Whitecaps set MLS-era attendance record at 50th anniversary game

In front of the largest crowd ever in their Major League Soccer era during a momentous anniversary, the Vancouver Whitecaps settled for a moral victory.

“It’s a fantastic performance,” said coach Vanni Sartini after his team played to a 0-0 draw against Austin FC on Saturday at B.C. Place.

With 32,465 fans on hand for the Whitecaps’ 50th anniversary, the club settled for a second straight draw to bring their record to 5-2-3 for the year.

Earlier this week, Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim officially proclaimed May 4 as Whitecaps FC 50th Anniversary Day. The club was also recognized at the legislature by the British Columbia government.

The Vancouver Whitecaps celebrated their 50th anniversary with a scoreless draw against Austin FC on Saturday night. The club has played at BC Place stadium for over a decade. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

More than 100 alumni from across the Whitecaps’ five-decade history were welcomed to the pitch ahead of kickoff.

While it has only been 13 years since the club was formed as an MLS franchise, its first iteration played in the North American Soccer League (NASL) in 1974.

“I think it was just a team that the city really got behind,” club legend Carl Valentine said of those early days. “We had some class players, some big stars — Alan Ball and Willie Johnston and stuff.

“But we really worked hard and I think that that’s what Vancouver likes.”

Valentine was a member of the team when they won the 1979 Soccer Bowl — at the time, it was Vancouver’s first major sports title in a decade and a half.

WATCH | Vancouver Whitecaps celebrate Soccer Bowl victory: 

Vancouver Whitecaps win NASL championship

Vancouver sports fans celebrate the Whitecaps’ soccer championship victory with a big parade in 1979.

The Whitecaps built a solid fanbase during its days in the NASL, consistently making the playoffs.

When the league folded in 1986, some of the team’s administration reformed the team into the Vancouver 86ers, playing in the Canadian Soccer League. The team then took the Whitecaps name again in 2000.

The Whitecaps continued to draw devoted crowds to the 5,288-seat Swangard Stadium as Vancouver fielded clubs in the United Soccer Leagues and United States Soccer Federation Division 2 in the 2000s.

It was eventually reformed again as an MLS expansion franchise in 2011, and made the playoffs the following year. Since then, the club has won three Canadian Championships — in 2015, 2022 and 2023.

WATCH | CBC host Dan Burritt speaks to a Whitecaps legend and the club’s CEO: 

Vancouver Whitecaps celebrate 50 years as city’s soccer team

Dan Burritt speaks to club CEO Axel Schuster and former star player Carl Valentine on the club’s highs and lows over its half-century of existence before its 50th anniversary game on Saturday.

Club CEO Axel Schuster says the club’s half-century-long history has meant a lot of responsibility rests on the shoulders of the current team.

“It’s not just about us here. There are a lot of people that are connected to this club because they have a lot of great memories,” he told Dan Burritt, guest host of CBC’s On The Coast

“We feel that … we are a little part of a bigger story.”

The Whitecaps currently sit in third in the Western Conference, and Schuster says that the club is being rewarded for its patience amid a tough few seasons.

“Even with those players and with this coaching staff, we had a bad start into the season last year,” he said. “We never questioned that we are on the right track — and we continue to work.”

Valentine says that he hopes the success of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks leads to an “infectious” feeling of winning among the city’s fans, and he hopes that it energizes the fanbase as the MLS season goes on.

A group of old men share a laugh on a football pitch.
Around 110 Whitecaps alumni attended the match on Saturday. Here, the men who played for the Vancouver 86ers share a laugh. Vancouver’s soccer team was known as the 86ers between 1986 and 2000. (Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

Scoreless draw against Austin

Averaging two goals a game heading into Saturday’s match and with striker Brian White riding a four-game goal-scoring streak, it’s the first time in MLS play this season that the Whitecaps were held off the scoreboard.

The fans roared early on, when captain Ryan Gauld beat Austin goalkeeper Brad Stuver in the 19th minute. But the goal was called back following a video replay after a handball was identified before the shot.

All told, the Whitecaps controlled 62.2 per cent of the possession in the game.

Two soccer players vie for the ball in front of a goalkeeper.
Austin FC’s Jon Gallagher, left, and Vancouver Whitecaps’ Ali Ahmed vie for the ball as Austin’s goalkeeper Brad Stuver (1) watches during the second half of their game on Saturday. The Whitecaps celebrated 50 years of being Vancouver’s soccer club during the game. (Ethan Cairns/The Canadian Press)

“It was a big night for the club,” said Gauld. “A big milestone, so we knew that the fans would turn up. They pushed us on as we would expect, but unfortunately we just couldn’t send everyone home happy.”

As part of an eight-game schedule in May, the Whitecaps will hit the road next week. They’ll begin their defence of the Canadian Championship against Cavalry FC on Tuesday, then return to MLS action next Saturday against LAFC.

A large group of soccer fans are seen milling around in a street with various tents set up.
Thousands of Vancouver Whitecaps fans attended the team’s 50th anniversary match on Saturday, packing the streets around BC Place before the game kicked off. (Bob Frid/Vancouver Whitecaps FC)

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