Vancouver Whitecaps hope club’s history provides lessons for victory

VANCOUVER — A lot has changed in the soccer world in the 40 years since the Vancouver Whitecaps captured a North American Soccer League championship.

Players have different haircuts now and don’t often sport moustaches, and many are covered in tattoos.

But today’s team has a lot to learn from the squad that captured a title back in 1979.

“The fashion has changed so much. The game has changed, some of the rules have changed,” Whitecaps coach Marc Dos Santos said. “But the need for commitment to succeed and humility and character and personality, that is a need that was there 40 years ago.”

Dos Santos’s players met with members of the ‘79 team on Thursday, a day before the club celebrates the 40th anniversary of the championship when the Whitecaps host Toronto FC.

“There were a lot of things done 40 years ago in that locker room that could be done today in our locker room,” Dos Santos said. “There’s always things to learn from generations. The speed of the game changes, maybe some of the tactics change, but the spirit of the winning mentality, the belief, (has been around) since the days of the gladiator.”

Fifteen players from the championship-winning team will be on hand for Friday’s ceremonies. Coach Tony Waiters will also be present and will be inducted into the club’s “ring of honour.”

After two and a half seasons with the Whitecaps, Waiters went on to coach Team Canada at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the national team’s first World Cup appearance in 1986.

Now 82, Waiters reflected on the Whitecaps’ historic win Thursday, saying it doesn’t seem all that long ago.

“Forty years has gone by like nothing on Earth. It seems like yesterday,” he said.

The former goalkeeper for England’s national squad spent two and half seasons in Vancouver, chalking up a 66-30 record in NASL play.

He remembers the ‘79 team as a mix of Canadians and a group of Brits who were “hard livers but hard players as well.”

“The fans enjoyed the way we played. Because they were tough guys — had to keep a good eye on them because they could get out of hand very quickly — but they played hard and there were some very attractive players,” Waiters said.

“We had a good team and we had to have a good team to do what we did in the end.”

An estimated 120,000 people came to celebrate in downtown Vancouver after the Whitecaps won the championship, he added.

Meeting Waiters and other members of the ‘79 team was “very cool” for current ‘Caps and Team Canada midfielder Russell Teibert.

The group is still incredibly tight-knit and continue to be passionate about the club, he said.

“It’s not just a championship. It’s something that they live and breathe,” Teibert said. “The Whitecaps are a team that they love. And the championship didn’t mean something just for one year. This is a championship that we’re celebrating 40 years later.”

There are a lot of lessons today’s Whitecaps can take from the former champions, said centre back Derek Cornelius.

“We’re trying to build a team that’s built off championships, built off winning and they’ve done that,” he said. “To be a club like that, it’s great to lean on someone who’s already been there and take tips and see what we can do to bring us to the next level.”

It’s important for current players to know the Whitecaps’ winning history, Dos Santos said, noting that there are photos from the club’s greatest moments all around its training facilities.

“That shows that you’re a club that wants to go somewhere and a club that respects the past. I think it’s very important,” he said.

“This is what I think a club is about. Many years of history, many things that happened and now we’re here and we want to try to also write a page somehow in the history of our club.”

Knowing that more than a dozen members of the title-winning team will be in the crowd on Friday will be an extra bit of motivation.

“If there was ever a time to win a game for someone or something, it’s (Friday) against Toronto FC,” Teibert said. “We owe it to the ‘79 team.”

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