Monday, October 13, 2008

White is the colour

It was tremendous to hear that the Vancouver Whitecaps claimed the United Soccer League Division I championship [Marc Weber, The Vancouver Province] Sunday with a 2-1 win over the Puerto Rico Islanders [Jim Morris, The Canadian Press via The Globe and Mail]*. It's the Whitecaps' second championship in three years (their last one came in 2006), and their first championship clinched at home since they won the 1991 Canadian Soccer League title. That's some great news for Vancouver soccer fans. Yes, the Lions are still doing well and the Canucks are off to a 2-0 start, but for at least a little while, the Caps claimed top spot in the Vancouver spotlight.

*Morris has some great tidbits in the notes at the bottom of his story, including that this is the first time the USL men's final has ever been between two teams from outside the U.S. and that the Vancouver-Puerto Rico trip is the second-longest in any world soccer league (bested only by Vladivostok and Kaliningrad in Russia).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to watch this one thanks to being in Florida for the weekend (in fact, I'm writing this in the airport), but it sounds like a terrific game from all accounts. It's fantastic to hear about the Caps players jumping into the stands to celebrate with the fans afterwards [in Morris' piece]: that shows the level of interest in their community this team has. Toronto FC is legendary for their support of their fans and their player-fan interaction, but they aren't the only ones. Vancouverites love their team as well, which was reflected in the over-capacity attendance of 5,288 [Weber].

It was also nice to see Charles Gbeke get both goals for the 'Caps. Gbeke was born in the Ivory Coast, but grew up in Montreal and played for the Impact. He was also on the 2006 Rochester Rhinos squad that lost the USL final to the Whitecaps. He's a great Canadian story and a talented player, and it's terrific to see him playing for Vancouver instead of their rivals: I expect much more from him in the years to come.

This victory couldn't come at a better time. With the race for MLS heating up, this is a terrific opportunity to play up soccer in Vancouver and get the community even further behind the team than they are already. As Duane wrote over at Out of Left Field, "It's moments like this that it becomes clear that the Whitecaps deserve to be awarded a MLS franchise (deserve and "are gonna get" are two very different things). The team, which has survived the folding of two leagues, is as close as you can get to a football institution in this country. An argument can be made that the Whitecaps are the only club left that can trace itself directly back to the NASL -- that's something to be proud of. Who knows whether the 'Caps will get the MLS nod for 2011. But, if they don't it won't be Vancouver that is losing out."

This is also a ray of hope for Canadian soccer fans, given the dismal failure [Ben Knight, On Soccer] of the national team to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Yes, that exit begs question, and the whole structure of Canadian soccer needs to be looked at and considered: I'll have more on that shortly. For now, though, as Duane pointed out [Out of Left Field, there's plenty for Canadian soccer fans to be excited about at the club level, with Vancouver's championship, Montreal's success in the CONCACAF Champions League and the strength of the MLS bids in both cities (and Ottawa as well). TFC is also moving in the right direction, albeit slowly. Our clubs seem to be getting things right both on and off the field, with their play, their marketing, their fan support and their youth development systems. Let's take some comfort in that during the struggles of our national teams: things may not always be this bad.

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