It seems even mother nature is a Whitecaps FC fan! The sun and 22,000 fans came out to Empire Field on a bright Saturday afternoon to witness the debut of MLS soccer in Vancouver.
The storied Vancouver Whitecaps franchise has moved into the ‘big leagues’ and from the showing they displayed, they deserve to be there! Granted it was a match against Canadian rivals Toronto FC, who are perpetual bottom dwellers in the MLS table, but the enthusiasm and skills of the Vancouver side overcame the experienced eastern team.
An ocean of white erupted as designated player Eric Hassli opened the Whitecaps account with a lovely goal in the first half and three more Vancouver goals followed (along with two Toronto ones, but we’ll gloss over those)
After the first goal broke the ice, the crowd really let lose, the casual fans being carried away by the spirited die-hards who’ve been longing for Whitecaps FC to take its rightful place among the top tier. When local boy, Terry Dunfield scored the volume rose even higher as Whitecaps drums were pounded and scarves where thrust into the sky.
The organization did a brilliant job of encouraging but also allowing the spirit and enthusiasm for the team grow organically. With a countdown to the big match ad campaign nudging this home opener to the top of city’s conscientiousness the rest happened on it’s own. At game day the crowds were early and ready for the action and the team didn’t disappoint, with a kick off celebration that included new BC Premier Christie Clark and NBA (and part-owner) Steve Nash beating the drums to welcome the players onto the pitch. A multi-cultural drum line was in the upper levels of the stands to help ‘drum’ up support but even without them I think this opening match would have ‘beat’ any other sporting event in the city for atmosphere. Mascot Winger was always a huge part of generating the cheers and noise around the games at Swangard Stadium but here in the large venue it’s harder for a little bird to make his rounds. It didn’t matter, the crowd shouted their own cheers (and jeers to the TFC fans) without any prompting from the winged mascot. With each goal the joy grew and grew until the closing whistle and it spilled out into the street around Empire Field and the party moved on.
A solid season ticket base, an enthusiastic supporters club in the Southsiders leading the cheers, and a talent team on and off the pitch all combine to elevate the team to a major force of spirit. The word of mouth from this display of Whitecaps fever will definitely spread through the city ensuring all games will have this amazing feeling (hopefully mother nature feels the same way and keeps us dry)