By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com
The 2009 Vancouver Whitecaps men's team season provided many highlights for those who follow the Blue and White.
It seems fitting that the Whitecaps had many exciting moments in 2009, with the club celebrating 35 years since its first season in the old North American Soccer League back in 1974. From fine individual performances to memorable victories, Teitur Thordarson's side entertained both at home and on the road in the USL First Division and Nutrilite Canadian Championship.
In the second part of our series of reviews on the 2009 season, we list the top 10 moments of what was a highly eventful campaign. As always, the list was completed with careful consideration and debate amongst club staffers, who perused over a wide variety of notable moments from the year.
Think there was a highlight that should have made our list? Give us your thoughts by emailing me at email@example.com.
Whitecaps men's team - Top 10 Highlights of 2009
1.Playoff run to the USL-1 Championship Series
After claiming the last available playoff spot, few expected the Whitecaps to make a serious run towards a USL-1 championship title defence. The journey meant the Blue and White had to go through the top two clubs in the league during the regular season. Yet, true to their folklore as a successful playoff side, the seventh-seeded Whitecaps upset the formbook by seeing off second-seeded Carolina RailHawks in the first round, then USL-1 regular season champions and Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers in the semifinals. The highlight of Vancouver's postseason had to be the exciting 3-3 second-leg draw in the intimidating confines of Portland's PGE Park, with the 'Caps knocking off the Timbers 5-4 on aggregate to reach the USL-1 Championship Series. Though the run ended in disappointment against Canadian arch-rivals Montreal Impact, Thordarson's young side gave Whitecaps fans a lot to be excited about this fall…and for the future as well.
2.Whitecaps defeat Toronto FC at Swangard Stadium – June 2
Though it meant little to the ultimate result of the 2009 Nutrilite Canadian Championship, the Whitecaps left their mark on the tournament and soccer fans across Canada by claiming a famous 2-0 home win over Canada's lone Major League Soccer club on national television. Thordarson's side had to win to keep their chances of winning the Canadian title alive, while TFC needed only a draw at Swangard. Led by Ansu Toure's two goals, the 'Caps put in a clutch performance to claim their second victory all-time versus The Reds.
3.Record number of sell-outs at Swangard
A major story during the Whitecaps season was the record number of sold-out matches at Swangard Stadium in 2009. Of the 20 games that the 'Caps hosted at Swangard during the year, 13 of them had sell-out crowds. This included 10 straight sell-out matches between May 16 and August 29. The total set a new club record for sell-outs in a season, surpassing the previous record of 10 sold-out games back in the 1987 Canadian Soccer League campaign.
4.Jay Nolly's ever-presence in goal
No player was in a better position to experience all of the Whitecaps events this season than Nolly. The Whitecaps goalkeeper was involved in every minute of the men's team's 40 matches in 2009, with the former Real Salt Lake and D.C. United shot-stopper amassing a total of 3,600 minutes in the Vancouver goal. The last time the Whitecaps had a goalkeeper that appeared in every minute of action in a single season was during the 1977 North American Soccer League campaign. Nolly's fellow American, Arnie Mausser, played all 26 regular season matches and one playoff contest for the club that year.
5.Rookies on the rise
Much of the 2009 season provided Whitecaps fans with a glimpse into the club's future, as the Whitecaps prepare for life in Major League Soccer come 2011. Three players, in particular, made important contributions to the men's team campaign. The speedy Wes Knight showed great promise with his crossing and throw-in deliveries from the right-hand side, while striker Marcus Haber's potent combination of height and speed earned him the USL-1 Rookie of the Year award. Young Bermudan Tyrell Burgess also showed his attacking potential from wide areas, as well as a willingness to strike at goal from long distances. With so much promise seen, supporters are sure to expect more from the young trio in 2010.
6.Marlon James' hat-trick at Minnesota Thunder - May 2
Though the Whitecaps were fourth in scoring with 42 goals during the USL-1 regular season, James was the only Vancouver player to register a hat-trick. Having made his league debut the weekend before, the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines international made a positive impression in his first-ever start for the club in Minnesota. His three goals - with the third coming from the penalty spot - highlighted James' power, pace, and eye for goal in attacking positions. Though his appearances in 2009 were limited because of injury, James was third in team scoring behind Charles Gbeke and Marcus Haber with 11 goals.
7.Top of the list
Though the Whitecaps may have struggled as a side this past season, 2009 was a story of impressive individual achievements for players of the Blue and White. Striker Charles Gbeke finished as the USL-1's top regular season scorer with 12 goals, while 'Caps rookie Wes Knight and Minnesota Thunder midfielder Ricardo Sanchez shared the league lead in assists with eight. Goalkeeper Jay Nolly, meanwhile, led all USL-1 players for minutes played in the regular season with 2,700.
8.Residency players make their mark
The continuing rise of the club's Residency program was reflected further in the contribution of its young graduates to the men's team in 2009. Dever Orgill, Ethan Gage, and Randy Edwini-Bonsu all played their part during various stages of the season, with the trio scoring their first men's team goals during the season. Orgill made history by being the first-ever Residency player to score a men's team goal in the 2-1 home defeat to Rochester Rhinos on May 16, while Gage scored the winner in Vancouver's 1-0 win over Montreal Impact in the Nutrilite Canadian Championship on May 27. Edwini-Bonsu, meanwhile, was an important asset in the postseason, with his first-leg goal against Carolina RailHawks taking the 'Caps to the USL-1 playoff semifinals.
9.First win at Montreal's Stade Saputo – May 20
The memories of the 2009 Montreal Impact are unlikely to be pleasant ones for all in the Whitecaps fold, but early in the season, the Blue and White were able to register their first win as a club in Montreal's soccer-specific stadium. Needing a win to put their Nutrilite Canadian Championship campaign back on track, the 'Caps defeated the Impact 2-0 through first-half goals from Marcus Haber and Charles Gbeke. It was Vancouver's first win at Stade Saputo in four attempts.
10.Taming the Rhinos in Rochester – July 31
While the 2006 USL-1 championship win over the Rhinos may have fonder memories for Whitecaps fans, they would have enjoyed the team's lone trip to The Flower City in 2009. Two goals by Marlon James - the first coming from the penalty spot - and a fine strike by Tyrell Burgess meant the Whitecaps earned their first regular season victory in Upstate New York since August 7, 1996.