The venue is new and spectacular.
The result was same old, same old.
The Vancouver Whitecaps FC moved into the renovated B.C. Place Stadium Sunday, yet put forth another unmotivated effort and fell 1-0 to the expansion cousin Portland Timbers in a Major League Soccer match. Despite a glistening new facility that has undergone a $563-million renovation in the past 18 months, and a sellout crowd primed to celebrate, the Whitecaps lollygagged for much of the 90-plus minutes, and gave 21,000 spectators little to cheer about until some desperate pushes in the final minutes.
“If we were ever going to come out with emotion and passion, it was going to be today,” goalkeeper Joe Cannon said. “To put that out in front of the greatest fans in the league, it’s irresponsible of us.”
Cannon said the blasé crowd took its cue from a spiritless Whitecaps side, adding the players’ indifference was “contagious.” It was not a home opener to remember, unless you are Portland striker Kenny Cooper.
The Timbers forward scored the only goal in the 25th minute, taking advantage of an awful turnover from Alain Rochat. The Whitecaps defender had his lazy pass intercepted, and four Timbers moved the ball toward the home team’s goal with ample time and space to construct a dangerous attack. Cooper, who had an excellent chance in the second half snuffed out by a terrific Cannon save, controlled a long pass with his first touch, and loaded up a missile into the top right corner with his second touch.
The Whitecaps fell to 4-16-10 on the season, and continue to be shown up by the first-year Timbers, who are 11-13-7 and fighting for a playoff berth.
“I don’t think we had the best energy in the first half, and it’s hard to explain,” Caps coach Tommy Soehn said.
The explanation may not be that difficult.
Soehn is a lame duck coach who will be replaced by Martin Rennie after this season, when the latter is finished with his current club in North America’s second-tier league. The Whitecaps concocted that strange succession plan in August, after firing inaugural coach Teitur Thordarson in June, and have gone 1-5-1 since the announcement.
If there was a success for the Caps Sunday, it was the soccer configuration of the stadium, which achieved the intimacy that was lacking at the old B.C. Place. The Caps played under the old roof in 1983 and 1984 when the club was part of the North American Soccer League, but moved to two smaller stadiums before returning home Sunday.
B.C. Place is not a soccer-specific stadium, which would be the preference of the sport’s diehard and finicky fans, because the CFL’s B.C. Lions are also calling the facility home. But thanks to cable-suspended white sails that block off the upper bowl of the 52,000-seat stadium, the configuration feels more cozy than cavernous.
The 700-member Southsiders supporters’ group sits in the west end, between the goal and the corner flag, and continues to be the heartbeat of the game-day experience. Next season, similar stands behind the east goal will allow another group of fans to sit within spitting distance of the pitch.
“The difference between here and Empire [Field]is night and day,” said Southsiders president John Knox, referencing the temporary stadium where the Caps had been playing their home games this season. “I’m really pleased that we’ve regained that interactivity with players. We lost that a little bit at Empire because of the distance [from the pitch]”
The supporters didn’t have like-minded mates Sunday, however, as many in attendance seemed to be checking out the new digs rather than singing and chanting with the partisans.
“We’re finding today that we really have to prompt [the rest of the crowd]” Knox said. “The season has obviously deflated a lot of spirits, in terms of the results, and it’s hard to get up and motivated. Even we’re feeling the impact, to be honest.”