SBD/March 21, 2011/Franchises

Whitecaps Win MLS Opener In Front Of Boisterous Vancouver Crowd

Whitecaps fans celebrated first goal by throwing giveaway ponchos onto field
More than 23,000 "stamping, chanting, cheering fans jammed" Empire Stadium on Saturday night for the Vancouver Whitecaps' first MLS game, a 4-2 victory over visiting Toronto FC, according to John Colebourn of the Vancouver PROVINCE. Whitecaps fans prior to kickoff "unfurled two giant blue and white banners each bearing" a huge "V" and sang, "Take Me Home, Boundary Road." Whitecaps coach Teitur Thordarson said, "The atmosphere was electric. The supporters were like a team. It looked as if they had been training for a long time" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 3/20). The game was "delayed several minutes" after Whitecaps fans celebrated the team's first goal by "hurling little packets containing giveaway white ponchos" (TORONTO STAR, 3/20). In Vancouver, Cam Cole noted after the game, the Whitecaps players did not want "to leave the field because the scene was just so damned much fun." Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber: "We said from the start we wanted the atmosphere to evolve organically, and it did. We did our little bit at the start, and then the people of Vancouver took over and just made a party -- and what a party it was" (VANCOUVER SUN, 3/20).

CONTINUING A TREND: The GLOBE & MAIL's Matthew Sekeres writes, "Should Major League Soccer become a greater commercial success across Canada, then March 19, 2011, will go down as seminal day." The first match between Canadian clubs was a "massive triumph as nearly 23,000 scarf-wearing partisans packed into Empire Field for the Whitecaps’ thrilling 4-2 victory." MLS Commissioner Don Garber, attending the game, said, "We kind of have a Lakers-Celtics thing going on here, where two teams across the country can get at each other." Sekeres notes that "became apparent late in the first half when one pocket of Whitecaps fans turned to several hundred TFC supporters and chanted 'we’re going to make the playoffs,' a taunt that proved they were aware of the Reds struggles over four MLS campaigns" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/21). YAHOO SPORTS' Martin Rogers wrote the atmosphere at Empire Field indicated that MLS has "continued its recent trend of backing a winner." From "Toronto itself to Seattle and now further north, new markets have brought big crowds filled with color and passion and a feeling for the game," and now Vancouver "can happily join that company." Suns G and Whitecaps investor Steve Nash, who was also in attendance, said, "We wanted to create an authentic soccer atmosphere here and there is no question that has happened." Rogers added, "Vancouver is always going to be a hockey town but soccer lives and breathes healthily here" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/19).

ROAD WARRIORS: The Timbers also made their MLS debut on Saturday, losing 3-1 at the Rapids, but in Portland, Rachel Bachman wrote the Timbers Army fan group "showed why MLS is happy to have the Timbers among its 18 teams." The "scarf-snapping, song-belting Army, already one of the largest and most unified supporters' groups in MLS, forms the heartbeat of the reborn top-division Timbers and is an example the league hopes will spread." Rapids Dir of Media Relations Jason Gilham said that "at least 423 Timbers fans, most of them sitting with the Army, bought tickets to the game, far more than any other visiting supporters' group had before" (Portland OREGONIAN, 3/20).
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