MLS

Whitecaps looking forward to playing at B.C. Place

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The Canadian Press
9/22/2011 6:59:14 PM
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VANCOUVER -- After practising outside on a rainy day with a biting wind blowing in from the North Shore Mountains, it would be understandable if the Vancouver Whitecaps were anxious to pack their bags and move indoors at the newly renovated B.C. Place Stadium.

Instead, many of the players were whimsical Thursday about Empire Field, the temporary facility the Whitecaps have used during their first season of Major League Soccer.

"I felt really comfortable here in Empire," said midfielder/forward Davide Chiumiento. "We always had great supporters.

"It was a great moment here to play."

The Whitecaps play their final game at Empire Field on Saturday against the Seattle Sounders. Their first match at B.C. Place, with its retractable roof, will be Oct. 2 against the Portland Timbers.

Vancouver has struggled in its inaugural MLS season, but Saturday's game still carries significance.

The Whitecaps need a win against the Sounders to remain in contention for the Cascadia Cup, a derby competition between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland.

"We have everything to play for," said midfielder Peter Vagenas. "This tournament is important for the Pacific Northwest and it's important for Vancouver.

"It's well within our grasp. It's not the ideal trophy to be hoisting but we have a chance to hoist a trophy this year, which is important."

Empire Field, located in Vancouver's east end on the Pacific National Exhibition grounds, always looked like something a child would build with a Meccano set.

The seats were metal benches with no backs. All the bathrooms and concession stands were outside the stadium. The players showered and changed in trailers.

There was lots to complain about, but the players rarely did.

"When you go through it, and look back, it will be something you kind of remember," said Vagenas, who joined the Whitecaps after playing for both Seattle and the L.A. Galaxy.

Vagenas was a little surprised the first time he looked at the outdoor stadium.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I was absolutely floored.

"I have been so fortunate to play in probably the three greatest environments in Major League Soccer. Seattle and Vancouver are unique because they're so new. L.A. took a while to get where it is. In terms of atmosphere, in terms of places opponents come in and realize it's an away game, Vancouver and Seattle are at the top of the list."

The seating capacity at Empire Field for B.C. Lions CFL games was 27,500. That was reduced to around 21,500 for soccer.

The atmosphere was intimate. The fans were close to the field and loud.

The Whitecaps have managed a 4-14-10 record this year, the worst in the league. The team can officially be eliminated from playoff contention this weekend.

Still, the team averaged 20,555 fans a game, third best in MLS behind Seattle and L.A. All four of Vancouver's wins came at Empire Field.

"I think we will miss it," said coach Tom Soehn. "I think we built a pretty good understanding of what we are about here.

"It's intimate (with) our fans pounding the seats. It's a pretty cool place to play."

B.C. Place, located in the city's downtown, has undergone a $563-million facelift. Besides the roof that can open or close in 20 minutes, there's new all-weather turf, a huge video board hung in the middle, and new seats.

There are 50 guest suites, a club section and two lounge areas.

The soccer configuration is for 20,000 seats.

Goaltender Joe Cannon enjoyed his time at Empire Field but is looking forward to what B.C. Place offers.

"Not only is the turf supposed to be softer, but the environment is going to be louder," said Cannon. "This will be the best home-field advantage I have experienced.

"I am looking forward to the roof capturing the sound, making it even more loud."

The Whitecaps and Sounders drew 2-2 in their previous meeting June 11 in Seattle.

The Sounders lead the Cascadia Cup standings with five points from a win (worth three points) and a two draws.

Portland has four points from a 1-1-1 record. Vancouver has one point after losing to Portland and tying Seattle.

If the Whitecaps defeat both Seattle and Portland in the next two home games they would win the Cascadia Cup with seven points.

"It was not an easy season for everybody," said Chiumiento. "This is a goal we have.

"Sometimes these little things can help a lot in the future. This is important to us. We need to do something to finish well this season."

Eric Hassli (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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