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June 9, 2011 at 12:33 AM

Teleconference with two Vancouver Whitecaps executives

Vancouver Whitecaps FC Logo.jpgIn the buildup to the weekend’s big Seattle-Vancouver game, Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi (a former Tacoma Star in the NASL) and head coach Tom Soehn (who replaced the fired Teitur Thordarson last week) each took questions Wednesday from local reporters on a teleconference. Here’s the transcript:

* * *

BOB LENARDUZZI, president

(Opening statement on the rivalry…) “Bring on Jimmy Gabriel! I’m sure that he could still boot people around like he did back in 1974. On a serious note, it’s a rivalry that does go back to 1974. I was fortunate enough to have been a player then and we had some great teams, great talent and shared personalities. Alan Hinton played for us in 1978; he went to Seattle after that. With the current MLS environment, we are fortunate enough to have benefitted from what the Sounders have done, both on the field and off the field. They’ve been a great resource for us in the two years we had to build up to MLS. We haven’t had the start that they had, but we’re hopeful that we can turn our season around. From a crowd perspective, we feel like we’ve been able to generate some real excitement about MLS and about the Whitecaps. This will be the first opportunity for us to be a part of the Northwest rivalry and we’re looking forward to that.”

(What do you remember from your time with the Tacoma Stars and what memories come back this week for you?) “I have fond memories of the Tacoma Stars to the point where had I not played in Tacoma I might have a real job right now. Tacoma came along at the end of the NASL days and it was either move or get a real job. Thankfully I went to Tacoma for two wonderful years and came back to Vancouver and got involved with the 86ers, who changed their name later to the Whitecaps. … I loved my time in Tacoma.”

(What’s the atmosphere in Vancouver like this week and might this game get lost in all the Stanley Cup excitement?) “We’re OK with that. The Canucks have been in the NHL for 40 years and they’ve never won a Stanley Cup. This is a hockey town. I can probably best illustrate the interest that we have here in the Whitecaps and MLS by (telling you about when) we played a Nutrilite game here — which is like our version of your U.S. Open Cup between us, Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton. It was the same night that the Canucks had a playoff game and we had 16,000 people out at Empire Stadium, which we were shocked by. We were delighted that we had enough fans to come out and cheer us on that night despite the fact that there was a hockey game on. We definitely are not getting the awareness and the visibility that we had prior to the playoffs starting, but regardless of that we’re still getting our fair share of publicity.”

(On the rivalry comparing to Seattle-Portland…) “I don’t think that the rivalry is at the level of the Portland-Seattle rivalry, and I say that by just observing. There’s not necessarily a dislike, but there’s a lot of emotion between the two clubs. The same applies to us, but it doesn’t feel like we’ve got that same level of animosity that there appears to be between Portland and Seattle.”

(Does the derby game allow you to throw out the records for this one?) “We’re obviously not in the place that we thought we would be at this point of the season with only one win in 14 games. If it were another league game, any other league game other than a Northwest derby, it would still be great to get a win, but oh it would be so much greater to get a win in Seattle. There’s no doubt about that. It would give us the impetus for building on that.”

(How does the atmosphere in these games compare to when you were playing?) “There were plenty of people that went back and forth in the ’70s and ’80s in terms of Vancouver and Seattle and Portland and vice versa. Whenever the two teams played there were a lot of opposing fans in the venue. Now there’s a limit to that. It appears to be in line with what’s done in the rest of the world. The difference for me is the culture. We have a soccer culture now. It all starts with fans who know how to act at a soccer game. I think back in the ’70s and ’80s it was probably less so. Not probably, definitely less so. They were there and they were there in numbers, but I marveled at the first time I went to Seattle to watch a game. I heard all about the atmosphere and I had watched game on television, but when I went and saw the one end of supporters all chanting in unison, all jumping up and down in unison, I was absolutely blown away. I could’ve been in Europe. And the rest of the stadium, nobody sits down. That seems to have happened organically and we have something similar in Vancouver. We wanted to have that kind of atmosphere, but it’s almost as though people had done their homework and came to the park and knew how to act like a soccer crowd. We’re getting that on a regular basis as well. So the numbers aren’t any different, but the level of knowledge of the crowds that are watching is different.”

TOM SOEHN, head coach

(Opening statement on the team…) “Looking at MLS and the game itself, it’s such a valuable thing having such a rivalry. With the two groups playing against each other, you couldn’t ask for more within the league. As far as our team, we’re excited to have a full week to prepare and get ready for what we know will be a hostile environment. But I think situations like that bring out the best in players.”

(On the rivalry comparing to Seattle-Portland…) “I really think when you look at the three teams and where we’re located, the three together having this type of rivalry is fantastic. As we look to still grow the game and the popularity of it, what better place to do it than having those three up here where there’s a lot at stake every time we play each other?”

(Has the infectiousness of the rivalry got to you yet and have to been able to use it to motivate the players?) “I think in situations like that, especially a derby — similarly when I coached at D.C. we had it with New York — those are special games. Normally where you’re working on motivating, there’s not a whole lot of motivating to do (this week). The players all are aware of the competitive nature between teams in a derby. What a great situation to be in and nothing could be better to get a result against them.”

(With Lenarduzzi, how important is it to have that connection to the Whitecaps history?) “I think anytime you come to a club, it’s important to understand the culture and where they came from. As you look to fill a roster, you have to have guys on the team that understand what the club’s about and how special that is. Obviously there’s been a facelift as the Whitecaps have grown getting to the level of MLS now, but it’s hugely important as far as knowing what happened in the past so you can define what happens in the future.”

(How does this compare to what you’ve experienced with rivalries on the East Coast?) “I think once we get into that stadium and feel the passion of the game I think everybody will understand it better, even myself. But I know of the rivalries here, even in the spring training games, and you never want to be outdone by your neighbors. It’s going to be very competitive and there’s going to be a lot of emotion that takes part in it, too. It’s going to be an exciting event.”

(Looking at the schedule, do you guys look at the upcoming games as an opportunity?) “Right now we’re looking at the next game as the most important, but we’d be silly not to look at the schedule and have some goals set for us. Most importantly, we want to work our way back into the mix. So we realize the importance of every game. There’s a big emotional swing when you get environments like Seattle where there’s a full stadium and the energy’s high. It doesn’t take much to turn a team around, especially a team that I believe in, because I think there’s a lot of talent. We’re excited to play, to get that next result, which could lead to bigger things, but we obviously set goals and we’re going to look to achieve those.”

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