in the MLS regular season finale against Portland Timbers on October 23, 2016.