Two of our writers had the opportunity to make the trip to Vancouver to watch the RSL boys play. While it wasn’t a great result, at least they both got to experience a game at BC Place as away fans, and lived to tell about it.
“Sorry in advance about the game!”
This is a sentence that was spoken to me at least a handful of times by Whitecaps fans as we were making our way into the stadium in beautiful downtown Vancouver, British Columbia.
My immediate reply was, naturally, “Oh, don’t worry, you don’t need to apologize for losing!”
Unfortunately, my response wouldn’t turn out to be accurate, as RSL went on to lose 3-2 to the ‘Caps. But let’s start from the beginning.
My first-ever trip to Canada began in Seattle, where my three brothers and I had planned to meet to make the drive across the border for the game. One brother, Jeremy, lives in the suburbs of Seattle, while another, Chad, flew in from California. My third brother, Mike, lives mere minutes away from me in Utah and we made the flight to Emerald City together.
This has become a yearly tradition for the four of us, starting last year with RSL’s regular season closer at CenturyLink Field.
Still proudly repping our RSL gear in Sounder country, we made the roughly three-hour drive up north on Saturday morning, pulling into our hotel in the early afternoon, just in time to walk around downtown and get to know the city a bit. Of course, this included trying poutine for my first time (and loving it), and seeing some of the sights by the waterfront adjacent to the stadium.
For how giant BC Place is, they sure have it tucked right downtown in between all the buildings just perfectly. Depending on which angle you’re coming at it, you can’t even tell it’s there until you’re a block away.
The pre-game festivities were well underway when we walked up to the outside patio, which included a DJ, plenty of fans, a giant screen showing other MLS games, and of course the Whitecaps supporters march to the match. The four of us ran into plenty of Vancouver fans, every last one of which were unbelievably courteous, while talking an appropriate amount of trash in a friendly tone.
Entering the stadium, we immediately saw that they had the retractable roof closed, which gave the whole building a completely different vibe than any soccer game I’ve been to before. It was almost painfully quiet as fans filed into their seats, and any noise above a whisper seemed to reverberate across the entire arena.
After chatting with some more local Vancouver fans, we got to our pitchside seats just in time for player warmups. Being so close to the field, most of the players immediately noticed us near the sideline and gave us a clap or thumbs up to acknowledge the four of us similar-looking dudes in their RSL garb.
Despite the result, the game was fantastic and amazing to watch in such an unknown environment. With plenty of ups and downs, fans would throw friendly banter our way every time RSL gave us a reason to cheer, and likewise every time Vancouver got the ball in the back of the net.
One of my favorite things about the stadium experience was hearing the announcer yell a player’s first name after they scored a goal. The crowd would yell back his last name, and they’d repeat this three times. After the last time, the announcer would say “Thank you,” to which the entire stadium replies “You’re welcome!” Truly a prime example of how polite people can really be in the Great White North.
After the game, plenty of Whitecaps fans expressed their condolences to us for the loss, which of course is much appreciated instead of hostility like you might expect going on the road as an away supporter. We hung around for a few minutes down by the field, long enough for me to get awkwardly snubbed for a high-five by Reagan Dunk and Bofo Saucedo as they were running laps around the field — something I’m still laughing about today.
We made our way out of the stadium and ended up walking to a local pub down the street called Elephant & Castle to drown our sorrows in some excellent food.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to meet up with CJ during the trip, although I know he had a great experience as well, and you’ll read about it here too.
All in all, the trip was 100% worthwhile despite RSL picking up zero points in Vancouver. Nothing beats experiencing a city — and even a country — for the first time, and doing it in style with family, especially when we don’t all get to see each other too often.
You can bet all four of us will be making this happen again next season in a different city, cheering loud for our boys at another stadium behind enemy lines.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I know that I didn’t go very far. I know that. But I am still going to act like I did because while I was away this weekend, I had to constantly remind myself that I wasn’t in the United States. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t in the States when I got off the airplane and corralled into the “foreigner” line at Customs. I had to remind myself again when seemingly nobody put their hands over their hearts during the National Anthem at the RSL match. And yet again when every tour guide we had (not many, two total) constantly made fun of our president, and a few tourists asked who President Donald Trump was. So, I’m going to act like I went further than I did and that I was exposed to a unique culture because—if nothing else—meeting people who have never heard of President Trump is kind of a unique experience now.
We landed in Vancouver at around 7:30 pm local time the night before the match, and from there went to our Airbnb in Gastown. Known for its historic buildings, Gastown made for a wonderful area to walk around and try some of the local restaurants, including poutine, which is (as mentioned above) amazing. We stayed close enough to the stadium that we could walk the next day, but far enough away that coming across a Whitecaps supporters was unlikely at best, and quite honestly, just didn’t happen. I didn’t see anything that even resembled there was a soccer team that represented the city until I came across the official team store the day of the match. And even then, I didn’t run into Whitecaps supporters when I went inside. I ran into something much worse—Monterrey supporters. They were visiting Vancouver from Mexico, and stopped to ask the guy working whether the match was worth attending, that is to say, whether the teams play at the same level they are used to with Liga MX. They immediately recognized my jersey when they saw me, and we talked about the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League Final. From what I remember, they decided they would go see RSL play, if only to relive a good moment in their club’s history, but I didn’t see them at the stadium.
In essence, that is how my trip to Vancouver was. At Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, I ran into a couple from Australia who saw my RSL jacket and asked about the league and clubs. At Stanley Park, a couple from the Netherlands who asked about the league to determine whether or not it was a match they should go to. And as we were walking out of the stadium, an incredibly knowledgeable gentleman from Scotland who had also gone to the match, consoled me after the loss, and admired my commitment to the club. “You guys are the only damn U.S. team to make it to the CONCACAF Finals! That’s something to be proud of, mate. You know, my team lost to Monterrey in the Club World Cup tournament later that year; tough blow.” It was unlike anything that I have experienced at any other stadium, because even though places like LA, Portland, Seattle, and Chicago are popular destinations for international travel, those teams don’t typically lend themselves to the appeal of casual soccer fans visiting from across any pond. More often than not, you’re with them for 90 or you’re against them for 90.
As I was going through Customs on the way back, I was asked what I was doing in Canada. “I came for a soccer game. Which we lost. So I’m kind of bummed about that.”
“Why did you even come then?”
I’ve been trying to answer that question for the last couple of days. Because lately, it seems that I have to keep reminding myself that I support this club with a high level of commitment. We lose, and I have to remind myself that (as similar as it feels) this is not last season. We go down a goal early, and I remind myself that (as similar as it feels) this isn’t the same team that started this season off, we can pull it back. And at the end of a win, I remind myself how lucky I am—how lucky we all are—to be committed to this club. Because if nothing else, having the opportunity to spend 90 minutes with 20,000 of my closest friends, free from political tensions and casual disagreements, is kind of a unique experience now.