Whitecaps take Vancouver to the big leagues - The Province

By Jason Brough Vancouver's entry into Major League Soccer was awarded on March 18, and the excitement has been building ever since. With the team set to kick off in 2011, there's plenty of time to build excitement . . . so why not start now? B.C. PLACE RENOVATIONS With the MLS season running from March to November (unlike in Europe, where they forget winter is for hockey) and a retractable roof being put on the dome, it can only mean one thing -- fun in the sun. Yes, fans will get to watch the highest calibre of soccer in North America while enjoying those fine Vancouver summers. Vancouver's MLS team is signed on to play at BC Place from 2011 to 2015, so there'll be lots of opportunities for you to work on your tan. Oh, and of course, catch a little footy. STAR POWER Thanks to the Designated Player Rule (nicknamed "the Beckham Rule"), fans will get to see some of the world's most famous players ply their trade. The rule is part of the MLS salary-cap structure that allows each franchise to sign one player who would be considered over the team's cap. This allows teams to compete for international stars - past examples include Beckham (Los Angeles), former Arsenal star Freddie Ljungberg (Seattle), former Aston Villa sniper Juan Pablo Angel (New York) and Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Chicago), the Mexican national team's all-time leading scorer. THE 1-5 RIVALRY There'll be a great interstate battle at least a couple times a season when Vancouver takes on the Seattle Sounders. The Sounders are currently in the midst of their inaugural MLS campaign and have been quite successful --- at the time of writing, Seattle finds itself with the third-best record in the Western Conference at 5-3-5 with an impressive 4-1-2 record at Qwest Field. It should be noted that Portland will also join MLS in 2011, making for an intriguing all-Northwest battle amongst the three clubs. OPTIONS, OPTIONS AND MORE OPTIONS It's a great day for local sports when entertainment options extend beyond the B.C. Lions and Vancouver Canadians. Nothing against the CFL or Nooners at the Nat, but they've been the only summer show in town for far too long. The prospect of having top-flight soccer in the city diversifies Vancouver's sporting landscape and brings in one of North America's fastest-growing leagues to boot. LOCAL FLAVOUR A Vancouver MLS team might bring back some local soccer stars who have hit it large overseas. Granted, this is all speculation, but these British Columbia natives might jump at the chance to play at home: Rob Friend, a Kelowna native playing for Germany's Borussia Monchengladbach; Richard Hastings, a Prince George native playing for Scotland's Inverness Caledonian Thistle; and Josh Simpson, a Victoria native playing for Germany's FC Kaiserslautern. jbrough@theprovince.com © Copyright (c) The Province