Vancouver has said goodbye to its hallowed soccer ground once before.
In 1983, the Vancouver Whitecaps left old Empire Stadium to move into shiny new BC Place.
Something similar will occur Saturday when the Whitecaps and Sounders FC play the final MLS match at Empire Field – a temporary home built on the grounds of the original stadium.
“I actually think there’s more nostalgia now than there was then,” said Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who was a Whitecaps player for the first move. “(In 1983) it was ‘Oh, look at this new building with the Teflon roof, you don’t have to worry about the weather.’ There was some nostalgia, but more excitement about the new building. … This time around I think everyone knows this is it; so it will probably be a more difficult goodbye.”
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The first soccer match at old Empire Stadium was a 3-all draw between Everton of England and Aberdeen of Scotland on June 11, 1956.
The Empire Stadium track was the site of one of the great moments in track history: The so-called “Miracle Mile” of Aug. 7, 1954, featuring Roger Bannister – first to run a sub-four-minute mile – and John Landy, who had bettered Bannister’s time. Both broke the four-minute barriers, with Bannister winning in 3:58.8, to Landy’s 3:59.6.
Such entertainment greats as Elvis Presley and the Beatles performed at Empire Stadium. But it was best known as the home of the Whitecaps and the B.C. Lions of the Canadian Football League.
However, both teams left in 1983, when BC Place opened downtown.
Now history is repeating, with the Whitecaps and Lions again departing for BC Place – this time renovated with a retractable roof, new restrooms, ramps and concession areas, and a capacity of around 21,000 for soccer.
“I know in the offseason, MLS people were suggesting that it’s going to be difficult to transition from one venue to another in the midst of a season,” Lenarduzzi said. “But I never saw it that way. I actually saw it as an opportunity to kind of go back and revisit your roots. … Having said that, it’s good that it’s temporary. As good as it’s been, the benefits of the new building are incredible.”
After the Saturday farewell to Empire Field, the Whitecaps will debut in their new home Oct. 2 against those other Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers.
“It’s by design,” Lenarduzzi said. “It seems fitting that Seattle and Portland should be bookends for out with the old and in with the new.”
Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer said Thursday that negotiations for a contract extension with Sounders assists leader Mauro Rosales are moving in the right direction. … The Sounders will travel to Canada today and practice at Empire Field this afternoon. Kickoff is 7:30 p.m. Saturday.