VANCOUVER - It has history on its side. Ownership is solid. And its club structure stands alone among its rivals in terms of developing players and growing the game.
That said, the one big knock against the Vancouver Whitecaps' bid to bring Major League Soccer to the city has been the lack of a sport-specific stadium. It was a valid critique - the key word being was.
On Thursday, the Whitecaps and BC Pavilion Corporation made public a snapshot of how BC Place Stadium - with its proposed new retractable roof - might be configured in order to best accommodate soccer events.
"I trust this will put to rest any of those concerns," said Whitecaps president and general manager Bob Lenarduzzi.
"I would question anybody to suggest it's not a great venue. The way it's portrayed in the rendering, it's a soccer-specific stadium."
Key features of the rendering include a retractable roof and centrally hung, state-of-the-art electronic scoreboard, floor-level seats and a flexible draping system. The upper deck draping looks to seamlessly limit the capacity of the stadium to approximately 22,000 seats from BC Place's maximum of 59,000. Additional planned soccer-specific renovations include modular floor-level hospitality areas and a new synthetic FIFA-approved pitch.
The rendering was part of Vancouver's MLS bid book, which was submitted on Oct. 15.
"With the draping, the way it's been done - to allow for the view to the middle out to the clear blue sky and the intimacy that provides to the lower bowl, the reconfiguration of the seats so they are closer to the sidelines and behind both ends with the VIP area and the South Siders supporters section - it's as good as any venue in the league right now," said Lenarduzzi. "I've had the benefit of seeing the renderings for two or three months and when I saw them I was blown away. I expect others will feel the same way."
The Whitecaps - who currently play in the second-tier United Soccer Leagues First Division, where they won its championship this past season - were one of seven groups to apply to MLS for an expansion franchise, starting play in the 2011 season.
Montreal and Ottawa also submitted bids, with the hope of joining Toronto FC in North American soccer's premier league.
Launched in 1996, MLS has grown from a modest eight-team league that garnered little attention from the sports media to a 14-team operation in 2008 which features one of the most famous athletes on the planet, David Beckham. Seattle will join the league next season, followed by Philadelphia in 2010.
The league is expected to make its decision on the latest round of expansion sometime in the first quarter of 2009.
Earlier this year, the province announced details of a two-phase renovation plan for BC Place. Phase 1 is now under way, and will be completed before the 2010 Olympics.
The $65-million renovation plan for Phase 1 includes improved access for the disabled and the redevelopment of all common spaces, concessions, washrooms, exterior plazas, media facilities, dressing rooms and general public areas.
The rendering involves Phase 2 of the plan, which is scheduled to be completed in time for the start of the 2011 MLS season.
Lenarduzzi added no other stadiums in MLS at this time have a retractable roof or centrally hung scoreboard system.
"We're confident that it eliminates any concern of a venue here in Vancouver."
© Vancouver Sun 2008