Paul Dolan

Whitecaps FC have a storied history of goalkeeping tandems

When Whitecaps FC selected veteran MLS goalkeeper Joe Cannon from San Jose Earthquakes in last month's Expansion Draft, then re-signed standout Jay Nolly two days later, it suddenly looked like Vancouver would have a very capable goalkeeping tandem for 2011. Nolly was USSF D-2 Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year in 2010, while Cannon is a two-time MLS Goalkeeper of the Year.

However, this is not the first time that the 'Caps have found themselves with two capable sets of hands between the posts. As early as 1975, when Whitecaps FC were a mostly all-Canadian squad, two Canadian internationals shared the responsibility in goal. Greg Weber was considered the starter, but local keeper Peter Greco made a good claim to the spot, backing the team to five straight wins to start the season.

The most unlikely pairing was in 1980. To try and replace star goalkeeper Phil Parkes, the 'Caps brought in the great Scottish international David Harvey. He struggled though, and the veteran soon found himself on the bench, replaced by a wildly talented young upstart from Zimbabwe named Bruce Grobbelaar, who later went on to an impressive career with English club Liverpool. Harvey later redeemed himself, and stayed with the club for two more seasons.

Fast forwarding to the first season of the Canadian Soccer League, Vancouver 86ers took the field in 1987 with an up-and-coming young Canadian goalkeeper named Pat Onstad. Although he did well, it was a lot of pressure for a 19-year-old, and UBC star Brian Kennedy gradually took over. Now at age 42, Onstad was the oldest player in MLS last year with Houston Dynamo.

In 1988, head coach Bobby Lenarduzzi found himself with the two best goalkeepers in the league. All-Star Sven Habermann came here from Calgary, while Canadian international standout Paul Dolan also signed. They traded the starting spot at first, but it was clear they were both too talented to sit on the bench. Dolan ended up going to Hamilton Steelers before the season was out.

Dolan returned to the 86ers in 1990, and was the club's clear number one for most of the decade. In 1997 though, his understudy, English-born Canadian Paul Shepherd, began to see more playing time, and the two Pauls went on to trade the starting spot for most of the season.

Dolan's last year here was 1998 and things were much more unsettled after that. In fact, goalkeeping tandems became the rule in Vancouver, rather than the exception, as nobody was able to claim the number one spot for long.

First it was Shepherd and big Didar Sandhu who shared the net in 1999 and 2000. In 2001, it was mostly Sandhu but then Canadian international Lars Hirschfeld came here in a late-season loan, and took over. The next year, Jim Larkin was brought in as the expected starter, but a young Portuguese immigrant named Alex Marques came out of nowhere to challenge for the starting spot. Canadian international Mike Franks then arrived in 2003, but even he had trouble dislodging Marques, who by 2004 was once again seeing most of the playing time. Franks was the starter in 2005 to start the year, but eventually young American goalkeeper Josh Wicks took over. Wicks went on to play in MLS, and is now in Finland.

The goalkeeping uncertainty continued for several more years, including four different starters in 2007! Things did not stabilize until Nolly's arrival in May 2008, and the starting spot was never again in doubt, with Nolly eventually setting a club record of 79 consecutive appearances.

Now though with both Cannon and Nolly signed, it's hard to say what 2011 might bring.


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