Might have a claim to be the oldest club in MLS, given a nearly unbroken string of operation dating back to the NASL in 1974. The Whitecaps joined MLS in 2011 and started slowly, but they made the playoffs in Year 2.
Trophies: From previous incarnations: 1979 NASL championship, 1988 Canadian Soccer League championship, 1989 Canadian Soccer League championship, 1990 Canadian Soccer League championship, 1991 Canadian Soccer League championship, 2006 USL First Division championship, 2008 USL First Division championship
Fan personality: Steady. Vancouver has had some sort of first- or second-division presence for nearly 40 years, so the fans have seen it all. The Southsiders supporters group has more than a decade of history. A Spanish group, La Doce, joined them for the team’s MLS debut.
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Stadium situation: Empire Field was a temporary home in every sense — the stadium itself was only around for about 18 months. BC Place, which has seen everything from the NASL to the Winter Olympic ceremonies, has been reborn with a retractable roof. A waterfront soccer-specific stadium has been on the drawing board for a while, but between the Olympics and the BC Place renovations that took place after the Games, the region has facility fatigue.
The Whitecaps debuted in the NASL in 1974, quickly picking up rivalries with the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers that have been revived in MLS. But of those three, the Whitecaps were the only ones with a league championship, winning Soccer Bowl ’79 after ousting the mighty Cosmos in the semifinals.
That team moved into BC Place in 1983, just in time for the NASL’s decline. But Vancouver soccer wasn’t dormant long. The Vancouver 86ers, named after the year of the team’s founding and the year of city’s founding 100 years earlier, joined the new Canadian Soccer League in 1987 and quickly became the dominant team, winning four straight league titles before being upset in the 1992 final.
The CSL folded, but the 86ers were welcomed into the APSL along with Montreal and Toronto. The timing was perfect for the APSL, which had played the 1992 season with just five teams and then lost two of them. The APSL bid against MLS’s founders for Division I status in the USA, which would have returned Vancouver to the continent’s top division right away.
Instead, the 86ers hung on in the APSL as it became the A-League and merged with the USL. Over the years, the club strengthened its roots. It reclaimed the Whitecaps name in 2001. Greg Kerfoot bought the organization in 2003. As it built its women’s and youth programs, including a full-time residency, the club won two USL First Division titles.
Of the Pacific Northwest powers, Seattle was the first to make the leap to MLS. Portland and Vancouver got their ownership groups and stadium plans in order, then made the leap in 2011.
The Whitecaps beat Toronto FC 4-2 in their debut. The next couple of months weren’t as kind. An 11-game winless streak spelled the end of coach Teitur Thordarson‘s brief tenure, and former D.C. United coach Tom Soehn moved from the front office to take over for the rest of the season.
Under new coach Martin Rennie, the Whitecaps started well, shuffled the roster in midseason, nearly collapsed, then recovered to be the first Canadian team to make the playoffs.