As time ticked away and the final whistle signalled the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2-0 victory over the Seattle Sounders on July 6, it must have been near impossible for anyone in attendance to sit there and not let their mind wander. What will B.C. Place Stadium look like and—more importantly—feel like when the Whitecaps host their first Major League Soccer playoff game?
The Whitecaps are easily the best sporting spectacle in the city these days—there isn’t another team that comes remotely close in terms of game presentation and in-stadium experience—and their faithful took their support of the home side to new heights with the team’s first-ever MLS victory over its rival from the Emerald City.
As the sellout crowd of 22,500 stood and sang and danced to the incessant drumbeats from the moment the ball was put in play, the Whitecaps responded by getting the jump on the Sounders with a goal just four minutes into the game. And although the ’Caps were far from perfect—they were loose at the back for much of the night—they clearly fed off their vocal supporters and did what they had to in order to lock down the win and three more points in the standings.
With four victories in five games and just one loss in its past nine, this team that earlier in the season was spinning its wheels has suddenly found high gear. And hosting the first home playoff game in the franchise’s three-year MLS history is now a very real possibility. (Last year, the club became the first Canadian MLS team to appear in the playoffs, but it bowed out 2-1 on the road in its first-round knockout against the Los Angeles Galaxy, which went on to win the MLS Cup.)
As an organization, the Whitecaps are very clearly putting the building blocks of something special in place. And given the team’s play of late, supporters should probably allow themselves to dare to dream about the chaos they can create if the team they cheer for can secure that coveted postseason home date.
“The atmosphere: I’ve never seen anything like it at B.C. Place, and the players responded really well to it,” head coach Martin Rennie said in his postmatch remarks to the media following the win over the Sounders. “It was a huge win. It was one we really wanted to give to our fans. It’s a big thing for the club and for the people in the city.”
In 18 games this season, the Whitecaps are now 8-5-5 and the Seattle result bumps their home record to 6-0-3.
Add in the fact that the victory over Seattle launched the ’Caps into a stretch of six of nine games on home turf and this is a team positioned perfectly to continue its ascension in the highly competitive Western Conference. Through July 7, the Whitecaps sat fourth in the West, just two points out of second. However, they are only five points up on seventh place, with the top five teams qualifying for the playoffs.
So they are by no means out of the woods as far as getting where they need to go, but continuing to lock down results at home will make the path to the playoffs considerably easier.
“We’ve made this place a fortress, and anyone that comes in here knows they’re in for a dogfight,” keeper Brad Knighton, who was sensational against Seattle, said following the game. “To have the support that we had tonight was huge. We didn’t start the season particularly well, but we’ve turned things around. We’re headed in the right direction. It’s a lot of wins now in a short span of time.”
There is no doubt there is a sense of belief around the team now. They are among the highest-scoring teams in MLS. They don’t trail often, and when they do, they have shown an ability to get the goals they need to get out of deficits. Earlier in the season, the ’Caps squandered a few late leads, but they seem to have curbed that bad habit. Right now, they give every indication of being a team that truly believes it can hold its own against any opponent in the league.
And the Whitecaps need to maintain the momentum they’ve created. History shows that they started well last season and then faded down the stretch, winning just one of their final 11 games.
With Camilo Sanvezzo and Kenny Miller shouldering the scoring load and the likes of Nigel Reo-Coker, Young-Pyo Lee, and Andy O’Brien anchoring things in the middle and on defence, the ‘Caps are a better, deeper team than ever before. But that alone won’t guarantee success. They have to learn from their mistakes of a year ago and continue to push to finish among the top four in the conference to ensure a playoff game on home turf.
If they can make that happen, it’s hard to imagine how much of an advantage the loyal fan base can provide the Whitecaps. The win over Seattle whetted the appetite with a glimpse of what postseason soccer here might feel like. But it was merely a midsummer, midseason game. The playoffs will surely see ’Caps supporters take things to an entirely different level.
“This club is really starting to mean something to the people here, and it’s in people’s hearts,” the coach said of the bond between the organization and its supporters. “We’re building a team, and I keep trying to say that it takes time, but I feel like now we’re at a point where players are starting to realize that they’re good players, that this is a good team and we can compete with anyone.”
And the Whitecaps know they have a fan base that wants to show it stacks up against anything else in MLS. The best way to prove that will be for the soccer club to give those fans what they want most: their first live look at playoff action.