Soccer is our game, again

MATT KIELTYKA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

For a brief period in Vancouver's history, soccer was king.

Empire Stadium -- and later B.C. Place -- were filled to the rafters.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in jubilation when the Whitecaps became North American champs in 1979.

And then the dream died with the collapse of the North American Soccer League.

"Those were heady days," said former Whitecaps star, and now team president, Bob Lenarduzzi. "I thought I had seen the best of soccer here in the late '70s and early '80s. I honestly didn't think there would ever be an opportunity to recapture what we had."

But with yesterday's announcement that Vancouver will join Major League Soccer, the continent's top soccer league, in 2011, the dream has been rekindled.

"When I was a kid, it was Empire Stadium and it was always packed," Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson recalled. "That's what's coming back now. We've got lots of soccer fans, lots of us that are anxious to be at the top level."

Can those glory days really return?

Lenarduzzi is confident they will.

He pointed to the 16,000 season ticket holders who religiously attend Toronto FC - Canada's first MLS team - games and the unprecedented ticket sales the Seattle Sounders have enjoyed on the eve of their MLS debut this week.

"There's no doubt in my mind we're a better soccer market than those two," he said.

That theory will be put to test immediately, as fans can put down deposits on 2011 season tickets beginning Saturday.


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