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  • Thoughts from a tumultuous Whitecaps opener



    It's going to be tough to describe Vancouver's <a href= "http://www.cbc.ca/sports/soccer/story/2011/03/19/sp-mls-tor-van.html">first MLS game</a>, <a href="http://www.theprovince.com/Debut+couldn+have+been+scripted+better+Whitecaps+over+Toronto/4472373/story.html">a 4-2 victory</a> over Toronto FC. There was enough intensity and emotion in the stands, as well as plenty of spectacular moments on the pitch, to provide about 10 solid stories, so breaking all that down into one piece isn't the easiest thing in the world. Still, we'll try to provide some thoughts on some of the notable aspects of it, bullet-point style:[PRBREAK][/PRBREAK]

    — <b>The crowd:</b> I wasn't really sure what to expect from the crowd coming into this one. Obviously, the Southsiders and the rest of the hardcore fans that used to make it out to the Division II games at Swangard Stadium were going to be there in force, and the game was obviously going to be a hot ticket, but that very easily could have resulted in a crowd mostly composed of novice or non-soccer fans there just to see what the attraction was. <a href="http://sports.yahoo.com/mls/news?slug=ab-bucholtz_whitecaps_crowd-031911">That didn't appear to be the case</a>. The people who showed up were knowledgeable, loud and passionate throughout, and as CEO Paul Barber (who knows a thing or two about good fan environments from his time in the EPL with Tottenham Hotspur) said afterwards, they created their own atmosphere, full of original chants, songs, and memorable moments:

    "We said from the start we wanted the atmosphere to be organic to Vancouver, and it was," Barber said. "We did our bit at the start and then the fans took over."

    — <b>The Southsiders:</b> On that front, I think the Southsiders deserve a lot of credit. Some supporters' groups of other teams in the past have tried to become too domineering in an attempt to get all other fans to fall in line, and I don't think that's the case here. The Southsiders have their own chants and ways, but they seemed accepting of the rest of the fans, and the two combined to make something special. That's good to see.

    — <b>Teitur Thordarson:</b> This was a very good day for the Icelandic manager. Most people in town, including myself, thought he was absolutely the right choice to be Vancouver's first MLS manager given his success with the Division II side, but there were some who raised questions about both his experience and the defensive style he tended to favour with the lower-division Whitecaps. One match won't entirely put an end to those questions, but his team scored four goals and had plenty of chances to add to that tally; the scoresheet had Vancouver with 18 shots (10 on goal) against Toronto's 11 and 8. This isn’t the old Whitecaps’ squad, and the scoreline was proof positive of that. That went over very well with the supporters on hand, and probably particularly resonated with those who used to sit out in the rain at Swangard, waiting and hoping for their team to notch a single goal. These new guys bring the defensive intensity that Thordarson has always emphasized, but they also have plenty of firepower, and that suggests that this year's Whitecaps may be highly entertaining as well as successful.


    — <b>Eric Hassli:</b> Speaking of people it was a good day for, Hassli (pictured above) would have to be near the top of the list. Many were skeptical about him as the Whitecaps' <a href="http://whitecapsfc.com/news/2011/03/eric-hassli-becomes-whitecaps-fcs-first-designated-player">first designated player</a>, and for legitimate reasons; success in Switzerland doesn't necessarily translate into success in MLS, and Hassli was an off-the-radar name. The French striker may have proved the doubters wrong with today's performance, though, notching two goals (including the franchise's first, in the 15th minute, which we eagerly anticipate as <a href="http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/content.php?127-24th-minute">a new blog name</a>). Both were solid goals, but the play between them was impressive as well; Hassli served as a consistent offensive threat and was one of Vancouver's primary attacking options. Thordarson said afterwards that Hassli fills several key roles for the Whitecaps:

    "Eric is a very important player," Thordarson said. "He helps us keep the ball up, but he's also dangerous around the box."

    Indeed he is, and he certainly looks like a shrewd signing at the moment.

    <b>Alain Rochat:</b> Speaking of foreign players, Rochat (who was actually born in Quebec, but <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alain_Rochat">has played internationally for Switzerland</a>) had a pretty good day from this perspective. He made one early mistake at left back, but <b>Jay DeMerit</b> (who also had a great day) cleaned it up, and Rochat was impressive from there on out. He pressed forward into the attack when needed, but always got back in time and made some spectacular tackles.

    — <b>Don Garber:</b> It was nice to see the MLS commissioner on hand, and he carried himself very well in his halftime media scrum. He was impressed with the show the Whitecaps (and particularly the fans) put on, and he made some valuable comments about how Vancouver - Toronto is an important rivalry to preserve despite the distance involved (full quote: "Rivalries don't always have to be up and down the street. Now we have two teams across the country!"). However, there was one action of his I disagreed with, and that's donning a Whitecaps scarf and banging a drum in the opening ceremonies. I get that the commissioner wants to show the fans he supports them, but league officials should never associate themselves with any particular team in my mind. League bias is one of the most potentially damaging accusations that can be leveled, and even clearly ridiculous comments about it <a href="http://ca.sports.yahoo.com/cfl/blog/cfl_experts/post/East-vs-West-Riders-bias-and-the-state-of-the?urn=cfl-289571">draw a lot of attention</a>. Most logical people won't instantly turn Garber in a Whitecaps' scarf into "OMG MLS IS RIGGED", but there are some who will, and it's a situation that easily could have been avoided.

    — <b>Corporate interests:</b> I don't think anyone would dispute that sponsors have an important role in professional sports teams. In fact, in a way, their influence is largely positive; without the dollars for shirt logos and advertising boards, teams would likely have to jack up ticket prices substantially to break even, and that's not a good thing for fans. Sponsors clearly have their place. With that said, though, sponsors have to be careful how their message is portrayed; sideline ads and such are perfectly acceptable, but the "Wave your BMO card in the air!" promotion (even if it did net someone $50 in free food!) seemed a little excessive from this standpoint, and it certainly isn't going to make me switch to BMO.

    — <b>Overall:</b> This was a fantastic start for Vancouver, and the three points they grabbed here <a href="http://www.canadiansoccernews.com/content.php?1380-Whitecaps-TFC-Preview-For-Vancouver-it-is-and-isn-t-any-other-game">may prove just as valuable</a> as creating a strong atmosphere in the long run. There were still issues, particularly in goal where <b>Jay Nolly</b> made some good saves but let in a relatively easy second shot, and this team's clearly still figuring out how to play together, but that's to be expected. From the Whitecaps' perspective, they got atmosphere, offence and three points in this one, and all should prove extremely beneficial down the road.

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