BY IAN WALKER
VANCOUVER — Talk about your happy homecoming. The Vancouver Whitecaps took to the field for the first time since returning home from their two-week African safari safe in the knowledge the franchise was awarded a Major League Soccer expansion team.
Safe, being a relative term. There’s no guarantees the players on this year’s United Soccer Leagues First Division squad will make the jump when the club moves up to North American soccer’s premier loop in 2011.
“There’s a lot of excitement, but we all know that when that time comes there’s not going to be a position for everyone,” said Whitecaps captain Martin Nash, following Monday’s practice at the team’s training facility at Simon Fraser University. “I’m sure the club will try and keep as many as they can, but it’s up to us to keep working hard and improving individually and as a team.”
The Whitecaps were informed of MLS’s decision last week during a layover in London from Tanzania, where Vancouver went 1-1-1 in three exhibition games during its tour of the African country. While the expansion news wasn’t a total surprise, it did serve notice that the Whitecaps are playing for more than just this season.
“It wasn’t like we were jumping around and high-fiving each other — it was what we expected to happen and what we thought the club deserved — but still it was exciting news,” said defender Mason Trafford. “It really gives us something to shoot for. We all realize that there’s a lot of work to be done if we want to stay around. It was exciting, but there was also the realization of the work involved.”
It’s not just players that are excited. Not if you take into account how quick the province’s soccer fans scooped up deposits on season tickets. All 5,000 were gone within 48 hours of them going on sale on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said more deposits will be made available, but first the organization wants to give its 2,200 existing USL-1 ticket package holders the chance to reserve their seats. Fans do have the option of going on a waiting list and purchasing Whitecaps season tickets for this season puts fans at the front of the cue.
“I got the feeling that something special was happening after we made the announcement so I can’t say I’m totally surprised, but it’s a great indicator of the interest in MLS in 2011,” said Lenarduzzi. “It was a great response and validates the fact we’re on our way.”
A decision on ticket pricing is months away, but as a reference, the first-year Seattle Sounders are charging between $20 and $49 this season.
The Whitecaps will play the UBC Thunderbirds at UBC today in preparation for their USL-1 season opener against the Charleston, S.C., Battery at Swangard Field on April 11.
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