This space used to write about the Vancouver Whitecaps a lot. It doesn’t anymore, because I don’t like them. I turned my back on the crowd. MLS’s vibe made me vomit across the increasingly-debilitated artificial turf even before a bunch of Americans in tie-dye lost and the supporters demonstrated over politics. Then FC Edmonton refused to die, and TSS FC Rovers brought PDL back to town, and there was no reason to regret the loss.
No, I will never again truly be a Vancouver Whitecaps fan. Their ship has sailed, their gondola has departed, their Grouse Grind has been closed. However, as a local and a supporter of Canadian soccer I reserve the right to be excited when they’re doing good things, and the winter of 2018–19 has contained several.
They sold Alphonso Davies to Bayern Munich for a trillion dollars. Fans will miss him and will inevitably lament the cash not being spent on new players but, both as a piece of business and as a way to persuade young Canadian talents that the Whitecaps really can be good for their careers and they won’t necessarily be sent to Phil Davies Island, this is a Very Good Thing.
They hired Marc dos Santos, the first permanent Canadian head coach of their senior team since Dale Mitchell in two thousand and fucking one. In that time the Montreal Impact sent out John Limniatis, dos Santos himself, Mauro Biello, and like four different incarnations of Nick DeSantis, the Ottawa Fury got two great seasons from dos Santos, FC Edmonton had Colin Miller, and Toronto FC… well, most teams did better. Anyway, the Whitecaps’ record of giving Canadian coaches a chance had been lamentable going well back into the USL days.
Secondary, but still neat, is Vancouver bringing in Nick Dasovic to run a resurrected U-23 team, a role that in the PDL days attracted the likes of Stuart Neely and Niall Thompson. Said U-23 team has no league, making this merely the latest of Daso’s many temporary-acting-part-time gigs, but he’s been good everywhere he’s gone and tempy-acting is better than no gig at all.
dos Santos has a reputation for preferring Canadian players and so far in Vancouver he’s living up to it. As of January 25 eleven of their twenty-two first team players are Canadian1. This proportion will probably fall by kickoff time but we can almost guarantee at least three domestic starters even with Davies gone. Cornelius, in particular, is a first-team Guy Who Should Look Great in MLS All-Star.
They’re offering general admission sections to their supporters’ groups. This is only important to a few, but to them it’s very important indeed.
They gave us Jordyn Huitema, who is probably off to two-time European Cup finalists Paris Saint-Germain at age 17. Alas, unlike the men, the Whitecaps Girls Elite REX will not receive a dumptruck full of money for their big transfer, but Huitema’s development is still a timely credit to a recently lacklustre program. There’s no first team, there’s a shortage of recent British Columbia players in the WNT picture, but no Canadian woman has played at so high a level at 17 or 18, ever.
Last, and not at all least, they have given us this.
Canadians on the field, a big blue hoop around their chests, and fans standing whereever they please, drinking beers and singing songs. The Whitecaps actually look like the Whitecaps again.
Scuttlebutt and fake MLS “leaks” have told us for months that the Whitecaps are bringing back the hoop for the 40th anniversary of their 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl victory, but to be honest I thought they’d blow it somehow. In fact they have so completely not blown it that I am unironically posting their marketing.
It is beautiful in broad terms and it is beautiful in detail. The classic touches are gems, and I am a sucker for a collar. Their innovations—the “1979” maple leaf on the shoulder, the red numbers, the vintage logo on the hip—ring true. Even the obligatory and intrusive Adidas triple-stripes on the shoulders do not appear offensive, not that any of the Whitecaps’ photos draw attention to them. It is, as a particularly annoying person would say on HGTV, classic contemporary.
After eight years in Major League Soccer I am genuinely shocked they had the ability to pull this off. Even the caption is a nod to us autistic traditionalists the franchise had been going out of its way to alienate. “The hoop is back.” I had casual fans at work asking me what that even meant and boy did I tell them. When I buy one with Brett Levis or Russell Teibert’s name on the back I am going to lose twenty pounds so that the “Bell” across the middle doesn’t refer to what that hoop makes my belly resemble.
This is a lot of nourishment for certain Vancouver fans who have been dying of starvation for many years of MLS mediocrity. It’s enough to raise suspicious, looking-gift-horse-in-the-mouth-type questions about such a spontaneous display of respect and patriotism. Is this bounty no more than an attempt to outflank the competition?
The Canadian Premier League is starting in 2019, a few weeks after MLS’s season does, and while the closest team to Vancouver is currently across the water in Langford that may well change. Surrey, who would have had a founding team if they’d done this sooner, recently approved a 2,200-seat stadium. The possibility that Burnaby might host a CanPL team at scenic Swangard, or that early success would lure a franchise to an expanded Percy Perry Stadium in Coquitlam2, is real, and then the Whitecaps have a local competitor for the soccer dollar, beyond a few hundred TSS Rovers patrons who mostly have Whitecaps season tickets anyway.
So far the Whitecaps have been pretty obliging about Pacific FC in all their public statements, and they have a good history of working well with smaller teams, including NASL-era FC Edmonton. I’m actually not cynical about this at all, but some even more died-in-the-wool MLS haters than me might be. Have the Whitecaps done the right thing for the most commercial, the most cynical, of reasons? Who cares if they have? The chances of the Whitecaps driving Pacific FC or a Surrey team out of business because they started wearing a hoop and giving Simon Colyn minutes are nil; that battle, if it is waged, will be decided on a level well beyond the few fans who base their purchases on that. Maybe the excitement for the Canadian Premier League has awoken a true pride in their flag and their legacy that the Whitecaps organization had almost forgotten. Maybe they want to squeeze a few bucks out of people like me that we won’t spend on ferry trips to the Island. It doesn’t matter, the effect will be the same. A Canadian MLS team is a little truer in both body and spirit than it once was.
The Canadian Premier League is going to be amazing, and its effect on the lower levels of the Canadian soccer pyramid should be very good. But if it’s a positive for the higher levels too, well.