Whitecaps’ ‘time to take advantage’ of fading Canucks fortunes
Fourth-year MLS club knows NHL team is front and centre in Vancouver sports pantheon, but ‘there's no doubt there's an opportunity there’
Vancouver Whitecaps Kenny Miller (left) and Russell Teibert — plus a Whitecaps capacity crowd of about 21,000 at BC Place Stadium — celebrate one of the Caps' four goals in their 2014 home-opening 4-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday, March 8, 2014. 'Being an Ontario kid and playing hockey, I love hockey. It's a great Canadian sport. But this is the time for us to really grow soccer again in this city,' says Teibert.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG
VANCOUVER — A good ol' Canadian boy, Russell Teibert loves hockey. He grew up in Niagara Falls, Ont., played rep hockey until he was 14, cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
He understands hockey, how it is the base fibre woven through our culture, and the reverence and passion Canadians have for the game. Vancouver Canucks fans, Russell Teibert feels your pain. He has a solution: come watch soccer. Come see the Vancouver Whitecaps and what all the footie fanatics are talking about.
"This is the time for us to take advantage," Teibert, the Whitecaps' 21-year-old midfielder, said this week. "What we have is a good thing and we need to keep it going. (Culture) changes. Look at music: there's different music at different times, and things change. Being an Ontario kid and playing hockey, I love hockey. It's a great Canadian sport. But this is the time for us to really grow soccer again in this city. People are excited. There's a buzz around the team. It's up to us to keep that buzz going."
The Whitecaps are unbeaten after the opening month of the Major League Soccer season. New coach Carl Robinson has changed not only the team but its culture.
Re-energized by an infusion of attack-minded South American players, including Chilean star Pedro Morales, the Whitecaps have scored six goals in two home games — and could have had more — while selling out their 21,000-seat configuration inside BC Place Stadium.
After Saturday's 2-1 win against the Houston Dynamo, Scottish striker Kenny Miller enthusiastically joined supporters in the rollicking stands to celebrate the victory. MLS.com posted a review of Morales' performance and compared the 28-year-old's passing ability to David Beckham's.
Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi said it was probably the best single-game passing display in franchise history. The Whitecaps are third in the Western Conference at 2-0-2.
So, yes, people are buzzing.
The Whitecaps continue their rocket ride Saturday with a 3:30 p.m. contest against the Colorado Rapids (CTV, Team 1410). About 90 minutes after the game ends, the Canucks will try next door to avoid playoff elimination in a National Hockey League game against the Los Angeles Kings. The difference in moods inside the two venues will be stark.
These days, it feels like the divide between the Whitecaps and Canucks is much wider than just Griffiths Way.
"Whatever the Canucks do in their off-season, they're still going to be front and centre," Lenarduzzi said. "That's something you accept. But I think what's happening is we're getting an opportunity to introduce more people to the game. There's no doubt there's an opportunity there.
"What we at the club are feeling excited about is we sold out our first two games. We usually sell out the first game. But we sold out the second game because of our performance in the first one. And in that second game, we had another really good performance."
The main stage of Vancouver professional sports will soon be the Whitecaps' alone. The Canucks' final game is a week Sunday. The Canadian Football League season is still nearly three months away and the B.C. Lions haven't done anything this winter to get people excited.
Top receiver Nick Moore signed as a free agent in Winnipeg, veteran linemen Angus Reid and Ben Archibald retired, and the Lions released defensive back Korey Banks, linebacker Anton McKenzie and receiver Paris Jackson. Reid, Banks and Jackson were heart-and-soul players central to the Lions' identity in B.C.
"If we play well, (popularity growth for the Whitecaps) will happen regardless," American fullback Jordan Harvey said. "It's not just because the Vancouver Canucks have had a bad season. There's such a huge soccer fan base here. We just need to get successful and build that base."
The Whitecaps, of course, have already false-started a couple of times since joining MLS in 2011. Last year, after surging up the standings with a 5-0-1 early-summer tear, Vancouver won only once during an eight-game autumn stretch to miss the playoffs.
The collapse cost coach Martin Rennie his job. Robinson, the amiable Welshman who had played in MLS, was promoted from assistant coach to replace Rennie.
"Definitely within the team, there's an excitement that we genuinely feel we are going to get better as the season goes on," Miller said. "With the type of players we've brought in, we've seen at home the quality they're going to bring, the type of football we want to play, and that is exciting. I think what's important is while we're winning games, we show that we're entertaining."
If the Whitecaps' attacking, high-scoring game wasn't proof enough of their transformation the first two home games, consider this: when Houston scored against the run of play last Saturday to cut Vancouver's lead to 2-1 in the 75th minute, Robinson, rather than fretting about tightening up at the back, substituted defensive midfielder Gershon Koffie and sent on dynamic forward Kekuta Manneh.
It was a bold, positive change that would have been unthinkable under Rennie.
Harvey smiled when asked about the message that substitution sent to players.
"The best defence is possessing the ball in their half," he said. "If we score goals, who's going to beat us? That's kind of the mindset we have."
Harvey said this the same day Canucks general manager Mike Gillis went on radio to express his deploration of his team's defensive style and vow a return to attacking, puck-possession hockey.
"I think it's a fantastic history our club has got; we all know about that," Robinson said of the Whitecaps. "We have 20,000 people each week. The interest is there. What they need is winning and an exciting brand of football. And I'm going to try to create that week in and week out. It's developing a style and ethos at the club. It's not going to happen overnight."
No, apparently it took an entire month.
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